Colnago Super

The Greatest (Vintage Road) Bikes of All Time?

Cycling Weekly published (22 March 2012) the 50 Greatest Bikes of All Time. Here we pick ten Vintage Road Bikes from that list.

Peugeot PX10 1965 (Tom Simpson)

Famous, at least in the UK, as being the bike Tom Simpson had so many successes on.

Quintessentially French, with Mafac brakes, Stronglight chainset, Simplex gears, Normandie hubs, Nervex lugs… but British Reynolds 531 tubing of course!

VV Classics Peugeot BP merino wool jersey
VV Classics Peugeot BP merino wool jersey

But, in common with many professionals at the time, Simpson would have his frames made privately, mainly by Faliero Masi!  So perhaps the very best bikes were always made by Italians?

The fascinating website Classic Rendez Vous has a wealth of detail on all the classic steel bikes. Click here for historical notes for the PX10.

GIOS Torino 1974 (Roger de Vlaeminck)

Known for his ability seemingly to “float” over the cobbles to win four Paris-Roubaix, Roger de Vlaeminck was Eddy Merckx’s closest rival in the Spring Northern Classics.

VV Classics Brooklyn shirt
VV Classics Brooklyn shirt

As Cycling Weekly points out,  he did just as well on his Flandria… but GIOS is Italian!

Also, in Cycling Weekly‘s 2015 survey of  “The 25  Most Stylish Cyclists of All Time”,  Roger came second. Here’s the link.

Who came first?  Er… the next man on our list!

Bianchi 1952 (Fausto Coppi)

The undisputed Number One cyclist of all time (until Anquetil and Merckx began to challenge), Fausto Coppi immortalised the Bianchi brand with its famous “celeste” colour, which “is to cycling what Ferrari red is to motor sport…”

VV Classics Bianchi Ursus merino wool jersey
VV Classics Bianchi Ursus merino wool jersey

Whilst aluminium components were coming in,  the chainset (with cotter pins) was steel .

The archetypal Italian road bike.

Take a look at Vintage Velo’s snippet of video on YouTube of the more recent (1970s) Bianchi Specialissima Professionale being ridden along the riviera at… Brighton! Here’s the link.

Raleigh Record Ace 1956 (Ray Booty)

Perhaps not in the same league style-wise as those above, but here’s an English example from the 1950s.  In 1956  Ray Booty broke the four-hour barrier for 100 miles (160 km) riding a fixed wheel of 84 inches.  His time was 3 hours 58 minutes and 28 seconds.  (84 inches is quite a low gear: to put it in perspective, it’s riding at 40 kph with say 50 x 16 gearing.  Try it!  For 4 hours! By my calculations, it’s a cadence of 100 revolutions per minute.

Pictured is Ray setting his 100 “straight out” record (ie in one direction) of 3 hours and 28 minutes.  For this he used a fixed but with Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub gears.

Booty's original Record Ace
Booty’s original Record Ace

Booty’s original Record Ace is now owned by Alexander von Tutschek.  It’s a big frame – 25 inches (62.5 cm)  –  and must  have weighed a ton!

Here’s a link to Classic Lightweights for more information and the source of this picture.

Molteni Team Bike 1974 (Eddy Merckx)

The Molteni team bikes bore the  brand name “Eddy Merckx” but they were built by Italians  –  Colnago and De Rosa.

Apart from all the lovely Campag group set, one of the iconic things about the bike was the beautiful unique orange colour which Merckx himself told Cycling Weekly was in fact called “Pumpkin”!

VV Classics Molteni '71 vintage style merino wool jersey
VV Classics Molteni ’71 vintage style merino wool jersey have a virtual bike museum which is worth a visit. Here’s the link to a page showing a 1974 Molteni (Merckx) bike built by Colnago.

YouTube has some short clips taken from the film  “La Course en Tête”. Here’s one. Here we see Merckx training, mixed with some family shots from the film…

 Speedwell Titalite 1973 (Luis Ocaña)

A titanium bike built in Britain for Luis Ocaña’s 1973 Tour, which he won by 15 minutes (in the absence of Merckx).

