Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Celestial Disguise

Ralianchi
The summer evenings are long in Ireland. After a spirited ride through the Sperrin mountains there were still plenty of daylight hours left, and I had settled in to spend them quietly and productively - tending to my velo stable, darning socks, and setting up to make a fresh batch of potcheen in the bathtub - when all the sudden the telephone rang.

“I got something here you might like to see,” said a voice full of hushed urgency. It could only be about one thing.

Putting my important evening plans on hold, I got on my bike and raced down the road to my friend Owen's house, as the sun bathed the fields in a deep golden glow.

Ralianchi
Outside of his garden gate stood a bicycle that, as soon as I set eyes upon it, filled me with a strange, unsettled feeling.

Ralianchi
It was a bit like seeing a friend after a long absence and experiencing a warm flash of recognition - then, almost immediately noticing that some subtle but crucial feature of their appearance has altered... whereupon it dawns on you that perhaps it may not be this friend of yours at all.

"What is this?" I said, even as I ran my fingers along its iconically celeste tubing and well preserved Bianchi decals.

Ralianchi
I am no Bianchi connoisseur. But I have a good visual memory and a knack for spotting key identifying features. Despite its colour and markings, this bicycle did not "feel" like a Bianchi to me. Was it the straight fork putting me off?

Ralianchi
The lack of cast "B" markings on certain lugged bits I'd grown used to spotting them on?

Ralianchi
The altogether alarming endcaps?

Ralianchi
It was all of these things combined, really, and probably a myriad of other tiny features - which no doubt an actual Bianchi connoisseur would be able to identify overtly - culminating in an inkling that something was off.

Ralianchi
"What is it?" I asked again, needing to resolve the ambiguity.

"It's a Team Raleigh 753, resprayed Bianchi colours."

"Oh! Right, that makes sense. But wait... why?!"

Ralianchi
As it turns out, the bicycle once belonged to local cyclist Joe Barr (I have mentioned him before here), who had raced for Team Raleigh in the early 1990s. It was then he acquired this bicycle (you can view the model in its original glory and paint job here). He then switched to the Belgian team Maestro in 1994, which was sponsored by Bianchi and required its riders to ride Bianchi-branded bikes. Whether Joe didn't get a new bike from the Maestro team and therefore had to "re-brand" his old one, or whether he simply preferred the feel of his old bike, I am not exactly clear on. But whichever the case may be, the Team Raleigh was re-vamped with Bianchi colouring and insignia, right down to the Columbus tubing decals (its actual tubing being Reynolds 753).

Ralianchi
While I'd known that things like this were often done in the past, I have never seen a bicycle "in the flesh" before that evidenced the practice so blatantly. How disconcerting and strangely exciting it is to see one bicycle in another's "clothing."

Ralianchi
The Ralianchi, as I shall call it, belongs to Owen now. And the 50cm frame size will work for me as well, so I may get to try it once it's cleaned up and tuned up a bit.

Ralianchi
The "early modern" Campagnolo Chorus groupset is in good working condition and even the original Vittoria tubulars might be all right to keep riding.

Ralianchi
As someone who came of age in the 1990s I tend to think of that era as "recent" ...it's funny to realise though that this bicycle is now more than 20 years old!

Ralianchi
While my understanding of racing history is only very basic, it was nonetheless a treat to see this little piece of it, and I hope it has been interesting for you as well.

Ralianchi
As the sunset transitioned to dusk, I pedaled home and thought about the way colour and emblems can shape our perceptions. When in the past racing bicycles were rebranded in the way this Raleigh was, the sponsors were counting on most spectators not picking up on the discrepancy - and chances are, most of them didn't. But of course there were those few who were not fooled by this machine's "celestial" disguise, and probably stared at it, much as I did, attempting to solve the puzzle of why it did not "feel" like what it purported to be.

34 comments:

  1. Interesting article. Any other instances of this 'practice', that you know of?

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    1. Last year my wife bought a used Litespeed. The previous owner mentioned that Lance Armstrong often rode a Litespeed painted to look like a Trek, at least early in his career. I haven't seen a lot of vintage Bianchis, so I doubt that I'd be able to identify one as well as sharp-eyed Velouria.

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    2. Lance's time trial bike in the early comeback days was a rebranded Litespeed. It looked terrible and I am sure even the most casual observer would know something was up. I could make a more convincing Trek in my basement.

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    3. I have been told the practice was generally "very common" up to the mid 90s, with certain older framebuilders in particular claiming to have made custom frames rebranded as Brand Whatever - because that brand was a sponsor, yet the pro cyclist sponsored by the, performed best on the custom buildder's bike. As far as actually seeing a real example of a rebranded bicycle though, this is my first.

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  2. What a nice bike - I hope this grand old machine is soon back where she belongs, spinning along country lanes in sunshine and in rain ...

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  3. just a pretty bike... even if it is a wolf in (NorthEast) coyote's clothing.

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  4. Pretty neat! I wouldn't have been able to guess it was a Raleigh but like you, I knew that was no Bianchi. I love old Race Bikes, there's usually something about them that makes them stand apart as the real thing> The number card clamp under the top-tube was the obvious thing here, I especially dig the Campy shifter screw they used as the fastener.

    I've seen a few bikes that were running incognito and I used to have an old Crossbike that had been painted and repaired at least a couple of times that whispered "I got secrets ya know..." in a faintly European accent whenever you leaned in with it on the repair stand... It had little cut-off donuts of 5mm tubing under the tope-tube that I assumed were to zip-tie a number card to. I wish I knew more about that bike.

