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.
Edoardo Bianchi is arguably one of the most important figures in the world of bicycles. He was born in the heart of Milan in 1865, only a handful of years after the unification of Italy and thus in an extremely important time both in regard to Italian society and its economy. He grew up in an orphanage in the city centre, there he gained a wonderful education and was exposed to, unbelievably, mechanical engineering.
As a teenager he was sent to be a mechanic’s apprentice, once he started earning his own money he began to donate to the institution that had raised him and given him such a valuable start in life.
Just before his 20th birthday in 1885, Edoardo opened his own mechanical business, he was ready to go it alone. His motto was simple and clear: using the best components, offer the best possible product - something that the brand still prides itself on today. The company produced many items with incredible detail, medical tools and vehicles were two of the most successful categories of items for Bianchi to begin with. Nevertheless, one machine grabbed Edoardo’s imagination and became an infatuation for him: the velocipede (a man-powered vehicle consisting of one or more wheels) the most common variety of this was the bicycle. At the time, bicycles were constructed with one wheel larger than the other - this didn’t seem logical to Edoardo who began experimenting with equally sized wheels.
Do you think this design worked?
Following John Boyd Dunlop’s invention of the pneumatic tyre in 1887, Bianchi trialled using the same technology in 1888 which revolutionized the brand and propelled them towards national success.
The success continued into the 1890s as bicycle travel became a more popular form of transportation for the general public, at the turn of the decade Edoardo was called upon by the royal court to teach Queen Margarita how to ride a bicycle. He did not hold back for the occasion and made a completely custom bicycle complete with a diamond encrusted chainguard! Queen Margarita was so impressed that her success in the saddle spread far and wide with dignitaries from other Italian states and Portugal wanting Bianchi’s expertise. In 1895 Bianchi was appointed official supplier by appointment to the Royal Court. This royal interest coincided with an explosion of people wanting to ride bikes amongst the general public.
Naturally, the next progression for the sport was a competitive one. Many national races were popping up in Italy, as those that had been bitten by the cycling bug were not testing themselves against others. Needless to say, Edoardo and his business were very much involved. The competitive element was good for Bianchi as it meant there were constant ways to test different inventions and always a pressure to ensure that your bike would be the best. In 1899 the first notable victory on a Bianchi bike was achieved by Giovanni Tomaselli at the Grand Prix de la Ville de Paris. This success propelled Bianchi to being a leading commercial brand and once Tomaselli’s career ended, he became a key financial advisor to Bianchi.
The early formative years of the brand set them up for greatness, but it was only through hard work and dedication that the brand cemented itself as a legendary bike brand. They prided themselves on their workmanship and championed Italian components, so that every bicycle they produced was an all-Italian thing of perfection. Their care and understanding of the process involved in creating a winning racing machine was noted by sports fans and successful cyclists. Within the professional racing scene, riders of Bianchi bikes were always considered as challenging for victories.
Vintage Bianchi bikes can still be in excellent working order, the skill involved in the construction of the bikes has meant that they have stood the test of time. They are often timeless classics that will turn the head of any fan of cycling, and understandably so. The early experiences that Edoardo Bianchi encountered, meant that the brand was set up for success as long as the ethos that was so important to him was continued: attention to detail, skill and high quality parts. Therefore you can be assured that vintage Bianchi bikes are of the absolute highest quality.
You may have seen the distinctive shade of blue and green that is synonymous with Bianchi bikes. The correct name for this colour is Celeste. This word translates from Italian to English as Heavenly, Celestial or Blue and from looking at the colour, one can understand why!
Here is an example of a 1940s Bianchi Folgore in the classic Celeste colour.
Many brands on the market try to have instantly recognisable logos, but nothing quite grabs the attention like the striking celeste colour. Any cyclist will spot it a mile off and be able to tell you the brand of bicycle - that’s better than any logo.This beautiful shade of blue and green has a very interesting backstory too - there are many theories circulating regarding the origin of where it originated from and why it has remained so central to the brand.
The Milanese sky - the most pragmatic reason that people have come up with for the origin of the colour is by simply believing that it represents the beautiful colour of the skies above the Bianchi factory. People believe that Edoardo wanted to pay homage to the place that inspired him so much and helped him on his way to success.
