“I would say that this is probably the best bicycle ever built with an automotive name on it.” The carefully chosen words of Martin Storck, eponymous owner of the renowned German bike manufacturer, following the unveiling of the limited edition Fascenario.3 Aston Martin at the Rouleur Classic earlier this month
Combining only the very best componentry and boasting its own unique ‘Argentum Nero’ colour developed in tandem with Aston Martin’s bespoke division, it is a bike of brazen extravagance and one that Storck concedes will ‘be highly sought after by collectors’. And with a £15,777 price tag, they are not talking about the collectors you’ll find rummaging around a bicycle jumble.
There have been innumerable collaborations between high end road bike and car manufacturers in recent years and the attraction is understandable: both are preoccupied with speed, performance and style. For bike manufacturers in particular, aligning yourself with a famous marque, especially a hot-blooded sports car brand, allows them to bask in reflected glory, engendering a certain glitz and glamour.
It follows that the offspring from these unions are invariably expensive. When Bianchi recently launched the SF01, the first in a series of bikes produced in collaboration with Ferrari, the cynics were quick to point out that, for €15,000, one would be paying well over the odds for what was essentially a Bianchi Specialissima with a smattering of cosmetic Ferrari amendments.
Limited Editions command an even heftier price tag. Swiss brand, BMC, released only fifty of their striking Impec Lamborghini, produced in 2013 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Italian supercar manufacturer, but at €25,000 it’s likely that the majority will stay under wraps, never to ascend an Alpine col.
Bike manufacturers inexorably gravitate towards the sports car manufacturers who possess the funds, technical know-how and R&D facilities to relentlessly push boundaries. In return they bring their own extensive experience and expertise to the table and when the affiliation succeeds, the results can become part of cycling legend.
Ernesto Colnago and Enzo Ferrari first colluded on their 1987 Concept Bike (pictured, top) that featured carbon fibre tubes and lugs, hydraulic brakes and gearbox transmission rather than derailleurs and Enzo insisted his new friend use three-spoke carbon wheels. Enzo died in 1988, but he had shown Colnago the future and the collaboration with Ferrari continued and intensified, firstly with the revolutionary carbon monocoque C35 (below) and when Franco Ballerini triumphed in the Roubaix Velodrome in 1995 on a Colnago C40, the days of metal frames in the pro peloton were numbered.
Such an extraordinary bike in the formidable hands of the infamous Mapei team would deliver unprecedented domination, though some of the squad initially aired doubts as to whether Colnago’s carbon frame and steel Precisa forks could withstand the punishment metered out by the pavé of the northern Classics. Ernesto did not share their concerns: “Ferrari’s engineers had shown us that a straight-bladed fork absorbed shock better” he later remarked.
There have been similarly productive relationships in recent years, most notably the meeting of minds between McLaren and Specialized to produce the Venge. McLaren (who, incidentally, made the initial approach) brought 30 years of composite experience to the project, backed up with state-of-the-art research facilities and the exacting standards of production demanded by a leading Formula One team.
Over a nine month period, incremental, but significant gains were made in the design and lay-up of the carbon fibre in order to attain the optimum stiffness, weight and unrivalled performance. Those who cast doubt on the innovation of the Venge were quickly silenced when Matt Goss triumphed in the 2011 edition of Milan San Remo. Little wonder that his HTC-Highroad team mate, Mark Cavendish, admitted that he’d miss riding his Specialized when the team disbanded at the end of the season.
No doubt the success of the Venge proved to be the catalyst for other marriages. Team Sky’s association with Jaguar evolved into something far more productive than a car sharing scheme, with Pinarello working closely with the British company to develop the Dogma F8. And when Pinarello sought to tame the cobbles of Flanders and Roubaix, it was Jaguar’s suspension engineers who provided invaluable input into the development of the Dogma K8-S. In turn, the aerodynamicists at Jaguar’s Warwickshire HQ helped tweak the design of the Bollide HR ridden by Sir Bradly Wiggins in his successful pursuit of the Hour Record.
The input from motoring industry is often imperceptible when it comes to bike design, confined to carbon fibre lay-up or wind tunnel data analysis, but there is one collaboration that resulted in an altogether different beast.
In July 1992, Chris Boardman cycled into the public consciousness when he eased past Jens Lehmann to take gold in the Individual Pursuit at the Barcelona Olympics, but for many of 60 million viewers, his performance was eclipsed by what he was riding. The Lotus Type 108 was, to all intents and purposes, a concept bike, a radical design conceived by the ingenious mind of Mike Burrows, but fine-tuned by the engineers at Lotus.
In his autobiography, Triumphs and Turbulence, Boardman recounts his first meeting with Lotus aerodynamics boffin, Richard Hill. Comfort, Boardman quickly discovered, was not on Hill’s agenda. “His sole focus was reducing drag, bending me into shape to make the air flow as smoothly over me as possible. He neither knew nor really cared about what might be comfortably or biomechanically efficient.”
The gains were significant and Boardman came to appreciate that a fresh, original approach could accelerate technical innovation, even though Hill had no experience of cycling or bike design. The level of wind-tunnel testing and data analysis Lotus provided was unprecedented and like Colnago’s collaboration with Ferrari, helped to revolutionise the sport, sowing the seeds for where we are now, with bike brands regularly turning to the high performance car industry and Formula One in their unceasing search for perfection.