Benotto Bicycles – The birth of a hero

Moser - Nurburgring Worlds, 1978

The 1960s to 80s were the golden years of Benotto bicycles. By the mid 1980s Benotto had numerous 1st place titles including 11 world championships and countless local, national and international competitions such as the Giro d’italia. In 1968 Ole Ritter famously broke the hour record while riding a Benotto Bicycle. He road a staggering 48.653 kms in one hour. It took four years before the great cyclist Eddy Merckx was eventually able to beat that hour distance riding 49.431 kms. Wikipedia

Ole Ritter breaks the hour record in 1968
Ole Ritter breaks the hour record in 1968

Benotto Bicycles History And Timeline

Giacinto Benotto, a young Italian racer, aspired to build great bicycle frames. In 1931 he founded Bicicletas Benotto in Turin Italy, the year that Francesco Camusso won the gruelling 1931 Giro d’Italia.

Francesco Camusso wins the 1931 Giro d'Italia
Francesco Camusso wins the 1931 Giro d’Italia

“Typical of great cycling frame makers, Benotto grew out of the passion of racer Giacinto Benotto who was 24 years old in 1931 when he established the business in Turin.” Retrospective Cycles Amazingly, by 1951 Benotto bicycles had already competed in 3 world championships.

Giacintto and Lea Benotto
Giacinto and Lea Benotto with team

Another famous Italian frame builder Cino Cinelli also started first as a successful racer riding for Frejus (1938-39), Bianchi (1940-43) and Benotto in 1944.

In 1948 Giacinto Benotto had read of the newly discovered oil in Venezuela and thought it a good opportunity to bring cycling there. Eager to expand into emerging markets he took with him a shipment of 200 bicycles. At first he encountered opposition in Venezuela as he was told they “drive Cadillacs” not bicycles, but it wasn’t long before he began getting popular press excited about the Benotto Bicycles.

1948 Benotto Bicycle
1948 Benotto Bicycle

It seemed with each move Benotto’s success continued. In 1951 Antonio Belivacqua rode a Benotto to win the famous Paris-Roubaix.

Belivacqua solos to Roubaix, 1951 on his Benotto.
Antonio Belivacqua wins the 1951 Paris-Roubaix on his Benotto.

Felice Benotto, a family member, was engaged in the cycling scene in Venezuela and was able to get a team to Mexico by October 1950. By 1953 Benotto expanded operations into Mexico as they rapidly became Latin America’s most popular cycling brand. At this point Benotto split their operations between Italy and Latin America.

Giacinto BenottoThe Benotto brand continued to grow. Francesco Moser later won his World Championship in Cristobal Venezuela on a Benotto, in 1977. Then in 1978 Roger DeVlaeminck won Milan San Remo riding a Benotto in ’78. In that same year Moser went on to win the Paris-Roubaix.

francesco moser 1976

Benotto was now known as a serious bicycle among the cycling community and was being used by team riders everywhere. As was the case with heroic riders like Freddy Maertens who rode a Benotto in the 1980s SanGiacomo team and Moser who road a Benotto during the 1975 Tour de France.

Francesco Moser in 1975 Tour de France
Francesco Moser in 1975 Tour de France

The production of all high-end racing bicycles remained in Turin until 1983/84. Around this time Benotto made a decision to move both European and Latin American production of bicycles to Mexico.

By 1985 it is reported that all subsequent bicycles were manufactured in Mexico with the possible exception of the Modelo 5000. Steel Vintage

1984 is the last year of the historic “Italian Made” Benottos. Unfortunately some of the Benotto’s built in Mexico during this time suffered from the bottom brackets or head tubes cracking. This was due to inexperienced fabricators overheating the steel during the brazing process. The majority of Mexican Benotto frames on the road today were built well and others have reported that repairing the crack was a simple matter of rebrazing the cracked areas with bronze.

1984 Italian made Benotto Modello 850
1984 Italian made Benotto Modello 850

Some models like the Modelo 800 and 5000 were unaffected. Modelo 800 was made with Hi-Ten steel which can handle a little more heat and abuse while the Modelo 5000 was unaffected as it was still made in Italy during this period. Also, Benotto forks are outstanding forks. So if you do happen to own or come across a cracked Benotto that you don’t care to repair, salvage the forks.

At this same time Benotto was at the height of its success. For many of the cyclists from this era a Benotto is a representation of the heart of cycling in the 1970s and 80s. It represented a time of quality craftsmanship meeting beautiful design that enabled human’s to go beyond their natural capacity. In the words of Nigel Dalton, “To be accurate, they are beautiful things” and “a bike dear to [Rob] from the early 1980s in Europe.” (source)

BenoAdL

Benottos are famous for their racing geometry and quality of steel. Their bikes were designed for racing, with almost all models having the exact same geometry. The only difference between the frames was the type of metal used. This is a large reason for their popularity today as their frames are iconic of brilliant bicycle design and continue to be excellent frames for fixies and restorations.

26 Benotto brakes Benotto bicycle 5000 classic Benotto drillium

In 1981 the elite US Amateur team was sponsored by Bicicletas Benotto along with other leading Italian cycling brands: Gipiemme components, Ambrosio rims, Hutchinson tires ad IscaSella Saddles. (flandireacafe.com) The team issue Benotto bikes were a mix of diamond and oval shaped chainstays, a testimony to their tradition of handbuilt machinery.

Benotto’s influence in the world cycling scene could even be witnessed on the handlebars of competitor cyclists. Benotto Handlebar Tap was the the handle bar tape to have in the 1970s and 80s. It was light, strong and bold and dominated the landscape.

Benotto cello tape

US team rider Fast Eddy wrote on his personal blog that he didn’t know where his bike was built and it didn’t matter to him, all that mattered was they were riding the same frame as the bike featured in the opening sequence of the documentary “A Sunday in Hell” and the same frame that Moser won his World Championship in Cristobal Venezuela on, in 1977. They were riding a Benotto.

Fast Eddy
Fast Eddy

Yet by 1986 the glory days of Benotto were fast ending. Coincidently a change was taking place in the cycling scene as a whole. Many attribute 1983 as the last year of classic cycling. 1983/84 marked the beginning of clipless pedals, click shifting, the death of Tullio Campagnolo, a move away from brazing steel frames to welding, introduction of cycle computers, and along with it Benotto’s move to Mexico.

Braun Gregor Winning the 1983 German National Road Race on a Benotto
Braun Gregor Winning the 1983 German National Road Race on a Benotto

In the following years Benotto attempted to enter the Triathlon and 7-speed market with the Shimano 600ex, but it was too little too late having not resolved the bottom bracket cracking problem.

Today Benotto’s classic bicycles are a reflection on a different time. Classic cycling events like L’Eroica that are “born out of that love for cycling” are trying to bring back some of the magic from pre ’84 cycling. In many ways a classic Benotto embodies that pure heritage and passion for cycling and the drive to create the perfect man-powered machine.

Moser with Benotto

Worth reading:

http://www.flandriacafe.com/2011/11/benotto-dreams.html

Worth watching:

Good resources:

A growing list of Benotto Bicycles from 1931-1985

http://www.classicrendezvous.com/Italy/Benotto.htm
http://www.vintagevelo.co.uk/2014/07/26/benotto-modelo-800-dilettante/
http://www.mytenspeeds.com/My_TenSpeeds_1/FREE_SITE_VINTAGE/VINTAGE_4_Component_Clues.htm

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