Benotto Tandem: A Most Unusual Benotto: Part 1
Updated: Aug 13, 2020
Imagine if a Benotto Modello 2500 and a vintage Mixte were joined at the hip. Imagine no more, I found one.
I think my first Benotto came to me in 1982. It was a fine bicycle. a very solid ride as good as any Italian racing bike out there. I especially liked the Champaign color, but it was De Vlaminck, Moser and the Sanson Team that really won me over. I had gained allegiance to the brand in the mid seventies as a boy. Back then, if a picture of European racing hit the US, it was usually of Eddy Merckx. Frequently you would see Benotto in there being piloted by someone in a Sanson jersey. You rarely would see them on the road in the Midwest, but every once in a while someone racing in a field of riders would have one. For some reason I was drawn to this particular bicycle manufacturer and it's history. To this day, I still do not fully understand why.
This is what I am talking about:
Is that Moser on the hunt back there on a Benotto, and in a Sanson jersey? Roger DeVlaemink on a Gios to the far right in Brooklyn colors, and Eddy Merckx in a Fiat Jersey. It must be 1977, and I am 17. These riders were giants.
I remember perhaps the most beautiful Masi Gran Criterium I have ever seen. It was the mid seventies in Indianapolis, and it was a Champaign color very similar to the only color a race quality Benotto came in. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. Faliero Masi was alive at this time this particular Masi would have been built. It was a Gran Criterium in America in the 70's. Whoever did it first, it works:
This is the bike I remember from the 1970's.
I have owned 7 different Benotto's since those days. All of them are interesting bikes. I currently maintain 4, including the road and track bike I raced in the eighties. One of these is a most unusual Benotto.
Somehow I stumbled across a Benotto tandem.
I did not know such a thing existed. Now one is taking up a great deal of space in my workshop. In an effort to help this bicycle earn it's keep, I thought I would share what I have learned from restoring the bicycle with those of you who enjoy old Italian steel bikes. This one is kind of worth talking about:
I stumbled across this bike on an auction site. I had never heard of a Benotto Tandem. I studied the listing and tried to determine if it was a legitimate Benotto. I saw the tell-tale lugs used on the frame, and the design of the bike sure looked like a Benotto Mixte frame welded to the back end of a 2500. The graphics on the bike were late eighties and were placed on the bike in a manner that suggest production around the 1983 time frame and the Gregor Braun era of Benotto racing.
I base this belief on the fact that the bike was the traditional Benotto Champaign color, but had the seat tube graphics oriented to each side of the bicycle. Earlier Benotto frames always had a single vertical panel orienting towards the front of the bike.
Uh.....That is the original paint. Win! Lower quality factory graphics were damaged.
This bike had the later graphics. I do not care for the later graphics. This small but important detail leads me to believe the bike is from the 1983 to 1985 time period. This was when I reported to the United States Army School of the Infantry. I remember when Benotto started doing this, but I way too busy to pay attention for a while. This is a 3000 with the pre-1983-84 placement:
And here is a high- end example of the decal placement I am talking about:
To Me, this is the ultimate Benotto Frame: Shaped tubes, diamond stays, the best configuration of down tube shifters ever designed, with vertical dropouts and braze on front derailleur mount. For me, the seat tube graphic does not work, but it is correct. The fork on this bike is highly worked, and is amazing!
I was contacted by a guy in Florida who was also looking at the bike. This man was Gus Salmon. Gus does graphics for old Benotto bikes. I soon found out he knows one heck of a lot about Benotto bicycles. He shared some cool knowledge about the production of these bikes. Mr. Benotto would have a unique bicycle built by a frame builder, and would deliver the parts in white 5 gallon buckets. I have owned a couple of unique Benotto bikes, and seen a couple more in my travels. I believe this statement to be true, and this bike is a very good example of this. Thanks Gus for the information! Gus later supplied graphics for restorations I have done. His work is identical to the original and his perspective on placement is spot on.
We shared out thoughts on the bike. He seemed to want the bike, but it is a tandem. I think that is why Gus did not snatch the bike, so I did. It was a compulsive move.
I did not mention that all of this occurred as I was fully manifesting the symptoms of an anxiety disorder. I now recognize that spending a large portion of my life "getting through" each day, or mission, to get home to my family had a price. Part of that price seems to be compulsive behavior. At least I did not buy a boat, because I already had one of those. It seems this bike was going to serve that purpose. At least this thing did not have an electrical system.
So, the bike arrived as promised, and I was not disappointed in what showed up at my door. I opened the box and pulled out a vintage Benotto tandem bicycle that was exactly what I thought it was. It was, essentially, a 54 cm Ladies Mixte frame ( a common Benotto build) brazed to a 56 cm Benotto 2500 front end at the Mixte head tube. The bike had a front concentric BB shell for the pilot station. This bike was really cool, even if I was totally jacked up in the head when I bought it.
For you Benotto nuts out there, here is how the bike was equipped when I received it:
There was evidence that the bike had been altered by a shop somewhere in its life, with a different fork. The original headset was in place telling me the bike did not have alot of miles, and the headset race was free of brinelling (the headset bearing pounding into the bearing race, crating a divot and a "notch" you can feel when you steer. This happens as you ride the bike. Tandems are hard on headsets). The fork was a chrome Tange fork known for being good on a tandem:
Remember that the bike had a different fork. We will talk of this later in follow on articles.
The drivetrain was a SR Royale tandem crank system. These are nice Campagnolo copies that are mad of inferior metal stick than the Campagnolo standard. They are good cranks.
This bike was worth the price in vintage parts.
The Bottom brackets are Tandem specific and are of unknown manufacture. They sure look like O.M.A.S. to me.
A pristine Sun Tour VX derailleur system with down tube shifters guided the chains though the gear range. Down tube shifters will provide the most sensitive and responsive means to control gear shifts. I have alot of miles riding with them. Controlling them is an art. I liked them when that is what we had. I dislike them now, and I can't believe I still have all my fingers.
But I digress.
The brakes are really, really cool. back in the early eighties, there were great efforts to out-Campagnolo Campagnolo. There was a great deal of really innovative technology appearing. The brakes on this bike are an example of one of these efforts. This bike had Modolo brakes, known for their stopping ability. That is handy on a tandem. These were very well respected in "The Day". I Score again!
Uh-Oh......Notice that scuff on the seat. There is a lesson there for later on....
Modolo Brakes and ancient French pedals.
The wheels are really cool too! We have Zeus hubs laced with 36 high quality (and heavy gauge) spokes to Mavic Open 4 CD clincher rims. These wheels will hold up to tandem use, and can go to any standard vintage bike of this era. Freewheel hubs, looks to be six speed.
If you look closely, there are four Leotard quill pedals that came with this bike. These were a common upgrade for a bike once upon a time. These will not be ridden, but they are essentially new in condition.
I should not have purchased this bike. I am so glad I did. I received a nicely taken care of and very unusual bike from a bike brand I am very fond of. The paint is original and in very good condition.
I also received a pile of cool parts from my cycling past. This is worth more to me than money....or storage space.
Of course, I immediately took this bicycle apart to learn all about it. I found out a great many things, and learned a great deal about Benotto's and tandems. I will continue this journey in my next piece "Benotto Tandem: A Most Unusual Benotto: Part 2".
Be well, and I shall talk to you soon,