Some say the Bianchi X4 is the most perfect steel racing bike ever produced. Whether for the beauty if it's svelte lines, maybe it's pairing with the legendary Campagnolo C-Record groupset or the X4's revered ride quality and handling characteristics. The X4 was the last of the very special Specialissma Bianchi bicycles produced by Bianchi before the company paired down the Specialissma look with early 90's lugless and unicrown fork designs.
Borne of technological advancements, carbon may have found it's place at the head of the line, presenting the rider with fun factor plus. There's no doubt that a modern carbon race bike delivers an exhilarating ride, especially for those who seek the simple pleasure of belting full tilt, up and down a twisty road as fast as their legs will carry them. Yet more than ever steel is still the choice for many bicycle aficionados.
Often described as works of art, steel bicycles evoke a sense of history and passionate involvement, with the very notion of cycle sport. Modern day artisan steel bike building workshops are springing up all over the globe and old steel bikes are being collected and re-purposed. Amongst these nuovo steel bike aficionado's there are the velo brand, collector devotees. For the dedicated Bianchi collector, the Bianchi X4 is high on the list of must have bikes, the problem that comes with this highly prized rare steel, is that they don't come up for sale very often. Also thin on the ground are solid facts about this enigmatic Bianchi team machine. When it comes to the question of exactly what a Bianchi X4 racing bicycle is, the answer is concealed in an array of variations. It's almost as if X4 stands for a code which defies those who choose to try and break it. Such is the sway of these revered Bianchi machines, last week when I posted about the Bianchi X4 Team Issue bike, I was drawn into continuing to answer the question of how the Specialissma Bianchi X4 came to be.
Even the name X4 Bianchi is an elusive target. First there's the X3, then to find the genesis of the X4 we have to look back at history and the century between 1885 and 1985, ending in the centenary year of the Bianchi brand - 1985. To celebrate one hundred years of racing, a special machine befitting of the company's proud tradition and racing heritage was conceived. The Centenario had to be different to all Bianchi machines that had gone before it.
"This limited edition masterpiece has been created for those who want to celebrate our anniversary with an innovative symbol for the next 100 years of achievement."
The Centenario featured some subtle changes along with shared characteristics with it's predecessors, plus some very lavish embellishments with almost every part receiving the touch of the pantograph. It's the subtle changes we're interested in here, as some were transferred to define the X4 and some had already been introduced in the final versions of the Bianchi X3.
1. First is the seat stay attachment style of the top eyes. Sometimes referred to as seat stay "Stay Ends". Previously the top eyes on models like the Mondiale were flat and finished with chrome. The new Bianchi X4 top eyes received a rounded style, almost bullet shaped, on the X4 they were painted not chromed. Further the top eyes are embellished with the word "Bianchi" in a pantographed cursive script, usually filled with gold coloured paint, but sometimes dark blue.
Top Eyes 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
Also referred to as seat stay "Stay Ends".
2. The X4 investment cast chromed fork crown received special treatment with the Bianchi crest emblazoned into the top and the word Bianchi on the sides of the crown. On some variants the forks and crown were painted black, this version was known as the Bianchi Argentin-X4. The 1987 catalogue describes the fork crown as, Columbus SL with investment cast chromed engraved fork crown. In the first year of production, 1986 some X4 forks received an internally lugged fork crown, including this Speed Bicycles 1986 Bianchi X4.
3. The X4 was constructed from either Columbus SLX, SPX, or TSX.
4. Bianchi X4 head tubes had the Bianchi crest engraved, creating a Bianchi special gold hand painted head badge.
5. Rear brake bridge, Bianchi X4 frames had two versions, the first was modelled on some other Bianchi frames of the era, a common square bridge and also the one used on the Centenario. The square bridge appears to be machined and pantographed, not investment cast. The second was the Silva investment cast bridge shown as Cod : 211 in today's online Silva catalogue.
