Saturday, December 10, 2016

Louis Vuitton Buys Pinarello

I'll bet a lot of Retrogrouch readers remember this:

Or this:

And almost certainly this:

And even though there's nothing even remotely retro-grouchy about it, even the young ones probably remember this:

Well - as Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan once said, the times they are a'changin'. One of the most successful bike brands in Tour de France history (12 wins) has just been sold. The story has been circulating for months as a deal was apparently in the works, but now it's official: the luxury brand conglomerate LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) has acquired Pinarello. The storied racing bikes will now be part of the luxury boutique products family that includes such names as Moët Chandon champagne, Hennessy cognac, Louis Vuitton handbags, Givenchy and Christian Dior fashions, Bulgari and TAG Heuer timepieces, DeBeers diamonds, and many more.

Giovanni Pinarello (from the Pinarello website)
The brand was founded in 1953 by Giovanni "Nani" Pinarello, who had achieved some fame early in his racing career for finishing in last place in the 1946 Giro d'Italia, earning him the "maglia nera," or black jersey. Knowing he had no chance of winning the race against riders like Magni and Bobet (who would go on to win the general classification and the mountains leader respectively), he actually worked to secure last place because in those days the maglia nera was celebrated at the finish alongside the race leaders.

He opened his bike shop Cicli Pinarello in Treviso, Italy, after being sidelined from the '52 Giro. He gradually began building his brand, offering frames and bicycles, sponsoring small teams in the 1960s, and growing his reputation. As I understand it from reliable sources (though it's not mentioned on the history page of the company's website) the early frames were contracted out to other reputable builders, which may have included such names as Cinelli and Galmozzi. Eventually, framebuilding was brought in-house. The first big racing success of the Pinarello brand came in 1975 with a Giro d'Italia stage win with Fausto Bertoglio on the Stelvio Pass.

Many Americans will fondly remember American cycling "coming of age" in 1984 with Alexi Grewal winning the Olympic Gold Medal in Los Angeles, astride a Pinarello, and with his hands flung high in the air. The brand saw a surge in popularity in the U.S. soon after.

In the 1980s, leadership of the company began to transfer from father Nani to son Fausto, and in 1988 Pinarello got their first Tour de France win with Pedro Delgado. A few years later would come a long string of TdF victories with Miguel Indurain and his five successive wins, followed by Bjarne Riis in '96, and Jan Ullrich in '97. More recently, Team Sky with Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome would bring the brand's total to 12 TdF victories.

The bikes have obviously changed a lot over the years, and the romantic notion of old Italian craftsmen wielding torches and building bikes by hand has been replaced by computer-optimized carbon fiber frames popped out of molds (and probably not even in Italy anymore). Even though the romanticized image is long gone, I still can't help but feel something is being lost.

Bicycling as an industry seems more and more to be directed away from working class and middle class people, and towards people with means. More luxury goods for the 1%, expensive toys for the rich, to be bought at expensive boutiques and bragged about alongside their golf clubs, polo mallets, Porsches, and speedboats.

Bicycle racing has strong working-class roots. Many racers of the golden era came from poor families, and saw racing as a way up. Stories abound of riders who scraped money together for an affordable bike - or club racers who used their bike for daily transportation during the week, and then would strip off their fenders, change their wheels, and go racing on the weekends. Okay, so it hasn't been like that for a long long time. But it's also clear it will never be like that again.

This movement of bicycling towards the investment and leisure classes began some time ago (consider so-called Halo Bikes) and certainly won't end here. The acquisition of Pinarello by LVMH will very likely be good, financially, for the bike maker. And I'd absolutely expect to see similar deals in the works being announced with other storied bike names and luxury brand conglomerates.

I won't be surprised when it happens. But I won't be celebrating it, either.


  1. The smell of hot flux and the hiss of the torchs, That was and is cycling. Did you ever get a chance to see "Marinoni " ? The Vancouver Bike scene I remember had Talbots, Brodies, Rocky Mtn., Legge, Off-road Toads, where one could see the products in production. Keep up the good work !