BIC cap
Vintage style BIC cap

Apparently it was Ron Kitching (UK parts wholesaler) who got Ocaña’s French Bic team to let him try it out  in the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré.  He then used the Speedwell on all the Tour mountain stages.

Early demand was high, but it was too expensive for the mass market.

Shorter TT Bike 1973 (Alf Engers)

Alf Engers AKA The King
Alf Engers AKA The King

It was a Shorter, made in north London,  that Alf Engers rode for his 6 National 25 mile time trial championship wins, and the first “25” to be ridden (in 1978) at more than 30 miles per hour (48 kph).

Alf was a legend, and a great talent, spotted by Alan Shorter when he was young.

Engers is the subject of a recent (2014) DVD which can be bought here.

TI Raleigh Pro Team Bike 1980
(Joop Zoetemelk)

It took the TI Raleigh team 8 years to achieve their objective of winning the Tour.  They wanted it to be with a Brit rider, but this was not to be.  The team were mainly Dutch and Belgians, with the Dutch legend Peter Post as their Directeur Sportif.

raleigh white cap
Vintage style Raleigh cap

The TI Raleigh Pro team bike was in fact made by the man who made his name at Carlton Cycles, Gerald O’Donovan… so no secret Italian frame-building here (that we know of…).

TI (Tube Investments) was the manufacturer of the all-conquering Reynolds 531 tubing.

Gitane 1966 (Jacques Anquetil)

Another example of how beautiful the subtle shades of paint can look on a steel frame (never quite emulated by carbon).

Not to be confused with the French cigarette brand (they did NOT sponsor bike racing), Gitane bikes were made in Machecoul, France.

VV Classics Ford France - Hutchinson merino wool jersey
VV Classics Ford France – Hutchinson merino wool jersey

There’s not much to say about the bikes themselves, but they took on iconic status through their main riders in the 1960s Jacques Anquetil and Jean Stablinski, and don’t forget Rudi Altig.  However, Gitane sponsored many teams over the years and were ridden later by Van Impe, Fignon,  LeMond and Hinault.

Colnago Mexico 1982
(Giuseppe Saronni)

Leaving the best til last?

Colnago Super
1982 Colnago Super

Not sure why, but Colnago is now (along with Bianchi) just about the most revered Italian vintage Italian bike brand.  But Merckx as well as Saronni has something to do with it.

Vintage Velo often have Colnagos from the 70s and 80s in stock.

…words are superfluous.

About Tony Varey

Tony Varey took up cycling at school in the 1960s and became an avid follower of the sport. Struggling to understand the rapidfire RTL race commentaries on a transistor radio certainly helped his French!He then left it behind and followed a career in the oil business including time in Latin America and the Middle East before returning to cycling in his fifties.His enthusiasm has recently been invigorated by the rediscovery of the joys of riding vintage steel-framed bikes around the lanes of West Sussex.

2 thoughts on “The Greatest (Vintage Road) Bikes of All Time?

  1. Dear, I have 100 s of cyclist photo cards of the 70s and 80s. Some names robert Millar, paul sherwen, greg lemond, hennie kuiper, roger de vlaeminck, eric leman, freddie maertens,

  2. What Do you think

    …about the French bonded frames coming up from mid of 80s “La Vie Claire” T.V.T. from Lyon won the TdF overall
    in 1986 and from 1988-1991. But mostly except the Team “Z” hidden the French lightweight frame sets behind the of their team’s frame builder – The French TVT92 frame sets are mostly by the riders by themselves from their own money and the Team labeled them. T.V.T. especially TVT 92 had been labeled as LOOK (1986), Pinarello, Bottecchia, Villiger, Gitane, Zullo, Concorde and …and … Steven Rooks labeled it even as a Colnago for the Buckler-Conalgo Team in 1991.

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