The Bianchi X4 Diaries Part ONE What happens when you've drunk way too much, it's past midnight then in a fit of blind stupidity you decide to call up an old girlfriend, who hasn't heard from you in years. Alternatively, maybe you're like a friend of mine who once thought his Suzuki RGV 250 motorcycle was the ducks nuts, sold it, then years later hoping to re-live his "best motorcycle ever" memories, bought another one only to face the deepest disappointment, saying "it's still a great bike but now expect so much more from a race replica". Worse still you could be confronted with the grisly picture of your old loved puppy's skeleton laid out on the lawn, after your new dog digs up your old dog. Michael Leunig's cartoon which is captioned, - "Awful aspects of spring. The new dog digs up the old dog." - emphatically portrays a moment which no one should live through. All of these things evoke emotions best left alone, or should they?
In my case the very thought of re-connecting with cycle sport by publishing and writing Velo Aficionado had the potential to be as appealing as having your new dog dig up your old dog. For more than twenty years I'd sat on the sidelines, watching but not participating. Once the decision was made to combine a career as a pro photographer, together with previous experience as an elite cyclist into the Velo Aficionado project, there was no turning back.
To see how the old blue Bianchi dog turned out skip ahead to PART SIX of the Bianchi X4 Diaries
A couple of years ago, if you'd said to me that I'd be writing a blog about bikes and even worse still scouring the internet in the hope of finding an old Bianchi X4 team bike, I'd have said you've got rocks in your head. Now here we are, you're reading the blog, I'm having a great time writing it and I've now got a Bianchi X4 frame to restore. It's time for the new dog to fuck off, fetch a stick and stop digging up the yard!
After researching and writing tons of material about the Bianchi X4 team bike that I'd raced on in the 1987 season, the effect it had on me turned to one of curiosity leading to the thought, "I just have to find one". In Februrary 1988 I'd sold the X4 team bike and forgotten about it. Part of me wished I'd kept the X4 and for years some sentimentally inclined friends hoped that I'd be seen pedaling about on a Bianchi. That sentiment saw me momentarily on a nineties lugless Tange Bianchi, but it wasn't an X4 and only lasted about ten months before it broke, so out it went, anyway it just wasn't the same - damn that dog.
As some of you will know, tracking down an X4 is not an easy task and there are different ways you can approach finding one, depending on the outcome you wish to achieve. If you intend riding your new found X4 then you'll need to find one in your size, making the task even harder.
First there are those pristine versions tucked away in glass cabinets, a no go zone, even if you could buy one you wouldn't want to ruin it by riding it now would you. At the other end of the spectrum there are those pitiful examples that look like a band of pirates took them for a test ride then dropped them off at the Dead Sea to rust. I decided that building my own faux version, a concourse example that I could ride was the best way to go. My plan, track down a good solid frame in my size and build my own new X4 using NOS parts, all corresponding to the 1987 Campagnolo and Bianchi catalogues. Key here is to enlist the help of an expert frame restorer. In my case the perfect man for the job is Joe Cosgrove, he's an expert at restoration, plating, frame painting and construction, plus he's got a pantograph machine for all those engraved X4 components.
The first job was to try and track down my old Bianchi X4 team bike, obviously the trail had gone cold after a quarter of a century. I did track down bike collector Peter Taylor in Canberra, who has three Bianchi's in his collection. Peter confirmed that if he'd never seen the X4 then it would probably still be with it's original owner, adding "Bet it's sitting in a garage….dusty but still ok". I hunted around for a while and spoke to some old contacts but no luck. Plan B worked better, it took a few weeks to find an X4 on ebay.co.uk. a 58cm version, which had at one time all it's original paintwork removed, then received a shoddy re-spray job in a solid dark blue. The perfect bike to start from scratch with. This one has been laying about without use, in Europe probably the Netherlands, for a few years since the dark blue colour was applied.
Once Joe had chemically stripped the paint back, we discovered that the frame had previously been grit blasted, in the process removing most of it's original plating. Check out the photos, with a little bit of polishing the fork crown still shows some of it's original plated finish. The only slight problem was the dropouts had received a heavy treatment and the words stamped "BREV Campagnolo" are now a shadowy representation of their former clear outline. We've decided to leave the dropouts exactly as they are to show the history of the frame. We'll polish and re-plate them to exacting standards though.
