Since it was founded in 1892, Gazelle has become the largest bicycle brand in the Netherlands and has an annual production of 350,000 bikes. Today they manufacture a wide range of high quality city bicycles and leisure bicycles.
One of the most successful professional cyclists to ever live was Eddy Merckx. After his retirement, he decided to start manufacturing his own bicycles using his expertise and life-long passion for the sport. But how did he reach this stage?
Here is the great man himself, Eddy Merckx, being photographed by teammate and friend Vittorio Adorni in 1968.
The unparalleled success of Eddy Merckx
Merckx was born in the Flemish speaking Meensel-Kiezegem, Brabant in Belgium in 1945. He was always into sports growing up, but truly found his passion with cycling. His parents, who ran a grocery shop, bought him his first bike when he was three years old, this would prove to be a defining moment in his life. Over time, Eddy began amateur racing but eventually took it increasingly seriously and after 8 amateur wins, he began to make a real name for himself. However, his parents were not happy about the possibility of leaving school to pursue cycling, as they believed a career in the saddle was a difficult one to succeed in. Eddy, undeterred, became professional in 1965 by signing with Solo-Superia at the age of 20.
After finishing second in the 1965 Belgian national championships, team BIC approached Eddy to sign for them, but instead he signed for Peugeot-BP, where Merckx would achieve his first monument win of the Milan-San Remo in 1966. In 1968, he signed with Faema where he would race alongside some other legends like Zilioli and Adorni. In the same year, Merckx won his first Giro d’Italia.
Following many major successes, when Faema disbanded as a team in 1970, Merckx joined Team Molteni, where he remained until 1976. Whilst with Molteni, Merckx cemented himself in the history books with an unbelievable number of victories including the Tour de France, Vuelta, Giro and the World Championships. Sadly after leaving Molteni, Merckx realised that his body was noty keeping up with his demands and after season-long stints at both Fiat and C&A, he officially announced his retirement in 1978.
Merckx leaving the pack behind in the final Milan-San Remo he would take part in whilst signed up with Faema/Faemino, in 1970.
Merckx is one of the most decorated cyclists of all time with 525 victories to his name across his career. Listed below are some of the largest and most famous wins from The Cannibal’s career:
Grand Tours and World Championships
Tour de France
1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974
Vuelta a España
1968, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1974
1967, 1971, 1973, 1974
1966, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1976
1968, 1970, 1973
Giro di Lombardia
Tour of Flanders
1969, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975
Merckx also broke the UCI World Hour Record in 1972 with a distance of 49,431m which stood until the year 2000. These tables also do not mention the endless list of stage racing classifications - one could really lose themselves in trying to keep a record of just how many wins Merckx had.
The foundation of Eddy Merckx cycles
Following the end of Eddy’s illustrious career, he found himself in somewhat of a self-proclaimed ‘void’, as he still wanted to compete but his body no longer allowed him to do so. He was still incredibly passionate about bikes and extremely knowledgeable. After a few years away from cycling and trying to decide which direction he would go, a discussion with friend and ex-team mechanic Ugo De Rosa would convince Merckx to open his own cyclery in 1980. De Rosa trained the first few employees of the company as a gesture to his friend. The brand went on to be extremely successful throughout the 1980s and 1990s as Merckx’s name always drew attention.
The appeal of Eddy Merckx bikes
The training that De Rosa provided for Eddy was invaluable for the business. The bicycles that were leaving the Eddy Merckx factory were of the highest quality and were made with an incredible level of attention to detail. The frames were extremely strong and very well put together.
Eddy Merckx first released a few different varieties of bikes: the Corsa, Corsa Extra, TSX and the Leader MX. The variations showed that Eddy Merckx cycles were listening to feedback from professional riders on how they could improve their bikes. Merckx himself had learnt that being able to talk to the frame builders was an important way of being able to optimise your rides and be better the next race. So the company prided itself on taking on comments by professionals about what changes they wanted to see in the bikes. Therefore, each new model was slightly different than the one before, but maintained the same incredibly high build-quality and attention to detail.
