Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Bianchi L'Eroica Bike

I'm guessing that any fan of vintage and classic bicycles is familiar with the L'Eroica ride events. Having begun in Italy, participating riders mount vintage bicycles (pre-1987, according to the rules) and ride over the white roads of Italian wine country. L'Eroica is a celebration of classic bikes, good wine and food, and all things Italian.

Back in April, Bianchi announced that they would be releasing a new vintage-inspired bicycle  model in honor of their global sponsorship of the L'Eroica events. The L'Eroica rides have expanded to include rides in the US, Japan, Spain, and the UK, in addition to the original Italian event.

According to the Bianchi press release, the new L'Eroica model would be made in Italy, have a custom build kit including Campagnolo components and a Brooks leather saddle, and would be certified by the L'Eroica commission for use in any of their events. I know there was a lot of speculation, and even some skepticism about what the new model would be like among vintage bike enthusiasts.

The Tipo Corsa frame set. Not the
basis of the new Bianchi L'Eroica bike.
In the Classicrendezvous group for instance, some wondered if it was just going to be a complete bike built around the company's Tipo Corsa steel frame set. At first glance, that might seem like a decent plan -- though sharp-eyed critics would note that, while the Tipo Corsa frame is lugged steel and has a vintage-inspired paint scheme, it has a rather unfortunate-looking "dog-leg" of a fork rake, and is likely made somewhere in Asia -- not Italy. It gets close to the mark for some. Falls short for others.

Well, at long last, this past weekend at the L'Eroica Brittania, participants in that event got what may have been (at least to my knowledge) the first public glimpses of the new model. Wesley Hatakeyama, of the California L'Eroica event, was there at the UK ride and snapped a few pictures at the Bianchi tent (thanks for sharing, Wes!). Some will be thrilled at what they see. Others may be slightly let down. But let's take a look at the new bike.

At first look, it does appear to be a different frame than the Tipo Corsa. Note the chromed lugs, lower fork legs, and partial rear triangle. It does appear to have a more graceful fork rake too. Wes reiterated that the frame is built in Italy, not Asia.
The bike has Dia Compe centerpull brakes and looks like it offers a ton of tire clearance. Large-volume tires are recommended on the L'Eroica rides, as many of the roads are unpaved. Downtube shift levers (a must, according to the L'Eroica rulebook) look like Dia Compe ratcheting levers. Interesting detail: brake cable clips on the top tube instead of brazed-on guides.

Campagnolo derailleurs and a 10-speed cassette -- surprisingly legal for L'Eroica. I'm not positive about the crank, but it looks like a Dia Compe ENE with a 3-arm spider. The large-flange hubs are probably also made by Dia Compe.

Dia Compe ENE crank. 
It appears that when the folks at Bianchi announced that the bike would be built with Campagnolo components, they only meant the derailleurs. Then again, I wondered how they were going to get modern Campy to fit the L'Eroica rules. Most of the other components seem to be made by Dia Compe -- which to somebody like me is fine. The parts are well made and look good. But if somebody was hoping for a full-Campagnolo bike to accommodate the rules of a vintage bike ride, they were maybe being a bit unrealistic.

So, what are the rules?

Here are some relevant points: "Historical Bikes (also called Bici Eroiche, in Italian) are all road racing bikes built in 1987 or earlier . . . These bicycles most likely have a steel frame . . . must have shift levers on the down tube of the frame; exceptions include pre-1980 non indexed bar-end gear shifters and rod/hand manual operated front derailleurs . . . pedals should be with toe clips and straps . . . the brake cables must pass outside and over the handlebars . . . wheels must have at least 32 spokes laced to a low profile rim (20 mm depth or less, except for the wood rims); the rims must be of either steel, aluminum or wood . . . both tubular tyres and clinchers with inner tubes are allowed . . . we invite participants to fit saddles from the same period of the bicycles, so a model of 1987 or earlier, or a vintage model of modern production such as Brooks leather saddles, Cinelli replicas, San Marco, etc."

And this section deals particularly with the acceptance of newer bikes made with a vintage style:

"Vintage-Looking Bikes with steel frame from new or recent construction with vintage look and characteristics may be used only if they are road racing bikes assembled using vintage components or replicated parts similar to the original as described above. In particular if the bikes are inspired by the design of road racing bicycles of the 1970’s and 1980’s, they must comply with rules a), b), and c) above, regarding shift levers, toe clips and straps, and brake cables."

Notice that it doesn't mention anything about the number of gears on the rear wheel.

