Thursday, June 21, 2012

Viva l'Italia liberata e redenta: The Story of Wilier Triestina


There are plenty of bike brands in the world today.  In the age of mass manufacturing, pretty much anyone can buy a ticket to Taiwan, pick a mold out of a catalog, and have a brand created in their likeness.  Brands are fleeting, coming and going like the tide.  I suppose it is the nature of business these days.  Many of the large brands that dominate the market these days have lost personality.  A brand’s sense of self used to be tied to its history, its home.  In today’s “what have you done for me lately” culture, brands’ identities are subject to their marketing and engineering budget.  



It’s not all apocalyptic Sturm und Drang though.  There are still brands out there that tout a history as impressive as their design credentials—championing an old country idea of cycling and its roots.  Wilier Triestina is one of those brands.  Over 100 years of cycling history roll with these bikes—the brand surviving two world wars and scoring big wins in almost every major cycling event, from the Classics to Worlds.  But Wilier is more than just an old brand.  They didn’t simply live through this history.  The history is a part of them, woven into every bike they make.  The greatest part is, though, that Wilier does not let their brand be defined by their history.  They don’t honor their proud past by becoming trapped under it, producing outdated bikes with outdated technology.  Despite having more tradition than just about any brand out there, Wilier Triestina produces decidedly forward looking machines.  

The Factory at the base of the Monte Grappa


Da Capo


Wilier Triestina (pronounced Vee’-lee-air Tree-es-tee’-na, more on the name later) started under the moniker of Ciclomeccanica Dal Molin in 1906, which if you remember my Giro d’Italia post, was three years before the first Giro.  At the base of the Monte Grappa climb, about 60 miles from Venice, Pietro Dal Molin began producing bicycles.  This continued, as you would expect it to, until World War I, when Pietro’s son, Mario, took over the business.


Mario Dal Molin grew the brand considerably, using chrome and nickel plating—not something common place among bike builders back then—to expand the brand’s renown.  This growth continued until World War II, which the company was able to weather relatively unabated.  


A classic Wilier build done by Cadence.
The old head badge
Wilier collaborated with Campagnolo to produce special Wilier branded components.  Wilier still does this today with FSA.
The build featured custom hand built wheels and complete Wilier branded Campagnolo group--even the hubs!


Il Nome


So how did Ciclomeccanica Dal Molin become Wilier Triestina?  The name is a tribute to the Italian city of Trieste on the Adriatic Sea.  The city and its surrounding coastal area had been a controversial land since the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved after World War I.  Post World War II the area remained occupied.  Dal Molin created a cycling team and named it Wilier Triestina, inspired by the Italian patriotism of those living in the occupied area of Trieste.

The Trieste Coat of Arms.  Similar to a Fleur de Lis, this would later become Wilier's logo.

The first half of the name, Wilier, is actually an acronym.  The “W” stands for the Italian double V (there is no “W” in the Italian alphabet)—or an abbreviation of the Italian word “viva”.   The whole of the phrase goes something like this: Viva l’Italia liberata e redenta—Long live Italy, liberated and redeemed.


When Dal Molin created the Wilier Triestina team he picked a Trieste native, Giordano Cottur—a three-time Giro d’Italia winner himself—to lead the team.  After great racing success with the team, the company adopted the name.

Cottur solos to victory in the Giro d'Italia

The company grew along with its racing pedigree—racking up countless victories in major races—until the Italian reconstruction of the early 1950s brought an economic boom along with motorized and industrial progress.  Italian bicycle companies suffered the consequences of affordable motorized transportation, and Wilier was forced to close its doors in 1952.

The name Wilier Triestina was a great inspiration for all Italians following World War II.

Don’t worry though, the story doesn’t end there.  In 1969 Lino Gastaldello resurrected the brand, building it to the brand you see today.  As before with Dal Molin, Lino built the brand around racing.  The first sponsorship of the Gastaldello era was of the Mecap Hoonved team in 1979 and the result was a Giro d’Italia stage win by Mario Beccia.  They haven’t looked back since.  Recent results include Rebellin winning the historic triple crown of the Ardennes Classics, winning Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallone, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2004.  Ballan won The Tour of Flanders in 2007 and followed the next year with the World Championship Road Race.  Scarponi and his Lampre counterparts have found the new Zero.7 to their liking in recent Giro d’Italias—Scarponi being named the official winner of the 2011 Giro after Contador’s doping suspension. 

The new Twin Blade TT bike. 


So what does all this mean for you though?  Why should you care about a brand’s history?  Why should you want a Wilier?  Ride one.  I don’t even have to try to sell them to you.  Ride one and you will see what 100 years of cycling tradition gets you.  Wilier’s current models push the envelope just as much, if not more so, than other manufacturers that brag of their engineering prowess.  They were one of the first brands around to really invest in aerodynamics—both on their road model, the Imperiale, and their wild looking Cento Crono and the new Twin Blade.  Their Cento1 SL has for years been one of the most impressive bikes on the market, and the new Zero.7 pushes the limits of how light carbon can really get (we built a size 54 in the shop that tipped the scales at around 12 lbs!)



Innovation is not everything though.  Wilier executes their bikes with a flair that is rare in today's engineering driven market.  They understand that a bike should not only be fast, but it should be sexy.  It should make you want to ride it.  That type of panache carries over to the rider--giving you a real sense of pride when you are riding.  The craftsmanship is beautiful, the bikes look beautiful, and the ride is beautiful.  What more can you ask for?

It’s pretty clear they are not resting on their laurels.  They’re not resting on anything.  Wilier is a brand built of national pride, a classic racing pedigree, and technical innovation.  I don’t see them stopping anytime soon.




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