Almost 20 years ago I visited the Ferrari factory and museum in Modena, just north of Bologna. You can’t actually get into the factory of course, but the museum was fascinating (if entirely self-referential). Here I heard a story that has stuck with me ever since and was the seed for this journey. I have no idea if it is true, if I am misremembering it or embellishing it, but I want it to be true. Apparently if you buy a new Ferrari you have the choice of picking it up at your dealer or requesting to collect it in person at the factory. Once a day the factory gates open and some new Ferrari owner drives out and off into the distance or into an Italian traffic jam, whichever comes first.
It struck me at the time as an amazing idea. Imagine driving out through those factory gates and then driving your Ferrari home. Why don’t more people do this I thought? If you can afford a Ferrari, then you can surely take the time off to drive it back to the UK. I am pretty certain I will never own a Ferrari, but the story stuck with me and 10 years ago, an idea came into my mind to do something similar, but on a bike. What if I bought my new bike and rode it home from a factory?
Obviously, I am not talking about riding something new home from Taiwan. The bike has to be British or Italian. It has to have heritage, romance. Something that fitted into the ideal from the Ferrari story. It is an easy choice, the bike has to be a Bianchi. Bianchi is the world’s oldest bike brand, having been formed over 130 years ago.
When I started doing triathlons I bought a cheap bike off eBay. Then a mate built one for me with parts sourced off eBay again. The first new bike I ever owned was a Bianchi Nirone, their entry level aluminium framed bike and I loved it. I still love it. It switched to being my winter bike years ago and has been badly looked after and subject to a level of abuse normally reserved for hated rivals. But it is still going and it is hard to part with it. For three winters in a row I have had it serviced with the promise that it needed to get through one more winter before I consigned it to the scrap heap. I can’t part with it. So, the choice of bike brands was always easy.
The harder questions are, can I ride the distance home? Will Bianchi let me ride a bike out of their factory? What route should I take? Can I even afford the bike? And most importantly, when am I ever going to have the time off to do such a trip? Finally, there is always the unspoken question of can I stand my own company for that long?
I have made a list of pro’s and cons. Or to be more specific, my wife Rachel wrote the list as part of her efforts to persuade me to go. Yes, she was the one pushing. Her argument is that for a host of reasons this year was the time to do it. The children have left home, we are downsizing houses to change our standard of living (code for spend less on bills and the mortgage), I have had back problems for a long time and who knows if I will lose the ability to ride distances over the next few years. We can also afford a new bike. If I can stick to a budget, something I am famous for being completely incapable of (see the Rapha collection in my wardrobe). Anyway, Rachel asked me lots of questions and wrote out the list on the back of an envelope as is the time honoured tradition. At the end of my pros and cons, she has added one pro of her own: “Because I want you to, x RB”.