F.I.V. Edoardo Bianchi S.p.A (pronounced bee-AHN-kee in Italian) is the world's oldest bicycle-making company still in existence, having pioneered the use of equal-sized wheels with pneumatic rubber tires in 1885. It was founded in Italy in 1885. It produced cars and commercial vehicles from 1900 to 1939 as Autobianchi, though that business was sold to Fiat; and motorcycles from 1897 to 1967. Throughout its modern era, Bianchi has been associated with the Italian Giro d'Italia and Tour de France winners, Fausto Coppi, Marco Pantani and Felice Gimondi.
Edoardo Bianchi, a 21-year-old medical instrument maker, started his bicycle-manufacturing business in a small shop at 7 Via Nirone, Milan in 1885. It has been part of Cycleurope Group, the Swedish company of Grimaldi Industri AB, since May 1997. Bianchi pioneered the front wheel caliper brake.
The Bianchi reputation began when the company sponsored Giovanni Tommasello, the winner of the Grand Prix de Paris sprint competition in 1899. Fifteen years later it was making 45,000 bicycles, 1,500 motorcycles and 1,000 cars a year. In 1935 Bianchi sponsored Costante Girardengo, one of the first Italian stars on the road, and its bicycle sales rose to 70,000 a year. In 1950 Fausto Coppi won the Paris–Roubaix on a Bianchi equipped with what was later named the Campagnolo Paris–Roubaix derailleur gear, for which Bianchi bicycles featured the necessary special drop-outs until 1954. He won the race by two and a half minutes on a bicycle equipped with Universal brakes, Bianchi steel handlebars and stem, a Regina chain and a four-speed freewheel with shaped teeth. It also had Nisi rims, Campagnolo hubs and Pirelli tyres. It was made for sale only in 57 and 59 cm, smaller than the bike that Coppi used. A variation known as the Campione Del Mondo followed Coppi's win in the 1953 world championship.
Riders of different eras have been associated with Bianchi including Felice Gimondi, who continues his association with the company. Recent riders include Danilo Di Luca, Mario Cipollini, Gianni Bugno, Laurent Fignon, Marco Pantani, Moreno Argentin and Jan Ullrich. Until 2007, Bianchi was a cosponsor of the UCI ProTour team, Liquigas. It did not supply teams from 1959 to 1964 nor from 1967 to 1972. In October 2011, for the 2012 season, it was announced that Bianchi had been signed to a two-year deal to co-sponsor and supply bikes to the UCI ProTeams Vacansoleil-DCM and Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela. These sponsorships continued in 2013 and for 2014, with Vacansoleil-DCM ceasing to exist, Bianchi has been supplying the new Belkin Pro Cycling Team and, again, Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela.
The most demanding rider may have been Pantani. Sara Mercante, head of Bianchi's research and development, said: "Pantani had very specific ideas about what he wanted. He had 30 different frames a year from us - with different angles and weights on each one. He changed his bike after every ride. I'd go and meet him during the Giro d'Italia and the Tour and discuss improvements with him. He'd ask to have the geometry changed by, say, half a degree, just to make sure the bike was absolutely perfect. He'd want different angles for different races. He's ask us to tweak the length of the top tube by a millimetre or by half a degree. Pantani was quite obsessive."
Bianchi bicycles are traditionally painted Celeste (pronounced che-les-te in Italian, Se-lest in English), a turquoise also known as Bianchi Green, (and sometimes, incorrectly Tiffany Blue, a copyrighted colour). Contradictory myths say Celeste is the colour of the Milan sky, the eye colour of a former queen of Italy for whom Edoardo Bianchi made a bicycle (the crowned eagle of the company logo is an adaptation of the former royal crest) and that it was a mixture of surplus military paint. The shade has changed over the years, sometimes more blue, then more green.
The company began making trucks in the 1930s and supplied the Italian army during the second world war. It was that that brought the end of production shortly after peace returned because the factory had been so heavily bombed.
Bianchi created a car brand, Autobianchi, in 1955, working with Pirelli and Fiat. The three turned out only a handful of models, almost exclusively small cars, the biggest being the short-lived Autobianchi A111. Autobianchis cost more than Fiats of similar size. Fiat used the brand to test concepts such as glass fibre and front-wheel drive. Fiat bought Autobianchi and integrated it into Lancia. The marque survived in Italy 1995, but became extinct elsewhere when it was rebranded Lancia in 1989.
Bianchi continued with motorcycles, particularly the 125cc Bianchina and the Aquilotto, an auxiliary motor for a conventional bicycles. Bianchi took on Lino Tonti as its research engineer in 1959. It produced 250, 350 and 500cc machines and took part in grands prix in 1960. The company also produced a model for the Italian army and a civilian scooter, the Orsetto 80. Bianchi Motorcycle production was taken over by Piaggio in 1967.
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