Excess military paint - another interesting theory is that following the war years the bicycle industry was struggling financially so corners were cut where they could be. One of which was the unused paint by the Italian military was sold off very cheaply as a way to accrue lost funds, which companies needing paint snapped up quickly. Bianchi, combining all these paints, uncovered a striking blue/green colour that was economical and recognisable, and so it stayed!
Queen Margarita’s eyes - arguably the most fanciful yet romantic story is that whilst Edoardo Bianchi was teaching Queen Margarita how to ride her custom-made bicycle, he became so enthralled with her eyes that he painted all his bikes the same colour.
There is no single truth, but lots of small ones that contribute towards the myth of this iconic colour. However, as with most things in life, the colour has adapted over the years to reflect the way that the brand has grown and changed.
This was the top model in the 1920s; the Tipo M is a lightweight racing bike equipped with the famous "Giro Ruota" gearing, a flip flop hub with freewheel and single cog to be switched manually according to rider's needs.
Bianchi Tipo M
Produced between 1933 and 1939, the Bianchi Saetta (Italian for thunderbolt) was a lightweight, lugged steel frame with particularly refined lugs, iconic Bianchi head-tube with integrated headset and a chain oiler at the seat tube.
Bianchi Saetta from 1937
Produced between 1940 and 1949, the Bianchi Folgore is inseparably connected with the epic victories of Fausto Coppi at the 1946 Milano-Sanremo and the 1947 Giro d'Italia. Normally equipped with the iconic Campagnolo Cambio Corsa: a two-lever operated gearing system located on the seat stays developed by Tullio Campagnolo.
Bianchi Folgore from 1940s
Produced between 1950 and 1952, the Bianchi Paris-Roubaix is one of the Milanese brands most iconic models. It takes its name from both the Hell of the North (the informal name for the and Campagnolo's unique Paris-Roubaix groupset.
Bianchi Paris-Roubaix from 1950s
Designed in 1952 and manufactured in 1953 to celebrate Coppi's enormous victory in the 1952 Tour de France; Bianchi produced a prestigious model called the Bianchi Tour de France. However, it did not remain in the catalogue for long and by the end of 1953 it was never made again. Bianchi Tour de France is hard to find.
Bianchi Tour de France
If you have ever seen pictures of professional racers like Fausto Coppi riding a Bianchi bicycle, you have most likely seen a Bianchi Campione del Mondo. First released in 1954 to celebrate Coppi's 1953 World Championship. The combination of headtube lugs and steering set is so amzingly beautiful that one can easily spend hours admiring them.
Bianchi Campione del Mondo 1950s
Released in 1958, the Bianchi Specialissima was made to be as light as possible whilst retaining the stiffness required to translate the power of professional cyclists into formidable speed. With a 27.2mm seat tube, head-tube oiler and a Campagnolo Record Strada Groupset, the Bianchi Specialissima was built by the Bianchi Reparto Corse – the Bianchi Racing Division – with competition in mind. The same model was subsequently used by the legendary Bianchi-Salvarani Team in the 1960s.
Bianchi Specialissima from 1960s
The Specialissima X3 is an extremely rare model released in the early 1980s and was only able to be bought for a short period of time. The frameset was built with Columbus tubes and differed from other models for a few, refined details: a sloped fork crown, aero-shaped seat stays, "V" shaped brake bridge. The Specialissima X3 frameset was then subsequently used to build the Bianchi Centenario model, whose very typical fork crown, rear triangle and brake bridge were basically adopted from the X3.
Bianchi Specialissima X3
Probably one of the finest and most beautiful steel racing bicycles ever produced. Bianchi produced the Specialissima X4 for six years between 1986 and 1991 – they are impeccably crafted using only the best components and are very rare indeed. A special X4 Argentin model was named after Moreno Argentin, after the professional rider of the Sammontana Bianchi team won Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the world championships of 1986 on it. Argentin had black painted head tube and the rear chainstays and is more rare to find than the normal X4 models.
Bianchi Specialissima X4 Argentin Edition
The legendary Bianchi Centenario was developed to celebrate 100 years of Bianchi and came out in 1985. Essentially, the Centenario was developed from the epic Bianchi Specialissima X3 and included a special gunmetal cromovelato paintwork as well as limited edition Campagnolo C Record groupset, leather handlebar cover and seat in the typical Bianchi celesete. Bianchi Centenario with all original paint and pantographed parts is a very rare fund and extremely collectible. All frames were numbered.
Original Bianchi Centenario from 1985