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Pinarello’s classic bikes: Gallery

19 Jun 2020

The bikes that helped turn a small shop in northern Italy into a global Grand Tour-conquering force

Words James Spender Photography Mike Massaro

Life was tough for Giovanni ‘Nani’ Pinarello in the 1940s. One of a dozen brothers, Nani scraped a living in the professional cycling ranks for several years until his team, Bottechia, bought him out of contract in 1952 for 100,000 lire.

Despite this, during that time Nani had become something of a household name amongst the tifosi on account of being the last rider to win the maglia nera in 1951, a ceremonial black jersey awarded for finishing dead last in the Giro d’Italia, but which race organisers ceased awarding the following year. So leveraging this odd popularity and armed with his buyout money, Nani decided to set up a bike shop on a piazza in the north Italian town of Treviso in 1953.

Today that bike shop remains, but instead of someone else’s bike hanging in the window, a Dogma F12 with Lightweight wheels, diamante-encrusted stem cap and €20,000 pricetag hangs proudly on display. And whose name is it on that frame (and, ostentatiously, the top cap as well)?

Fausto Pinarello, Nani’s canny son, who with his late father helped grow Pinarello into one of the most coveted and successful marques in road cycling. So when Cyclist met with Fausto at his Treviso headquarters some years back and discovered what was hiding in his factory’s eaves, we just knew we had to return one day, with a camera, to get the full story.

Fortunately for us, Fausto was on hand and only too happy to tell it.

Espada Hour Record, 1994

‘Forget about Bradley or anyone. Miguel is Miguel. Bradley is amazing, but for his Hour it was maybe six months’ preparation, but with Miguel, he won the Tour de France in the summer of 1994, then one month later he took the record d’ora,’ says Fausto Pinarello.

At 6ft 2in and 80kg, with a resting heart rate of 28bpm and lung capacity of 7.8 litres (a comparable male is around 60bpm and 5 litres), Indurain was the perfect specimen for the Hour record. But the perfect specimen demanded the perfect bike and, as he was with Bradley Wiggins, Fausto Pinarello duly obliged.

‘There was a guy from Florence University who worked with Lamborghini, and he sent me a letter saying, “Do you want to try the wind-tunnel and talk aerodynamics,” and I said, “Yes, why not?” I knew nothing of aerodynamics back then. Or carbon fibre. We made a frame in aluminium, went to the wind-tunnel with Miguel, did tests, then went away and designed the mould with a guy who made carbon fibre parts for Bugatti in Torino.

‘We finished the bikes in July, went to the track with Miguel to test in August – you know how hard that was? Everyone in Italy goes on holiday in August – and in September he made the attempt. At the time Lamborghini had the Espada car, and Espada is Spanish for “sword”. It was the perfect name.’

At 9.25kg this bike wasn’t especially light, and it’s interesting that the ‘bars [from ITM] are unpainted to save weight’ while the rest of the bike has been treated to all manner of paint and graphics. It also cost €50,000 just for the mould and only two bikes came from it, making it a substantial outlay for the brand. But as Fausto remarks, ‘The cost is no problem, because we are interested only in development. This is my philosophy.’ 

Prologo, 1989

‘This was the time-trial bike of Franco Chioccioli in the late 1980s. Francesco Moser had this shape of bike before us, with a 700c rear wheel and 650b front, so this bike design was not new, but it was beautiful. We shaped all the tubes, the curves, ourselves, but the tubes are from Columbus. The lugs have “GPT” engraved on them – Giovanni Pinarello, Treviso, the name of my father. We won the 1991 Giro d’Italia with Franco. He had tried many times before but in 1991 he did it with us.’

Riding for Del Tongo, Chioccioli had one sixth place and two fifth places in the three years prior to 1991. The most agonising must have come in 1988, when the young Italian, poised for victory, surrendered the maglia rosa to Andy Hampsten on the now infamous Stage 14, which saw riders battling some of the worst weather ever to hit a Grand Tour.

The Gavia was set upon by a fierce blizzard and few but Hampsten’s 7-Eleven team had brought sufficient kit, so while Hampsten got ski gloves, glasses, woolly hat, extra layers and even a hot drink, Chioccioli got armwarmers and a headband. Even then, Hampsten rode with ice on his bare shins and was a shivering wreck at the line, so it was no surprise when Chioccioli limped home nearly five minutes later.

He could hardly have blamed the Colnago he was riding that day, but equally he might well have had much to thank the Pinarello Prologo for, having used a descendent of this bike to scoop three stages on his way to finally being crowned Giro d’Italia champion.

Parigina, 1996

An evolution of Miguel Indurain’s Hour record Espada, but one amputation away from pretty much being the bike thrown by Bjarne Riis in 1997 (see overleaf), this Parigina belonged to Andrea Collinelli, who rode it at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, USA.