6. Special Bianchi X4 investment cast lug set. The bottom bracket has the letter B cast into either side, and the word Bianchi underneath. The bottom head tube to main bar lug has the letter B cast into it. Special airfoil seat stays and fork blades were produced to match the unique Bianchi X4 investment cast lug set. Some of the first Bianchi X4's were produced using a version of a Centenario bracket, these brackets originally were cast with "Bianchi 1985 - Centenario". They were then modified for the Bianchi X4 by either grinding away the word Centenario and either "19" or "1985". Alternatively brazing fill material was added to obscure the Centenario origins. Interestingly, Centenario's were actually sold with a completely different bottom bracket, yet these obscure "Centenario 1985" brackets used on the Bianchi X4 appear to be a prototype version for the actual X4 investment cast bracket. Here's an example in CC Rider's flickr feed.
7. Painted in either Bianchi Celeste or Bianchi Celeste and Black without chrome (sometimes referred to as the Argentin model, Bianchi marketed the Argentin model in Japan in 1988 as the Bianchi "Argentin-X4")
8. Chrome on the Bianchi Celeste models (not Argentin versions), chain stays, fork crown, front and rear dropouts and front derailleur braze on.
9. Campagnolo Corsa Record equipped, throughout six years of production - 1986 to 1991, year to year evolving as the Campagnolo C Record group sets changed.
10. Catalogues show a switch from 3ttt stem and bars to ITM from 1988 onwards.
The X4 bike described in the 1987 US catalogue is a very different spec from the team issue Bianchi which I received at the end of January 1987. The team bike was meant for racing, it did not come with a pump peg, did not receive special engraving on many components - just the head stem and special frame engraving and it did not receive the special anodizing to the chain rings.
Here's a couple of examples of models destined for retail sales.
X4 Bianchi Specification - 1987 - from the US Catalogue (Note the use of both Campagnolo C-Record and Campagnolo Super Record)
Bianchi Black and Silver pro rims with Vittoria CG tubular tires the X-4 is accented with expensive Bianchi Pantographing. Team Issue SLX/SPX frameset featuring full Campagnolo C Record Group with Bianchi special anodization. Handlebars are hand stitched in Celeste Almarc leather. Campagnolo C Record front derailleur, rear derailleur, friction gear shift levers, seat post, bottom bracket, crankset, hubs and headset. 51, 53, 55, 57, 59, 61cm Celeste Frame Details Columbus SLX/SPX throughout, Bianchi investment cast B.B. and lugs, front derailleur braze-on, Bianchi engraving, 2 bottle mounts, pump peg, chrome plated Campagnolo fork ends, chrome plated right and left chainstays. Fork and Headset Columbus SL with investment cast chromed engraved fork crown, Campagnolo C Record Brakeset Campagnolo Super Record. C Record pantographed levers - aero kit. Handlebar and Stem 3T Competizione Aero, 3T AR84 pantographed. Crankset Campagnolo C Record pantographed anodized chainrings 53/42T Pedals Campagnolo C record Saddle and Seatpost Selle Italia Super Turbo. Campagnolo Super Record. Hubset and Spokes Campagnolo C-Record. Alpina Inox. Freewheel and Chain Regina CX silver 13-23T. CX silver. Tires and Rims Vittoria CG, Bianchi Speciale. Miscellaneous Campagnolo C Record toe clips, straps, water bottle, pump, stitched leather bar wrap.
The speed bicycles 1988 example almost replicates the 1987 catalogue spec for retail Bianchi X4's, except for the internally lugged fork crown.
Also for 1987 Bianchi boasted of the quality workmanship put out by two north Italian bicycle artisans working in the reparto corse division, Osvaldo Bettoni and Pietro Fanzanga. Bettoni had raced for the Bottechia squad and finished the 1977 and 1978 editions of the Giro di Italia."Our resource is the Northern Italian bicycle artisan. Day in day out individuals like Pietro Fanzaga and Osvaldo Bettoni make Bianchi bicycles for you as well as riders like Moreno Argentin."