    Spindizzy

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    1. My first thought actually was that it was a frame someone local had built themselves in their shed and sprayed up as a Bianchi : )

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  5. I had a friend with an Alan aluminium bike, can't remember the teamsponsor it was for. But it was actually a steel frame, built in Liverpool and sprayed up.

    Just reading Sean Yates biography. In his amature days he was sponsored by a shop the sold Assos gear. When he turned professional for Peugot, the team issue kit was so aweful, he got Peugot embroidered onto his Assos shorts

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    1. Say what you will about Assos but they make comfortable shorts.

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  6. This is the coolest thing I've read all week. Congrats to Owen on what is probably a very nice riding bike.
    It would be interesting to chat with Joe Barr and find out why he stuck with this bike and resprayed it.

    Apparently, Beryl Burton did stuff like this all through the late 50s, as she hated the Hercules boat anchor road bikes that were standard issue to their teams. Not sure who made her frames during that period. (my $5 American is on Witcomb, though.)

    I look forward to your ride review. It's a neat bike from a seminal era.

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    1. Owen (who raced long distance time trials in the 90s) has been wanting to get back into cycling for the past couple of years, and reckons this machine will do the trick.

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  7. It looks in such a sad state. Why is that?

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    1. Been sitting unridden for over a decade I am guessing.

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  8. Not to get too weird on as an anonymous blog where no one really knows anyone - but this seems a metaphor. It seems that often, and often for professional reasons, we must be other than what we are - or at least put a certain foot forward.

    Further weirdness - I find myself with a certain sympathy for that bicycle.

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  9. Isn't that a Shimano Ultegra 600 front derailleur? Looks like the 'tricolors' in the 8th pic...

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    1. i'd guess that's also a shimano brake. campagnolo's of the dual-pivot era don't have quick-releases built into the brake mech itself.

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  10. What an odd and interesting story I was aware that pro team some time did this as was mentioned with the Litespeed trek reference to He who must not be named and I believe that the "Huffys" the 7-11 team rode were actually Serottas. A (real) Celeste Bianchi from the 70/80s is on my list of someday bikes.

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    1. Really, they rode Huffys?!

      I would love a '40s celeste Bianchi, but can dream on!

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    2. I remember those bikes. Quite odd to see the Huffy name painted on the tubes but I understood Serotta was the builder. Back in those days I was working in a bike shop and whenever someone brought in a real Huffy for repairs it was the same story…the bike was so poorly made it wasn't worth the customers money to make it ridable and safe on the streets. Also had friends doing the opposite. Taking high quality bikes and removing all references to brand in order to make them cool, ugly, beat up looking. Even spray painting them odd colors. They'd take Raleigh Competitions or Internationals, Bianchi's, Peugeots, and put a Schwinn Varsity decal on it or just fill it with odd stickers. A discerning eye quickly revealed a high quality machine with some pedigree underneath the mask. These guys played Ultimate Frisbee and were their own sort of grungy thoroughbred :)

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  11. Interesting. Until I read this post, I didn't realize that this happened in the bicycle (sports) industry, but perhaps we should have expected this. It happens in other sports. Using a "paint job" is common in tennis, for example. Tennis fans pore over pictures of tennis stars in action wondering why a racket with Wilson decals has a handle that is shaped distinctly like a Head. Much debate ensues until someone who has been around the block reveals that the player is being sponsored by Wilson, but prefers to continue using his old Head racket.

    It's understandable, as it is a lot to ask a player to switch to different gear in today's ridiculously competitive environment.

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  12. Slam dat stem!

    Who says straight-blade forks can't be beautiful? I'll keep an interested eye out for further news on this bike.

    Interesting: It seems to have a very tight front end and (by racing standards) a relatively long rear-center -- is this right?

    "Whether Joe didn't get a new bike from the Maestro team and therefore had to "re-brand" his old one, or whether he simply preferred the feel of his old bike, I am not exactly clear on." "This is the sort of English up with which I will not put." W Churchill

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    1. Well I always have the non-native speaker excuse.

      (The front fork is beautiful not, in eyes mine.)

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    2. I don't understand much of what you say, but do think this fork is cool. It adds rather than detracts.

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  13. The bike was sprayed up for the start of the season as Joe didn't get the new bianchi team bikes in time. Not sure how long he rode it before the team bikes arrived.

    Cadel Evans rode a generic carbon framed time trial bike stickered up to look like a Ridley. The frame had very distinctive rear stays and was often sold by bike shops with their own branding. When his position on the Ridleys TT bike and the generic frame was wind tunnel tested the generic was more efficient. Loads of other stories especially around the mountain stages in the grand tours.

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    1. Thanks for the clarification. I wonder what model (and size!) the new bike that replaced it was, and whether he still has it :)

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    2. It was a Planet X Stealth with Ridley decals: https://www.facebook.com/planetxbikes/posts/683022805047580.

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  14. Jeeeeez finally! where were you?

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    1. Me or the bicycle? The former on a little cycling trip around Donegal for a week. The latter in a shed.

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  15. Is the potcheen for drinking or paint remover?

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  16. Richard Virenque rode a Lightspeed with Peugeot decals in at least one Tour de France.

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  17. Great story. I had read about this, but never seen a photo of one of the bikes.

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