I might live in inner-city London, but the place is also a village, and feels ever more so when it comes to the local bike-loving community.
For when a person wants to sell a Bianchi bike the local shops usually send them in my direction,
Mostly they turn up with a battered old Sprint 28C or a ten year old Via Nirone, but occasionally things can get really interesting.
So for several months last year I was informed that a German woman was about to leave the area and was looking to sell me a bike that she knew I would want to buy. After much to-ing and fro-ing she finally got my number and invited me over to inspect her Bianchi.
What I saw intrigued me. Here was a Celeste Bianchi that had a structurally sound, but rather tatty frame and sported a hodge-podge of components including a non-original Tange fork, Yet that frame was certainly light, and it didn’t feel low-end. She told me that the bike was her main ride when she was a cycle courier and that it regularly carried over hundreds of miles per week.
She informed me that the bike had already chosen me for its new owner… I made my excuses and headed home to mull things over.
As ever I sought the advice of Bianchi authority David Dickinson-Lawson who took one look at the pics, noted the frame, the decals and the chrome peeping through under the paint and said he thought it was quite possibly a 1989 Giro or Mondiale in Columbus SLX. In other words, with the exception of the rightly revered Specialissima X4, the top-end racing bike of the era.
The model numbers confirmed that it was from 1989 and the mystery, if there ever was one, was solved. I headed to the women’s house the following day gladly giving her the asking price for the bike.
Enter the X4
And then the new purchase kind of got forgotten. That was because I had my head turned by an X4 frame which appeared on eBay at a price that proved irresistible. So while I spent the festive season breaking in my new BCOS SLX X4, the bike I’d bought remained tucked away in the garage.
Eventually after nagging from a friend I got it out, dusted it down and decided to send it for a respray. But what colour? I had a Celeste SLX bike in the X4, did I really need another one? There were some Giros from that era in black, but I did wonder if this would knock money off its resale value if I decided to sell it.
I was reminded of a Giro in pearl white which had been on sale on eBay for months with no takers, but looked amazing. So white it was. And as for the decals I chose the classic mid 80s one rather than the quirky ones from the end of that decade.
By now I was so off piste I knew that the bike would be firstly unrecognisable to its previous owner and secondly a very long distance from how it had started its life. Aesthetics were trumping authenticity for me in this instance.
When the frame came back from Colourtech in Dartford with its new coat it looked stunning. I then decided to get on the case and paired it up with using some period-friendly-ish components that I had taken from a Colnago from the same time. So an eight-speed Dura-Ace groupset along with Suntour levers and Ambrosio wheels.
My local vintage shop, the Hackney Peddler, which had done a superb job on the X4 were tasked to put everything together. This included sourcing a few more components as well as swapping the knackered Tange forks for an NOS chrome one.
The finished bike looked incredible and I soon banished any thoughts of selling it. But what would it ride like?
Now I know there are probably sound scientific and maybe even alchemical reasons why the X4 should be a significantly superior ride to the Giro, but to me the difference between them is not huge. Both bikes have a solidity to them, yet seem ultra-responsive when you put your foot down. They seem to push you forward in low gears and feel powerful and sturdy as you move to the smaller cog. They are both wonderful to ride – so different from the light, but rather twitchy TSX Bianchis I own which hail from a couple of years later.
In recent weeks the Giro has been my most used bike doing everything from ferrying me to the bakers round the corner to notching up thirty miles round the quieter roads of east London.
As any purist will have already noted there isn’t really anything authentic about the bike apart from the frame. It is in the wrong colour, with wrong decals, and the wrong fork. The components are not even Italian (though I think some Bianchis from that ear were paired with Shimano groupsets)
For me though authenticity for authenticity’s sake can be a pointless exercise, especially if the bike is to be ridden and not just looked at.
I know others will beg to differ, and they are entitled to their opinions as I am to mine (and yes I wouldn’t say no to a fully period-correct Argentin) but I reckon I have one amazing Frankenbike here.
It is interesting too how few SLX Bianchis are sold today? Where did they all go? The only times I have seen them sold, they have relatively cheap. They certainly offer excellent value. X4 ride quality without the panto? Possibly!
Maybe the woman was right, the bike, or at least the frame, did choose its new owner.