We now have an X4 frame in great condition, complete with original pantographed head tube, investment cast Bianchi lugs, Silva brake bridge with Bianchi engraved in italic script, Columbus TSX tube set, special X4 investment cast BB, investment cast Bianchi fork crown and internally brazed uniquely shaped X4 rounded top eyes complete with Bianchi italic script, probably investment cast.
Top Eyes or Stay Ends The part of the seat stays that attaches the top portion of the stays to the main triangle, this can be achieved in a multitude of ways and designs. Known in generic terms as plugs. Top eyes can be turned or investment cast. For more details on top eyes see these two suppliers of frame building materials, Long Shen and Framebuilding
Unless you can access an X4 close up it's difficult to see the airfoil shaped front fork blades and seat stays in photos. The X4 really is a beautiful thing in mid 80's frame design, simple elegant lines combined with traditional lugged styling, using special investment cast lugs, for it's time it was a fresh take on traditional lugged frames. This is exemplified in the airfoil shaped seat stays, finished at the top with a unique top eye design, mated with the SILVA brake bridge.
"Investment casting is an industrial process based on and also called lost-wax casting, one of the oldest known metal-forming techniques. From 5,000 years ago, when beeswax formed the pattern, to today’s high-technology waxes, refractory materials and specialist alloys, the castings allow the production of components with accuracy, repeatability, versatility and integrity in a variety of metals and high-performance alloys. Lost-foam casting is a modern form of investment casting that eliminates certain steps in the process." For an alternative method using flat, pressed steel for BB construction, see this video on Bicycle Manufacturing.
A blank slate to create our newly made faux X4. I say faux because it will be in concourse condition and correct to every detail, yet sans original paint, and the NOS parts will be newly pantographed not original factory pantographed components. I'm not interested in a collectors piece just a practical version that I can ride.
Here's where the fun begins, instead of re-creating a replica of my old team bike. This frame will be finished in the same design as the black and celeste versions, sometimes known as the Argentin X4. This means that the forks, fork crown, head tube, dropouts, chain stays and seat stays, plus the Campagnolo C Record front derailleur braze on, these parts all need to be polished and re-plated to the standard of Joe's labour intensive process - Copper, Nickel and Chrome plating. No use leaving it all to Joe, we've decided it's best to share the responsibility of the many hours of polishing in preparation for the three step plating process. By completing some of the work myself, this will also help improve my understanding of what it truly takes to create a jewel like finish on a custom built bike. Once we've created the best possible plating outcome, the final finish on the plated parts will be black chrome. A veil of black colour revealing the highly polished metal underneath. There are other methods, this is the one that Joe has suggested. See also this excellent article about Black Chrome at Artistic Plating. (Note : later in the process we decided against this black chrome look and went for the original celeste and chrome finished version. See photo below of original team bike.)
Once Joe and myself have managed to complete the work of reproducing an authentic finish, I'll post some pictures as part two of When The New Dog Digs Up The Old Dog. For part three I'll take the finished X4 for a ride and let you know if it was really worth digging up the old dog!
A big thanks to Joe Cosgrove for filling in all the tech blanks, by answering my questions about frame building .. top eyes in particular.
SILVA had it's beginnings in 1966, working with jewelery under the name of Silva Bijoux.
The owner of SILVA Andrea Silvano had a passion for cycling. The first activities performed at SILVA were engraving, bike customising, conjuring up ways to make bikes lighter and gilding on high quality bicycle accessories.
By 1975 SILVA was collaborating with companies likeColnago, De Rosa, Olmo, and Bianchi, producing special alloy components for frame building. The brake bridge of the mid 80's X4 Bianchi is an example of this type of work. Today SILVA still produce an identical bridge or Ponticelli - Square Bridges, Cod. 211. During the 1980's SILVA expanded their operations and began supplying manufacturers outside Italy, mainly in Europe. They also began experimenting with producing aluminium wheels.
Another product line which SILVA has become recognised for on a global scale is their handlebar tape. SILVA became a major player insupply of handlebar tape after buying out a smaller tape producing company. The pinnacle of their achievements culminating in the production of cork tape. During the 90's SILVA produced cork tape sourced from raw materials.
Finally Silva added the production of high quality special tools for frame builders and assemblers.
Below a photoset of the stripped Bianchi X4 frame. We removed the blue paint and prepared the frame for polishing. All images by Robert Cobcroft