As any Tour De France bore will be able to tell you that the last non-carbon bike to propel its rider to the yellow jersey was Marco Pantani’s Bianchi Mega Pro XL in 1998.
What they probably don’t know is which alloy bike was the last one to be used in the race. I don’t know for certain but I have a hunch that my new steed, the Bianchi FG Lite might be a contender.
It was certainly used for hill climbing by Stefano Garzelli, Danilo Di Luca and Luca Paolin as part of the Liquigas team as late as 2006 – by which time carbon was pretty much the defacto material for Pro racers. Liquigas, however, swapped bike sponsors a year later, so I assume the FG Lite didn’t grace the Tour in 2007.
Bianchi’s alloy addiction
I wonder too if Bianchi were reluctant to jettison alloy for its racing teams and pushed the material a little longer than its rivals. After all the success of Pantani had led to a boom in sales of its EV series of bikes and Jan Ullrich helped too when his Bianchi EV3 pushed Lance Armstrong all the way in 2003. (As an aside on the EV bikes they are not offered for sale a great deal these days and are comparatively expensive. Maybe they were a little too light and delicate for longer-term use? It did seem that some had head tube cracking issues which Bianchi addressed in its later alloy bikes.)
It wasn’t really until the arrival of the 928 in 2005 that the company appeared to be taking carbon bikes seriously. Compare Bianchi with its great rival Colnago, who issued its iconic C40 carbon bike as early as 1993, and had created carbon bikes before then. Even today Bianchi is associated strongly with aluminium. It has the enviable position of offering the de facto starter Italian race bike in the guise of the Via Nirone 7.
Back then to the FG Lite. There is a theory which I fully subscribe to that the FG Lite is a very special bike indeed. After all it had the input of Danilo Di Luca and was shaped by several Pro riders. My version, which dates from 2007, pairs carbon forks and rear stays with a 7000 series Hyperalloy aluminium, alloyed with Zinc and Magnesium frame that I am guessing has barely been improved on since. It is finished in classic Bianchi Celeste, though it was available in other designs and colours including white, sporting the Liquigas livery and blue and back stripes. Early versions had alloy rear stays, while from 2007 onwards carbon rear stays was an option.
The FG Lite’s ride quality
While newer alloy bikes may have good quality frames, few have been built with a racing mind in the same way that the FG Lite was.
For starters it is super lightweight for an alloy. My version tips the scales at 7.5KG. It is also stacked out with high-end components from the Campag Record groupset through to the Eurus wheels.
As befitting a bike which is named after a racing icon (FG is a nod to Felice Gimondi), it performs like a racing bike too. I also own a carbon Infinito CV, yet when it comes to responsiveness the FG Lite seems to work way faster. The geometry too has seemingly more in common with high-end carbon racing bikes like the Oltre. It feels like a bike that is constantly pushing the rider to greater and greater speeds.
And then there’s the climbing, The FG Lite was originally created for ascents (this is where the input from the pro team was so important), and in my limited experience of it so far I have found it pushes the rider forward in lower gears in a way that only the best recent carbon bikes do.
The problem for wannabee FG Lite winners is that they are quite hard to come by. By the end of the 2000s if you wanted a speed machine you were probably going to opt for carbon not alloy. I have no idea on sales figures, but I guess that like its fellow alloy racer the Bianchi Freccia, it wasn’t much of a hit. Its short-ish stint on the pro circuit probably didn’t help either. Today prices can range from a few hundred quid to thousands depending on the seller. Those in the know push the price higher.
If you do find one in your size though, I really can’t recommend it enough. I think you might be able to make a claim that this is the ultimate winter road bike from Bianchi. It has many characteristics of its racier carbon siblings, but might just be a bit sturdier. It really is a joy to ride.
I would love to hear from other FG Lite owners. And if you spot a mistake, feel free to let me know