A Celestial Disguise
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.
Outside of his garden gate stood a bicycle that, as soon as I set eyes upon it, filled me with a strange, unsettled feeling.
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.
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?
The lack of cast "B" markings on certain lugged bits I'd grown used to spotting them on?
The altogether alarming endcaps?
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.
"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?!"
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).
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."
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.
The "early modern" Campagnolo Chorus groupset is in good working condition and even the original Vittoria tubulars might be all right to keep riding.
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!
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.
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.