Maulwurf was hell bent on showing me as much Swissness as could be squeezed into one week. By the time he fired up his Mavic team wagon and pointed it towards Zürich, we'd eaten our way through kilo's of Appenzeller cheese, gone to a bike race near Weinfelden and got pissed and sang songs late - until we'd written off a perfect Swiss summer night, guzzled a couple of bottles of fine Graubünden red and soaked up enough essence of Switzerland you could create a medicine, distill it into a bottle and sell it as a cure for depression. We headed off to the 1985 Zürich bike show - inside the exhibition halls something new lay in waiting. A Gary Fisher mountain bike, it's tubes floated with pineapples and fish flowing like waves through a multi coloured Hawaiian inspired scene - we could barely believe our eyes, there was this candy coloured American apparition in the heart of all that was Swiss.
At the same time as the Zürich bike show of 1985, if you lived in Australia and had a custom paint scheme on your hand built steel frame, usually the colour choice was limited to one or two colours - a mid to dark blue was popular. Sometimes a Campag decal would be embedded somewhere in the paint, apart from the manufacturers decals, the most important sticker was the Reynolds or Columbus tubing decal - always placed near the top of the seat tube - easy access for all to check it's pedigree. Yet in Zürich Gary Fisher's bike defied all of this. The Swiss embraced all there was about the eighties and ran with it like a dog gnawing on a new found squeaky toy - and Fisher's bike was just the ticket, like an open invitation to an eighties styled bonanza that lasted well beyond it's use by date, seemingly embedded in the national psyche. About this time the peloton began to resemble a sea of intermingled - colliding rainbows.
peloton |ˈpeləˌtän| noun the main field or group of cyclists in a race. ORIGIN 1950s: from French, literally ‘small ball’ (because of the concentrated grouping of the pack).
Fast forward to 1995 and the morning that Swiss Kurt Betschart headed off for his I.K.O Design Swiss team launch and photo shoot, what must he have thought when looking in the mirror resplendent in a sea of colour - bursting off the I.K.O team Corratec jersey and bow bike. During that period Betschart was teamed up with fellow Swiss Bruno Risi racing six day races, Betschart clocking up 37 career victories in six day races, some with Risi. In 1995 Betschart and Risi won the European Madison championship and were third in the Madison at the world Championships held in Bogota. Risi's career is impressive, a five time world points race champion and together with Franco Marvulli the pair won two world madison championships in 2003 and 2007. Risi rode Corratec built bikes during the mid nineties. One example of a brightly coloured Risi Corratec surfaced in Australia last year, although not a bow bike, just your traditional triangles. Betschart and Risi's history goes back to the day they were born, both in Erstfeld Switzerland in 1968, Betschart on the 25th of August and Risi on the 6th of September.
Corratec was founded in Bavarian Germany in 1990. The Irbacher family proudly associating the brand with the locality, Raubling near Rosenheim. Along the way they've had Mauro Sannino to guide them on the technicalities of frame design. Sannino has vigorously pursued what he calls the Biometric Bow System. It's obvious from images of the bikes from the early nineties that he's been incorporating the Bow Design into his creations for a couple of decades. The Bow design is under constant development, featuring heavily in Corratec's current line up of carbon fibre Bavarian bikes. The Corratec Bow Design vision is encapsulated in this - "The victory of the bow…Bow design, or to be accurate, the Biometric Bow System has a long tradition at Corratec. The sloping two continuous top tubes makes the two frame triangles smaller and this arguably is the most uncompromising way of creating stiffness. It positively screams uphill - uphill" Mauro Sannino says… "Over 30 years experience in frame building and many discussions with racing cyclists. That was and still is my day at Corratec. Discussions with Tour de France winners, Giro winners….The talks are always about one thing. Every rider wants to be able to make optimum use of his power into forward energy without compromise…..For example if a frame is too stiff, it does not absorb shock and hence does not roll well either."
In 2012 in Brisbane the candy coloured apparition that once was Gary Fisher's new MTB paint scheme has manifested itself in the heart and mind of Kai Kenman in the form of his pair of mid 90's Corratec's. Exactly as depicted on the 1994 -1995 Kurt Betschart team card. Kai is a died-in-the-wool Corratec fanatic. Each day checking online for the latest Corratec steel era paraphernalia. So far he's collected straight out of Zürich, a Corratec bow road bike and completed the collection with a matching Corratec bow track bike. There's a signed Betschart Team I.K.O Corratec card and he's got the jersey too.
Kai's life is filled to the brim with bikes. Your normal Brisbane back deck, patio, verandah, outdoor entertainment area is completed with barbecues, comfy chairs and there's always a kitchen and wine or beer fridge not too far away, to help soak up the ambience and euphoria of the relaxed Queensland lifestyle. Not at Kai's house! In lieu of all the usual apparatus there's everything a bike rider needs, a pro spec workshop stand, all the bike tools and a huge work bench to work on exotic machinery - like a pair of Corratec's. One of my favourite Kai Kenman photographs is one he took which tells the story perfectly, the early morning sun softly beaming in the bedroom window lighting a Corratec leant up against the bed - ready to greet the day. Poetic this may be, but that's the way this man lives his life on two wheels - out there riding at any chance or opportunity.
Some say that photographing a dirty bike is just bad form, we've featured Dazza's mud encrusted Stigmata and Mac's pristine Llewellyn, now we have Kai 'I Love a Dirty Bike' Kenman's dirty Corratec's. Everyone's different yet we all ride bikes and that's the spirit of the world of two wheels, whether mud encrusted or polished within a micron of it's life.
We did a quick bike swap the other day, Kai jumped on my modern carbon 2011 Trek Madone 6.9 and couldn't believe how light it was, he seemed to revel in going fast on it. What a contrast, a bloke who only rides on steel and me, I think it's about ten years since I last rode a steel bike. The last one I had was a Serotta, a pretty good benchmark if you love steel frames. Onto Kai's Corratec, he had the front dropped way too low for me, yet he likes it that way. In the end I could have been happy riding the Corratec day in day out if the setup was changed to suit. The 2012 Campagnolo Super Record was a delight, I've always been a Campag fanatic, I was right at home with brakes that worked and a new rear mech that shifts seamlessly from top to bottom. Sannino's Biometric Bow provided the lateral and torsional stiffness that he says he's got built into the smaller triangles, and the geometry made for an easy handling machine (no specs available). The 2012 Super Record brakes had the forks making a hard and long judder though, when I tested it under hard front braking, these brakes are better matched to modern carbon forks with their chunky stiff specifications. I'd also forgotten how much flex is in the bendy old alloy bar and stem setup, wrenching on the bars was like spaghetti in the hands, no wonder they used to snap.
Talk to some who once raced on steel bikes, for a few there's no romanticism there, no care for steel anymore when there's carbon. (note1) Yet there's a new generation of bike fanatics who've taken steel and embraced it, creating bountiful sentimental, idealised images and films of these steel workhorses that we once, for practical reasons, smashed and broke - grinding them into the pavements of the world. For others who rode and raced on steel - yet still have an affinity for it - there's L'Eroica - the embodiment of all that's traditional, steel bikes and woollen jerseys - intermingled in the dust of the Tuscan Sterrati. Kai Kenman rides his Corratec's like Sannino intended - out there on the roads, living life to the full - not locked up in a museum gathering dust. A modern bike rider, taking full advantage of the beauty that he and his compatriots see in steel, yet practical in his approach enjoying the bike and the moment.
All Corratec Bike photos by Robert Cobcroft