Behind the scenes at the world’s oldest bicycle company
Each year, Bianchi invite dealers to preview all the new models for the year ahead. In July 2016, the event to preview 2017 models was held in Bergamo, Lombardy, Northern Italy. Criterium Cycles were lucky enough to be invited. Two of the highlights of what turned out to be a wonderful few days were an opportunity to test ride the new Bianchi Oltre XR.4 superbike (with Countervail technology) on a mountain climb and a visit to see Bianchi’s factory in Treviglio.
A review of the ride on the Oltre XR.4 will follow but we thought readers would be interested to see a little bit behind the scenes at Bianchi’s main design and production facility.
A bit of history
Bianchi is the world’s oldest bicycle company in continuous production. The management team are clearly aware of the need to preserve and showcase the history of the company whilst at the same time continue to push the boundaries of technology. Bob Ippolito, CEO of Bianchi explained at the start of the factory tour that Bianchi is very careful to ensure the history and legacy of the iconic brand is preserved. One of the ways this is done can evidenced by the importance of the factory itself. All research and development as well as assembly of all Bianchi bikes prior to shipping to distributors around the world takes place in the Treviglio. As we saw during the tour, great attention to detail is paid throughout the entire assembly and testing process.
Bianchi’s factory has been on the Treviglio site since the 1950s having moved from Milano and the historic address of 7 Via Nirone. The first thing you see on entering the building is the wonderful museum. This showcases so many iconic moments in the brand’s rich racing history. Seeing bikes ridden by Coppi, Gimondi and Absalon lined up next to each other is a powerful reminder; a reminder of just how important Bianchi is to the history and development of road and mountain bike racing over many decades.
The layout of the factory is traditional with goods inwards, storage areas and dispatch typical of many manufacturing facilities found around the world. However, it is the manufacturing area that sets the Bianchi factory apart. Racks of frames and components line each side of a large central space, the centrepiece of which is an assembly line with 5 or 6 workstations. At each workstation, a Bianchi craftperson (all wearing smart Bianchi branded t-shirts) assemble bikes with skill and experience. This is one of the really critical points about Bianchi that sets it apart from many other manufacturers of bicycles. Our guide explained that all research & development, design and testing is carried out in the Treviglio facility. Although frame manufacturing is carried out elsewhere (a logical step to keep costs under control) all assembly takes place at Treviglio. Every bike that has the Bianchi brand affixed to it will have passed through this assembly line. That’s a pretty powerful selling point for Bianchi.
Aside from the assembly stations, other workstations and facilities are dotted around performing specific tasks. On one side of the factory floor, two ladies worked on hand preparing frames. One was preparing a frame for painting as part of Bianchi’s Tavalozza programme. Another was building wheels. Further along in the hitech looking paint booth, a Specialissima frame was being hand sprayed.
Some may look at the facility and declare it dated for 2016 thanks to a lack of robots and highly automated processes. However, we came away from the manufacturing room with a great sense of artisan skill and care still being practised by these committed employees. The idea that every Bianchi bike has been through this room confirmed to everyone on the trip that when Bob Ippolito talks about the company being committed to preserving the traditional values of the company, it is not just talk – the evidence is there for all to see.
On the flip side of tradition is cutting edge R&D. Quite rightly we were asked not to take photographs in that part of the factory so I shan’t describe what we saw either. Suffice to say, it was clear that when you ride a Bianchi bike, everything that can be tested, checked and tested again has been. And probably more than once!
A family atmosphere
One of the overriding sensations when walking around is the feeling of family. It felt that everyone who worked for Bianchi did so because it was more than a job. It felt vocational, the passion palpable. In the museum, Bianchi people spoke in hushed tones with even a slight quiver in the voice when talking about Coppi. It was certainly pretty remarkable to see Coppi’s bike up so close. In our slightly pampered days of carbon frames and DI2, this was a bike that clearly placed a lot more physical demands on the rider.
One of the nicest touches in the factory was the staff canteen. It seemed to us that pretty much everyone stopped to have lunch together. The food was excellent (the fresh pasta with even fresher tomato sauce was a highlight) and the sense of camaraderie amongst everyone was obvious to see. British factories could probably learn a thing or two about team building from the Bianchi model.
There are many excellent bike manufacturers in the world and no doubt other facilities are as impressive in different ways. Everyone who has been to Trek’s facility in Waterloo, Wisconsin for instance comes back very excited by what they have seen and we hope to go before too long. But there is something undoubtedly special about the Bianchi factory in Treviglio. Sure, the paint is faded in many places and many modern automation processes haven’t quite made it to Lombardy in their entirety! Thank goodness we say. The combination of heritage and hi-tech is intoxicating and one of the things that really sets Bianchi apart. Long may it continue.
Thanks to Bob Ippolito, Andrew Griffin and the whole team at Bianchi for the opportunity to see around this amazing facility