‘We sponsored the Italian track team, and they rode with these Graeme Obree-style bars,’ says Fausto, referring to the outstretched ‘Superman’ position the Scot had pioneered and used to great effect to beat none other than Collinelli at the 1995 Track World Championships.

‘It was therefore little surprise to see the Italian adopt the same position in 1996 and go on to take not only gold in the 4,000m individual pursuit but also the world record previously held by Obree, completing the distance in 4min 19.699sec. Their bikes could not have been more different, however – Obree’s was steel and homemade, while Collinelli’s was the absolute cutting edge of its day.

‘When we used the Paragina for Riis, the UCI ordered us to cut off the tail over the rear wheel to make the bike legal for road cycling. Of course a road bike needs a brake too, so Riis’s time-trial bike had to have a normal fork, but here there is a fairing over the front wheel.’

In fact, such are the aero lengths Pinarello went to that this Parigina has textured ‘trip strips’ running down the outside-front of the fork legs to help smooth airflow. It’s something you may have spotted before on older versions of the Ridley Noah. Not that Fausto will hear any of it.

‘Who had this on their bikes? When was that? Don’t ask me to say something, I can only say that it is my job to make the best bike, and this bike was 1996, and by 1998 the position and the frame style was illegal.’ 

Parigina, 1997

‘In 1997, in the last time-trial of the Tour de France, Bjarne Riis [riding for Team Telekom] takes this bike and throws it like a butterfly,’ says Fausto with a wry smile. Indeed a clip can be found online of a distraught Riis tossing his Parigina – Italian for ‘Parisian’ – like a discus after two mechanicals in a row, first a puncture and then a dropped chain.

‘I know the reason. Riis [the defending champion] was nervous because the young guys were coming through: Jan Ullrich [Telekom] and Abraham Olano [Banesto]. By the last time-trial the Tour was already over for him, but he wanted the stage. He was obsessed with weight, and he said the bike was too heavy so he wanted to lose one of the chainrings and the front derailleur.

‘We all suggested he did not, but he did, and without the derailleur the vibrations from the road meant the chain came off. But the thing is, the same day Ullrich won and Olano came second on a Parigina [Pinarello sponsored both Telekom and Banesto].

‘The Parigina is based on the Italian track team bike from the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Commentators say it is for the lady because it has no top tube, and when the UCI saw Riis with it at the Danish National Championships they told us we had to cut the tail off if we wanted to take it to the Tour.

‘So we did. It had so much material that we just took the same bike and cut off the tail with a saw and repainted it. In fact, it had so much material that the brake under the bottom bracket actually worked quite well because there was no flexing!’

Dogma FP, 2006

‘Oscar Pereiro won the Tour in 2006 on this bike. Well he lost, then he won, because of that American guy on Phonak – what was his name?’

It’s a ruefully rhetorical question, but the answer is Floyd Landis, who was stripped of the 2006 Tour a year after the fact, handing a retrospective win to Pereiro and making this the last metal bike to win the Tour. Because, while the seatstays and fork are carbon, most of the Dogma FP is something else entirely – magnesium alloy.

‘For me magnesium is the best material in the world. It is not lighter than carbon but it is lighter than aluminium, and because the wall thickness and diameter is bigger [than aluminium for the same weight], magnesium bikes are stiffer but more comfortable as there is more material to absorb vibrations.

‘But it was hard to work with, very flammable, so when you work it there is always one guy who has to stand with a fire extinguisher. And while I love the material, carbon fibre was higher performance, so we made the carbon monocoque F4:13 in 2006.

‘For this bike FSA created the Mega Exo standard [the first oversized BB for 30mm crank spindles] just for me – I wanted a bigger BB shell for more stiffness. You know our components brand, MOST? That name comes from this BB, meaning Movimento Oversized and ST meaning ‘first’. We did it for three years, but it is no good. You get noises, and the bearings need changing every six months.’

Galileo, 2000

‘See these ridges here? The tube is wider at the base and gets thinner as it goes up. It’s the same for the down tube and the seat tube. These ridges look like a telescope, and you know who invented the telescope? So the down tube tapers from something like 42mm at the bottom bracket to 36mm at the head tube.’

True enough, stiffness was the aim with this bike given that it belonged to German powerhouse Jan Ullrich, who would famously turn heavy gears with mock-nonchalance to psych out rivals on climbs. To that extent, all the tubes intersecting with the bottom bracket shell have been drawn as wide as possible – so wide in fact that some of the welding bead has had to be ground off when facing the shell.

‘However despite the large frame size, burly appearance of the aluminium tubing and those early deep-section Campagnolo Bora wheels, total weight with pedals is a remarkable 8.45kg.

