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The Baracchi Is Born

What the heck is that green thing in the photo?

The story of that “green thing” — a carbon monocoque called the Baracchi — is the story of Cervélo’s formative days. In 1995, Phil White and Gérard Vroomen started a bike design from scratch after top-ranked Italian pro cyclist Gianni Bugno approached Gérard about designing the fastest possible time-trial bike. Having been involved in bicycle and human-powered vehicle design since 1986, when they met in the composite materials lab of McGill University in Montreal, the pair envisioned a radical ride that pushed the limits in almost every area: unbeatable in aerodynamics, yet sacrificing nothing in weight or stiffness.

“The idea was to make riders faster and not be constrained by current thinking,” White explains. “So we used an evidence-based scientific approach. The Baracchi is a two-man time trial, so our goal was to make the bike as fast as two people. That’s where the name came from. We didn’t approach it from the standpoint of engineering a better bike, but of how you would make the rider faster.”

Once the Baracchi was designed, however, Bugno’s bike sponsor wanted nothing to do with it. “We even said they could have their name on it — we were just students, after all. I mean, look at all that space on the downtube for a logo! But they basically said to us, ‘We’re not interested in making riders faster, we’re interested in selling bikes. He is going to ride a round tube Italian steel bike because we sell round tube Italian steel bikes because people want to buy round tube Italian steel bikes.’ And that was that.”

So Phil and Gérard decided to market their creations themselves, and the rest, as they say, is history. But not necessarily recorded history.

“What most people don’t know is that the first meters ever ridden on a Cervélo were at the Montreal Formula 1 track,” Vroomen recalls. “It was early June, 1995. We were just finishing up the last bits of the manufacturing — attaching a brake bridge to the hinged fork and decided that the F1 track would be the perfect place to test the bike without any onlookers. As the curing of the last carbon layer took a bit longer than expected, it was 11 p.m. by the time we got there.

“Someone from the Montreal Cycling team was our test rider, our friend Thomas came for support, and of course Phil and myself, all on this pitch-dark track. Really one of my fondest memories of the whole Cervélo time was to see our “first-born” float over the tarmac lit by faint moonlight.

“What I remember most was the steering. We had some pylons for a slalom and put them so tight that your brain just knew you couldn’t make the turn. But every time you would make it, thanks to the supershort geometry. There were plenty of disadvantages to that, but the cornering was brilliant.

“A moderate version of those ideas made it onto our regular bikes – without the drawbacks – and is one of the reasons our bikes handle so well.”

“From the beginning, Cervélo disrupted the bike industry,” White adds. “We couldn’t sell our aero bikes when we first brought them out — they looked too different. We had to prove to riders that they were faster, and tell them that the sport is a contest of speed, not a fashion show. When we started our own team (the Cervélo TestTeam) it was in part to make the riders get on those bikes, and see that they really were faster. You see those shapes all over the industry now. Thinking outside the box started from the beginning with this company.”