  2. I lament the relegation of the bicycle to a luxury toy. The typical carbon fiber bicycle has a safe useful lifespan of 0 to 2 years in my hands and costs as much as a motorcycle. And still has some glaring design flaws. I am pretty much the last person contesting local cat 1/2 cross races on a steel frame and fork. I have yet to destroy one of my bikes although some of them have 20 plus years of racing and hard miles on them. My point is that it probably isn't a good thing for the sport or industry to have the mindset that you need a disposable 5000 dollar bike in order to partake. I don't want cycling to be the new golf. We are better than that.

  3. The plus side of sticking to steel is that steel never gets boring. Even despised frames age gracefully and always bring fun unlike carbon ones that even if not damaged, bore owners so completely that they sell those with no hesitation.

    This being said, I can't take seriously any CF frame that I've seen to date. Have you ever seen carbon frame from the inside? Really, have you tried to look at least at what's inside BB shell or the head tube?

    CF Layering is said to benefit in supporting frame structure in critical places while reducing the weight in places where the stress is minimal. True on paper but not so true in the real life. Patches of CF are arranged in such a careless way that I can't find any cultural word to describe what's going on inside the frame. The wall thickness varies vastly and the arrangement of fiber layers is random at best. Icicles of epoxy are everywhere and there are lot of sharp edges on junctions of patches. Bear in mind that these frames I talk about are from reputable European manufacturer (since I'm LBS worker, I may lose my job if I will drop any names, but trust me — it's an eerie experience) and to make things worse, it features internal cable routing. There was a patch of fiber free of epoxy at all in one frame and it was flapping like the banner in the wind inside the BB shell.

    How in the Earth this abomination is claimed to have consistent quality? I have never seen anything like that even in the most crappy frames made of no name hi-ten steel, not to mention truly quality ones. I trust homogenous structure of cold drawn steel tube rolled of glorious sheet — it always has consistent wall thickness, has no piercing and no cracks in the micro-structure.

    Dudes from marketing departments from all over the world, sing your praises to cosmic technology to those with more money than brains and say what you want. No matter what you'll say, carbon fiber will remain disposable as ever.

    This being said, I've no laments over fate of Pinarello. Even in the world so retarded like ours there will always be place for little no-nonesense manufacturers whom we, consumers, have to support.

  4. I still have working cameras from up to 45 years ago, some strong enough to hammer in tent pegs. The top of the range Nikon from the 1990' was dumped after a very short time and digitals which followed have even less charm and some have even gone into the trash!

    Progress hey? I feel sorry for those in the market now...

  5. North America will never be a truly cycling part of the world until lots of people use bikes for transportation as well as casual recreation. That part of cycling is well served by metal bicycles, and few, if any, (that I know of) made of carbon fibre. It's part of the reason I have little interest in bikes of that material. As you say, it is for the wealthy 'Walter Mitty' rider who likes to think if he rides an expensive enough bicycle it will make him fast. (They don't seem to understand, no matter how much you pay, you still have to pedal it.)

    I own half a dozen fine bicycles from the last half century - yes, the oldest dates from 1965. Little did I realize when I bought them, and hung onto them, that they would come to represent an almost obsolete form of the highest craftsmanship. Lucky me, and any one else who chooses to find and enjoy using a cycle from what in retrospect must be seen as a golden era of cycle crafting.

  6. Yep, saw that, and simply rolled my eyes.

    I gave up, a long time ago, worrying about which brand would "fall" next.

    In time, they all will.

    Cycling, now, is less about passion and art, and more about greedily making sure you check out of the industry with a good chunk of change in your pocket, than in giving a rats ass about the "units" produced under you're guidance.

    Serotta is at the top of my list of heralded names that whored themselves into oblivion at the hands of doctors and lawyers who ride 50 miles a year...

    1. To be fair though, the company fired serotta himself when he wouldn't get on board with selling the brand to be made overseas. I have a Colorado II (bought it used) that is wonderful and still going strong despite a lot of hard miles and several bad crashes.

  7. It used to be that being a cyclist caused you to spend money on a bike.

    Now some people seem to think that spending money on a bike is what makes you a cyclist.

    1. Perfect!

      What happened to bikes, where did all the elegance in design go for those of us who would not be seen dead on plastic, in Lycra or emblazoned with advertising...?