‘The seatstays are carbon, made for Pinarello by Time in France. But Time, they use two screws, but we just glue the top of the stays to the frame. Dedacciai made the tubing, it is hydroformed to make the shapes, so to glue in the stays the aluminium had to be perfect.

‘The chainstays are my design too, called “Dyna”, like “dynamic”. I have a patent for the way that they twist and flare towards the BB, for rigidity. This bike was painted by Giancarlo. He started one year before me, 1978, and he still works here. But he will retire in a few months. He is even older than me!’

Espada carbon TT, 1995

While Pedro Delgado kicked off Tour de France success for Pinarello in 1988 under the auspices of the Reynolds team, it was another Spaniard who would propel the brand into the Grande Boucle’s history books.

‘Miguel Indurain won the Tour de France with us from 1992 to 1995. This is the second bike like this of Miguel’s. The first was the one for the Hour record on the track. Six months after that we made this time-trial bike for the road, and Miguel won the 1995 Tour de France with it.’

For the sport, that 1995 edition of the Tour may be seen as a mixed bag. By winning it, Indurain equalled Anquetil, Merckx and Hinault’s record of five wins, and would only be eclipsed in consecutive wins by Lance Armstrong several years later (interestingly, once stripped of his wins, the 1995 Tour would end up being Armstrong’s highest officially recognised finish – 36th). But the 1995 Tour was also marred by tragedy, when a helmetless Fabio Casartelli crashed on Stage 15 and died from head injuries.

Yet as tragic as this was, there’s no question that images of Big Mig in that edition remain some of the most iconic of the time, an era-defining rider aboard an era-defining machine, never to be repeated.

By 2000, the UCI had banned such frame shapes and the mismatched wheel sizes, and by 2003, after the death of another rider, Andrey Kivilev, from head injuries, the iconic images of casquette-wearing riders such as Indurain had been consigned to the history books by the mandatory introduction of helmets.

Banesto, 1995

‘This is the one, written here – number two,’ says Fausto, peering at numbers stamped on the underside of the BB on this Banesto-branded Pinarello. ‘Miguel had five bikes in a season. Number one was for training at home, number two for racing, then two for the two support cars, and one spare. For Geraint Thomas or Chris Froome we make two race bikes: one for the Giro, one for the Tour. Miguel used the same one.’ And in 1995, this was that bike.

With four Tours under his belt, Indurain did what no one had done before and added a fifth consecutive Tour to his palmarès, with the footnote that this would be the last time a steel bike would win the Tour de France.

‘The tubing is by Oria, a Venetian company that is gone now. At the time it was considered oversized! The top tube is lowered to keep the triangle stiff but the seat tube and head tube stick up above it to give Miguel the position. He rode the same sized bike with us for 20 years: 59cm x 59cm, then 180mm x 180mm. That means the cranks were 180mm long and the [horizontal] distance between the bottom bracket and the top of the seat tube was 180mm. He also always rode Selle Italia Turbomatic saddles.

‘Miguel has a collection of all the bikes he ever won on. Erik Zabel [whom Pinarello sponsored at Team Telekom] also has a similar museum. We would give these guys their bikes. I know Team Ineos are different and they usually ask riders to buy their bikes, unless they know for sure they are going to keep them as souvenirs.’

Telekom TT, 1996

The forerunner to the Parigina, Bjarne Riis’s steel Team Telekom time-trial bike was only around for a season, but what a season it was for the Dane. For Pinarello too.

Having sponsored Pedro Delgado’s Reynolds team in the late 1980s, Pinarello found itself usurped by Spanish brand Raseza after Spanish bank Banesto took over Reynolds in 1990 (Indurain won his first Tour in 1991 aboard a Raseza branded bike). That left Pinarello sponsoring only one team, Del Tongo-MG Boys, but success still came when Franco Chioccioli took the Giro in 1991. Pinarello’s future was looking bright, but then the unthinkable happened.

‘Sometimes you lose a team because you lose a team; sometimes you lose a team because someone steals it from you,’ says Fausto cryptically. ‘At the end of 1991 a new sponsor came on board with Del Tongo – Energie – and it brought with it Bianchi. Nobody knew! That’s not how you do business.

‘I heard the bike company sponsoring Banesto was about to go bust, so I did my first team deal, with Banesto, in 1991, aged 29. It was a huge amount of money, my dad says, “Ohh,” but we made history with Miguel.

‘In 1995, Bjarne Riis was trying to win the Tour riding a Bianchi [at Gewiss-Ballan], but we won with Miguel! The same weekend a guy came to me from Telekom and asked if I was interested in sponsoring them. They were with Eddy Merckx bikes, so I called Eddy and said, “Is this OK?” I never steal a team. He said, “Yes, go, go, go.” Three months later Bjarne signs with Team Telekom and he wins the Tour – riding a Pinarello.’