The Corsa was the initial launch of the professional racing bike, and featured light yet strong Columbus SL tubing, these are identifiable by the C that appears on the frames.
The Corsa Extra was a development on this- featuring the letter X on the frame - in essence the same bike with the same construction method but was made with Columbus SLX tubing for that added rigidity and control that professional riders were looking for.
Over time, towards the end of the 1980s, riders wanted to be in a different position to improve their aerodynamics, so Eddy Merckx moved the seat post back on the Corsa Extra and the TSX was born with a T featuring on the frame.
The final development was the Leader MX. The MX-Leader was the most developed steel frame, Eddy Merckx developed in the 1990s. The strong Columbus Max tubes were fitted into evenly strong oversized lugs. The frame is legendary for its power transfer, its comfort and safe handling.
So what is the Eddy Merckx brand doing today?
Merckx’s ‘never say die’ attitude translated into the business and after some financial difficulties at the beginning, the brand has managed to establish itself within the industry. Merckx’s understanding of cyclists' needs and the way in which the sport naturally had to develop has meant that he has not been shy about making decisions about how the brand should adapt.
Although the man himself stepped down as CEO of the business in 2008, he still visits the factory regularly to check up on the lightweight carbon machines that are being produced today.
3 of the most iconic Eddy Merckx Cycles bikes
Early Eddy Merckx Professional Classic Road Bike from the 1980s
Eddy Merckx Corsa from the 1980s
Here is a fine example of the first road bikes that were leaving the Eddy Merckx factory. Brilliantly assembled, consisting of the best parts and all brandishing the name of the most successful rider proudly.
This model includes Eddy Merckx pantographed components and is in the distinctive deep 1970s style orange to bring back memories of the creator’s golden years.
Eddy Merckx Professional Classic Road Bicycle
Eddy Merckx Corsa Extra from the late 1980s.
Once Merckx started producing bicycles, he didn’t have a wide catalogue of models to choose from, only one: the Professional.
This is one of the bicycles that Ugo de Rosa would have overlooked before it left the production line and thus is a real relic as a lot of the first bikes to leave the factory have made their way into museums across the world.
Eddy Merckx Leader Udo Bölts' Team Telekom Bike from 1993
Eddy Merckx MX Leader from 1993
The MX-Leader was one of the strongest steel frames Eddy Merckx developed in the 1990s. The oversized and uniquely shaped Columbus Max tubes were fitted into strong oversized lugs. This construction made the frame slightly heavier, but a reliable ride.
The frame became well known for its power transfer, comfort and safe handling characteristics. Cornering, sprinting, rapid descents - the MX Leader mastered all disciplines brilliantly. This is an example of a team bike for the Team Telekom, which was built in 1992 for use in the 1993 season by German rider Udo Bölts.
Benotto was founded by Giacinto Benotto, in Torino, Italy, 1931. Like so many Italian bike manufacturers of the era, Benotto himself was a passionate racer and had first hand experience of the competitive world of racing. He knew of the need for high-quality designs.
Giacinto, together with his brother, researched extensively into the development of racing bikes for the future. However, early in 1948, the story of the brand took an unusual turn. Having read about the newly discovered oil in Venezuela, Benotto was keen to travel to South America in order to set up his classic bicycle brand and capitalise on this new found area of wealth.
The Benotto brothers reached port La Guaira in the summer of 1948, along with 200 newly designed Benotto bikes. As they went through customs, Giacinto explained his concept of introducing bikes to Latin America. Despite his best efforts, they weren't convinced. They maintained, 'here in Venezuela we don’t ride bicycles, we drive Cadillacs'. Despite this initial opposition, Giacinto became a successful bicycle pioneer. Benotto developed the first Venezuelan folding bike, the first tandem and a five person bicycle which became famous through television appearances.
Alongside the pioneering business vision of the Benotto brothers, their synonymous brand would also sponsor a series of successful professional cycling teams. 11 World Championship titles have been won by riders of Benotto bicycles, the most most notable winner being Franscesco Moser in San Cristobal, Venezuela, 1977. In addition, Ole Ritter set an hour record on a Benotto bicycle in 1968; 48.653 km in Mexico City.