I got the phone call from Germany two weeks before my wedding. “I’ve found one – early ’70s Cinelli, not bad condition for its age and it’s complete, perhaps even 80% original – do you want it?”. It was not good timing but I did.
Alex runs a vintage bicycle shop in Berlin and I’d met him a year before on a club ride here in the UK and got talking to him. Like me he’s a complete road, or ‘racing’, bike nut, who loves riding and all aspects of the sport both past and present. That day we were both riding our lightweight carbon race bikes but we were in agreement that for all their latest technology and performance orientated design and components there was something missing – they somehow lacked soul.
So, I’d asked him to start looking for a special bike for me, something rare that harked back to an era where bike frames were made by hand from steel (as they had been for some 100 or so years) which was the best material available at the time. From an era when frames weren’t made in moulds in their thousands in Taiwan but instead the frame builder was the master of his art, building one or maybe two frames a day in his workshop. The frame design, detailing and pantographing being his signature – the flourish of the artists brush so to speak.
As any ‘velo-spotter’ will tell you Italy has and still does make some of the finest road bikes and has a long tradition of supplying bikes to the world’s greatest riders and teams – Coppi, Merckx, Gimondi, Indurain and more recently Wiggo and Froome have all ridden to Grand Tour victory on Italian Bianchi, Colnago or Pinarello bikes. In the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s there were several other Italian bike brands like Masi and Cinelli that were up there with the very finest. The bike I had waited over a year to get a call about happened to be a 1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa. It was hand built in Milan most likely by Cinelli’s master frame builder Luigi Valsasina who had also built bikes for the legendary Italian cyclist Fousto Coppi. It has some lovely detailing unique to Cinelli frames at that time, in the days when Cino Cinelli still oversaw everything. All this was before the factory was sold off when Cino retired in the late ’70s and inevitable, bland mass production began.
I think many of us feel nostalgia for the way things were done in the past. Think of advertising through the ages, it’s not just the tone of voice and the way society was portrayed in old ads which often seems charming or even absurd today, but the use of old fonts and typesetting, the often wonderfully drawn illustrations or a distinct photographic style. In combination, these elements capture a moment in time and give the creative a genuine nostalgic appeal in today’s modern world. It’s no surprise advertising posters from the ’20s and ’30s are now so collectible.
It is this design nostalgia combined with racing heritage and rarity that makes old road bikes so appealing to me. The use of the old fonts and illustrative styles on the frame graphics, the ornate jewel-like enamelled headbadges. The slender lines of steel and sparkling chrome, the detailing on the polished metal components – what’s not to like! It’s not just the bike itself I feel nostalgia for either. I’ve recently been scouring eBay for period correct parts to complete my restoration and when the items eventually arrive from some far flung corner of the world they are more often than not in their original packaging. Although intended to be purely functional, the parts are often in beautifully illustrated boxes or sleeves that represent a bygone era of manufacturing and have all the Italian design and flair of the bike itself – far too special to ever put in the bin!
It’s going to take a lot of work to bring my Cinelli back to looking exactly how it did when it rolled out of Milan forty years ago but it will be worth it when it’s complete. It will preserve a moment in time and cycling history. It will be a piece of art that I hope anyone with a love for nostalgia will be able to admire. I can’t wait to take it for a spin.
Jonathon Stacey is a bike nut and BURN Account Director.