This is the first thing I always think when I see bike removed of its branding. Do they just fall off in time? Do people take them off to protect their bikes from being stolen? Do they just somehow slip off in the rain, or while vigorously washing the frame? I don’t know, but the rather gruff and reticent person who sold me this bike was sure it was an eighties Hinault. So sure, in fact, that he made it clear that no questions were merited, and that cash should be presented immediately. I did believe him, and I still do; all the signs are that it very well could be an Hinault.
In this situation, the first thing that any discerning and astute collector of bikes does is worry. Have I been fooled? Was I an idiot to take his word for it? Then, after a stressful drive back home, to check under the bottom bracket for a stamp of evidence to put one’s mind at ease. None. Okay, how about checking other areas, like around the seat post lug? Nothing. The head tube? Nope. The rear dropouts? Nada. However, there was a serial number on the non-drive side dropout, only three numbers, which didn’t really help. The dropouts themselves were stamped, but barely legible. I honestly thought I could read “Vitus”, but the front dropouts were Campagnolo. Surely that’s not right? I checked everywhere else, but to no avail; this bike was not giving up its identity easily.
I loved Hinault as a rider, I grew up with him dominating cycling and winning the Tour doggedly in the 1980’s. What a rider. He somehow personified cycling to me at that time: a hard, relentless, brutal sport that only the toughest could survive, my dad always called it “the cruel sport”. Hinault rode on Gitane bikes early on in his career and then later, in 1984, rode the iconic Look la vie claire bike which I yearned to own when I was a kid. The replicas of those Look bikes are highly collectible and fetch big money on Ebay, but what I wanted to find out is whether Hinault created his own brand of bicycles and frames, even if for just a short time. You can find a few examples of 1990’s Hinault bikes online, but it’s a mixed bag, and there are no catalogues and there seems no definite branding which he created, unlike Greg LeMond.
Spidel, Dura Ace and Cinelli
This bike was built by someone who added a mixture of high quality parts to create a very nice ride: Super LJ derailleurs, Cinelli 1A stem and Giro D’italia bars; black, anodised Rigida rims and Gipiemme Azzurro hubs; a Shimano 600 crank and first generation Dura Ace brakes, all in good condition. The best proof of identity I could get in the end, is that the bike had an Hinault saddle and headset, and that the bike was definitely French, having a French threaded bottom bracket and headset, a 26.4mm seat post and 22mm stem. The small serial number rules out the big brands, and its green, blue and red colouring isn’t typical of French bikes. The Columbus tubing and Campagnolo dropouts, and the nice heart-shaped lug details are signs of a high quality, boutique-made frameset. I will never be certain, but I guess I’ll just have to believe the guy who sold it to me in Lille. Not everyone lies these days, right?