I haven't seen anything about a price for the new bike. Even Bianchi's website doesn't have pictures of the bike or any further information about it. (I don't know if anybody out there has as much information as what you're getting right here right now!). The quality of the frame is probably very good, and while some may be disappointed at the component choices, it seems to me that they are of high quality, and should help keep the price reasonable. Now we just have to get the official word from Bianchi.


  1. Why 1987? Is that the onset of index shifting? aero levers? brifters? or because of aluminum frames? I was unplugged at the time and didn't reemerge until 1990.

    1. I'm going to have to claim ignorance on the exact reason for 1987 as the cutoff date. There have been discussions with the ClassicRendezvous group about it, but I don't think I've seen a definitive answer. The cutoff for "on-topic" discussion for the CR is 1983 because it's the year Tullio Campagnolo died, and the indexing era started right afterwards. But 1987? It actually could be somewhat arbitrary, but certainly by 1987 things like welded aluminum frames, clipless pedals, aero cable routing became "norms." Yes, all those existed in some form or other before 1987, but they became widespread about that time. There's my best guess. I've searched, but couldn't find better than that.

    2. I suspect it has to do with the history of L'Eroica. It was started in 1997, and I think it defined that rule then which would have simply been a nice even decade for the age of the bikes.

  2. If you google "L;Eroica", you'll find on the second page a Velonews interview with the founder Giancarlo Bocci which explains it to some degree.

  3. I checked out that article and a couple others. The theory I'm running with is that 1987 was the year of Hyperglide rear cassettes and narrower chains without bushings. They are going for old-school shifting with absolutely no aid from the shape of teeth or property of chain.

  4. Here's the quote from Bocci: "The year 1987 was chosen for various reasons, but basically, bikes participating in L’Eroica must have external brake cables, down-tube shifters, and pedals with toe straps." That evasiveness to me could be his way of showing respect for SunTour, because 1987 is when the stuff hit the fan for them.

  5. I was quoted $800 for the frame and fork at ToC in Sacto...

    1. I believe that's pretty comparable to the price for the Tipo Corsa frame. I'll still be interested to see the price of the complete bike if anyone finds one.

    2. The price is announced at $4500 but will depend on the exchange rate at the time of release. All bikes will ship from Europe but there may be a shop or two that will try to stock some. Expected to be available by late Setember.

  6. I saw it and was not impressed. Either they are going for "low" price or maximum profit. Better to find an old steel frame and build it yourself, IMO. And a Brooks saddle?

  7. No surprise at it having a Brooks saddle, the Eroica events are sponsored by Brooks!

    They have published the price on Eroica site today, complete bike €3,150 I think. Probably a nice bike at an OK price for someone with limited knowledge of old bikes and how to build one. But you can buy a MINT classic Italian bike on ebay Italy for significantly less than that if you know your old bikes.

    1. I had recently seen that price published -- not sure exactly what that would come out to in U.S. dollars -- it's about $3500 at current exchange rates, but that doesn't necessarily mean that would be the price here. Seems pretty high to me, given the specifics of the build. I'd have thought the DiaCompe components would help keep the price down a little.

      I see the Brooks saddle as a nice thing, but interestingly, a lot of chatter on the forums, etc, seems to think that the Brooks saddle is totally out of place. Why? British saddle on an Italian bike? Go figure.

      And yes -- true vintage classics can be found for far less. I think it's great that they're doing a "classic-styled" bike, with a lugged frame, and more traditional components -- but I personally would not be in the market for it. Maybe if I was somebody who had to have a brand new bike, but wanted some of the style of an earlier era, I might go for it -- assuming I could stomach the price.

  8. British saddle company owned by an Italian company.

  9. you mentioned one thing I didn't notice before, assuming the '87 and before issue ------- gearing. to me, thats as major a change as the breaking technology. one makes it much easier to get up hills and more dialed in, one stops you faster and safer.

    so that means modern but traditional looking rear derailleurs and cranks can be used, along with their associated BB's.

    actually, it costs less ---------- much less ---------- to buy an older bike and set it up with the period correct stuff, then it does to purchase a modern retro version. I'm afraid I'm of the mind that if the ride is to be pre '87, only modern built components with and equal comparison in specs should be allowed, ie, brakes and derailleurs, handlebars/stems and wheelsets may be newly produced, but very low gear ratio and weight changes would be acceptable.

    the idea is to get not only the LOOK but also appreciate riding characteristics of the 80's and before.

    the Euros L'eroica have it right, much as I hate to say it, the Americans are as usual, taking out the whole pic for marketing purposes...