Monday, July 30, 2012

Old Bikes

Penny Farthing on display at local hotel bar on Martha's Vineyard

1980's Bianchi Volpe

In my last post, I described our vacation to Martha's Vineyard and the cycling we did there.  In the course of riding, we encountered some older bicycles that caught my eye.  Our first dinner on the Vineyard was at the home of Bill and Melissa, friends and neighbors of our hosts. When Bill heard we planned to bicycle the next day, he asked to come along. On that ride, I was immediately struck by his bike - an old Bianchi Volpe.  

Bill's Bianchi Volpe

Bill's Volpe is a 12 speed with 6 gears in the rear and two in the front.  It uses friction, bar-end shifters.  (I assume the aero-bars are not original equipment.)  The wheels are 700C.  The derailleur is a Sun Tour Cyclone, a feature that helps date the bike.

Rear derailleur on Bill's Volpe

I checked some Bianchi catalogues available online and found a Volpe in the 1987 catalogue but not in the 1973 catalogue.  Bill's Volpe appears similar but not identical to that in the 1987 catalogue - it has two rather than three gears in the front, for example. The frame is constructed from Tange Cr-Mo tubing.  The sticker promises that the three main tubes, but none of the other tubes, are thinner in the center than the ends ("double butted"), a feature which reduces weight while increasing strength. The Volpe in the 1987 catalogue claims that not only the three main tubes but also the chainstays are double butted. I don't know if this is a difference between Bill's Volpe and a 1987 Volpe, or if they just don't have a sticker for that.  (The two most common kinds of stickers are "Tubes" and "Tubes, Forks, and Stays". The 1987 Volpe is between these two standards.)

Sticker identifying the type of tubing used to construct this frame

A nice piece of detail work on the frame (the Bianchi embossing at the end of the rear stay.)

In summary, I would guess that this bike dates from about 1987.  What is amazing to me is that the Volpe has apparently been in continuous production from the mid 1980's until today, about 25 years.  It has evolved over the years with changing technology but has maintained its identity as an all-steel, do everything, fast but practical road bike.

1990's Specialized HardRock

My wife and I borrowed hybrid bikes to use for our rides.  In a post about renting bikes, I expressed concerns about hybrid bikes. I will revisit this issue in my next post, but here I want to focus a little historical attention on the bike I used, an older Specialized HardRock. Unlike more recent versions of this bike, the model I rode had no suspension. Like Bill's Volpe, this bike had six gears in the rear, but had three in the front and had the lower gearing overall characteristic of mountain and hybrid bikes.

Specialized HardRock

I found a Specialized Hard Rock on eBay very similar in appearance to this one, which was dated "from the 1990s", helping to date the bike I rode.  The bike I rode had a SunTour derailleur; that and the six gears in back help confirm a date in the 1980's or 1990s.  A date in the early 1990s is perhaps most likely.

SunTour Derailleur on the Specialized HardRock I borrowed

SunTour is a very interesting company which produced high quality derailleurs and introduced a number of innovations in derailleur design before they went out of business, not able to compete with Shimano.  I have two SunTour derailleurs in my garage, A SunTour Cyclone on an old Centurion my son keeps here for when he visits, and a SunTour GTK I put on my wife's Gitane in the 1980's when I increased its gear range.


The culture shock I experienced from the changes in bicycle technology which occurred between my first and second cycling careers engendered in me a fascination with the history of bicycles between 1960 and 2010.  There are a lot of wonderful resources available, a few of which I have been able to explore.  Grant Pedersen publishes a newsletter, the Rivendell Reader.  Issue number 42 has a very nice history of much of this period.  Two other resources I found useful are the iBike Timeline and a post on the forum BikeForums.


  1. I think the Hardrock is a 1987; I bought one, pretty thrashed, last summer.

  2. Older post, but I think the Bianchi is 1985...first year of the was I believe the only year it was produced in the Sizzling Peach color.