Here's an example of the scarcity of the X4 styled line of Reparto Corse bikes. There were fourteen reparto-corse Bianchi Argentin bikes imported into the L.A area in 1987, as the following advertisement descibes. These examples probably built by or under instruction from Fanzanga and Bettoni. THERE ARE ONLY TWO WAYS TO OWN AN EXOTIC TEAM ISSUE BIANCHI
You could sum up the general style of the Bianchi X4 by simply referring to these details.
1. Top eye attachment style
2. Fork crown engraving style and finish
3. Columbus SLX, SPX or TSX
4. Engraved or pantographed head tube
5. Square bridge on some 1986 frames. LaterSilva rear brake bridge.
6. Special Bianchi X4 investment cast lug set
7. Internally routed rear derailleur cable, routed through drive side chain stay.
8. Chrome on the Bianchi Celeste models. Argentin version black and celeste no chrome.
9. Campagnolo Corsa Record equipped.
10. Switch from 3ttt stem and bars to ITM from 1988 onwards.
11. Special gusset behind the BB instead of a chain stay bridge.
Another X4 variant is the expansively engraved, pantographed version that was produced for importer / dealer promotional purposes in 1986 and early 1987. A small number of these consumer bikes were output with pantographed Campagnolo Corsa Record cranks and chain rings. The special Campagnolo Corsa Record chain rings were custom anodised for the X4 promotional bikes. These special Bianchi Campagnolo chain rings have a different finish to Campagnolo Century and other darker Campagnolo anodised parts from the era, making the Bianchi items unique. The right side friction gear shift lever was pantographed with X4 as well as the two Campagnolo Super Record brake calipers. The 3ttt Record LA 84 stem was also pantographed with the Bianchi X4 logo.
This rare pantographed Bianchi X4 is not for everyone. Some X4 aficionados prefer their bikes without the extensive pantographing.
Early X4's in 1986 and 1987 were shipped with external rear brake cable guides, by 1988 until the end of production of the Bianchi X4, rear brake cables were routed internally. Different decals, mostly the dark blue with gold Bianchi wing detail, but others were used, like my team bike, with plain dark blue. Different lug variants for the head tube to down tube (main bar) junction. Different fork crown treatments, mostly externally lugged and some internally lugged. The top eye attachment is consistent with only one version of the word Bianchi inscribed in the script style font, although then painted in either gold or dark blue. Then there’s four variations in the pantograph styling of the rear brake bridge alone, including the use of either dark blue or gold paint.
1. X4 singly pantographed in the right side of the rear brake bridge.
2. The word Bianchi pantographed in a script style font on the right side of the rear brake bridge.
3. The word Bianchi pantographed in a simple font on the right side of the rear brake bridge.
4. The word Bianchi pantographed in a simple font on both sides of the brake bridge.
To further complicate identification of the X4, there were the variants with black forks, head tube and rear triangle, sometimes referred to as the BianchiArgentin model. The special Team Issue bike Moreno Argentin won the 1986 world championship on, which was marked and engraved as a Centenario, is a far cry from the pristine Centenario’s found hung in museums and private collections. Argentin’s black and celeste painted team bike is devoid of most of the embelishments of the polished cabinet enclosed Centenario’s. Apart from the black paint and it’s special engraved name, for all intensive purposes the 1986 Argentin team bike is the same as a celeste coloured X4 team bike, conceived for one purpose – racing. There were the Bianchi Argentin X4’s mentioned here, imported into the United States. Japan also made available Bianchi X4-Argentin bikes for consumers in 1988, the 1988 Bianchi catalogue lists the “Argentin-X4″ as an option as well as the stock celeste Bianchi X4.
Then there’s the Mondiale from 1985, later versions of the Mondiale received the same fork crown as the Centenario and X4 variants, yet the Mondiale retained it’s flattened seat stay attachment, was constructed from Columbus SL or SP and a Bianchi decal for the head badge rather than a pantographed head badge. Thus creating a remarkably similar looking machine to the X4. The Mondiale looks for all intensive purposes like a Bianchi X3.
All this means just one thing. By the time you’ve got your hands on one of these elusive steel Bianchi race machines, then successfully navigated the expansive list of variants, finally deciphering the Bianchi X4 code. Your very special Bianchi is bound to be unique.