Design Classic - Cinelli stems
Beautiful and bombproof bars and stems were Cinelli trademarks from the 1940s to the 1990s, as Hilary Stone explains…
Cino Cinelli was one of the most influential of Italian cycle and cycle component manufacturers in post World War II years. We looked at the development of the road frames several years ago and recently looked at a Cinelli children’s bicycle. But Cino made most of his money from stems and handlebars.
Cinelli handlebar stems were a cut above the rest right from the beginning, with a wonderful wide clamp ensuring that the load in the most highly stressed area of a handlebar was spread over a wider area than was standard. The expander bolt and its wedge and the clamp bolt all fitted very precisely, and the handlebar centre diameter was larger (26.4mm) than any other manufacturer’s (though it’s possible that Belgian company Titan were making their bars with a large centre diameter too). As with his frames, Cino attempted to make his bars and stems bombproof without any excess weight. He knew that reliability was all important to the serious racer.
Handlebars and handlebar stems were almost certainly the first items that Cino and his brother Giotto made after setting up in business around 1946-7 in Florence (Firenze). Early stems, which are very rare, carry the oval Cinelli badge stamped Cinelli Firenze rather than Cinelli Milano. Cino and his brother split up around 1950, with Cino moving to Milan. His brother continued in Florence for a few years making stems and bars.
Soon after the move to Milan, Cino’s stems were offered optionally with a smaller version of the head badge as used on the frames. Enamelled stem badges were not, I think, Cino’s idea – I have an Olmo from around 1947-8 which has an enamelled badge secured by two screws covering the expander bolt. The early Cinelli stem (and head) badges were cloisonné enamel; these cannot have been cheap and were soon replaced by enamelled brass badges. The last of the steel stems in the early 1970s optionally came with enamelled aluminium badges.
Three basic stem designs were offered: road with 73 degree angle between quill and extension, the no 2 track stem with a 65 degree angle giving a slightly steeper drop, and the no 3 track stem, sometimes referred to as Sacchi in the 1950s and later called the Sprint, with a 58 degree angle and a very steep drop. Additionally a Stayer adjustable stem was also offered. All these stems, with or without the badges, are very beautiful and quite sculptural. And of course they do not break or allow the bars to slip…
Advent of aluminium
In 1960 Cinelli launched a new range of aluminium stems and bars to run alongside the steel ones. Visually they were quite similar to the steel ones. It was a few years before the new designs were produced in large numbers but overall the road stem, the 1A, was made almost unchanged for more than 30 years, surely an indication of how classic a design it was. And it was the first aluminium stem that was widely used by professional riders. There was a 2A version for track riders and rumour has it there was even a 3A steep track stem although I have never seen one, in the flesh or in a catalogue.
The earliest stems used a 7mm Allen key to tighten the expander bolt and the handlebar clamp bolt had a 12mm nut on the reverse (this continued until around 1972). The Allen key needed for the expander bolt was then changed to a 6mm which meant that one Allen key served to tighten the expander bolt and the handlebar clamp bolt. The earliest stems and bars were not anodised. In the 1970s black anodising became an option and the logo changed to the winged C after the company was sold in 1978.
The 1A stem continued in production into the 1990s, but there was a hiccup in the 1970s when Cinelli launched a new stem, the 1R, with a concealed handlebar clamp, which was not very successful because it was difficult to tighten the clamping wedge sufficiently to prevent the bars from slipping. I don’t think Cino can have been happy with this design, although it had a very clean appearance and survived until the late 1980s. Hilary Stone