Resurrecting the Revolution: Cinelli’s Historic Laser Rivoluzione Prototype “Dumpster Find”

The 80’s and 90’s were a wild time for track bikes as design teams competed for gains through technological innovation. Cinelli was right there in the melee shaving power loss through aerodynamic design in partnership with Columbus tubing. The resulting Cinelli Laser changed bicycle design forever, winning more track world championships and Olympic gold medals than any other bicycle in the history of the sport. Andrea Pesenti’s hand-hammered steel gussets curved elegantly between tube junctions producing a fluid, edgeless art that slid through the air and whose DNA can be seen in all of today’s curvy carbon racing machines. Antonio Colombo brought vision and fidelity to art in design. Paolo Erzegovesi brought revolutionary engineering through liberation from lugs telling him where tubing should intersect and at what angle. These customizations nudged riders over the finish line first and set off raging bike crushes on Lasers that some of us never recovered from.

One of the more punk rock versions of the Laser family was the Cinelli Laser Rivoluzione, unveiled in 1987. Photos of this peculiar bike showed up on the walls of bike shops and in magazines all over the world causing collective gasping at what it had: a sliding, adjustable front bar clamp, 650c/700c carbon fiber disc wheels, a front wheel “fairing” – but more for what it did not have: a seat tube. The design allowed the rear wheel to be tucked tightly under the rider creating a whip-short wheelbase, placing faith in a reinforced seat tube cluster, double chainstays and a hearty prayer. It was built with Columbus Multi Shape tubing with a teardrop-shaped downtube and a lemon-shaped top tube.

There is sparse documentation of this bike’s lifecycle other than an appearance in the 1987 and 1994 Cinelli catalogs, a photo from a 1987 Milan bike show, and a tattered photocopy found on the wall of the Cinelli office in Milan being ridden by Rossella Galbiati. The bike is rumored to have been piloted to victory at an Italian National Track Championship [source: Cinelli: The Art and Design of the Bicycle, 2012], but essentially disappears from popular record until it resurfaced in the early 2000s on a construction debris trash pile in Sāo Paulo, Brazil.

As the story goes, the owner of the Rivoluzione frame died and his kin were cleaning out and renovating his Sāo Paulo home in preparation for sale. Not knowing the historical value, the frame was discarded as scrap but salvaged from the trash pile by a tradesman working onsite. It was later sold on Facebook Marketplace for less than $27. Roger Pablos, a Sāo Paulo DJ, saw the listing but when inquired, learned that it had already sold. He was put in touch with the buyer and negotiated a deal a week later to buy the frame. His vision was to restore the frame, but after a year and a half, he decided to pass it to a collector in Milan. I spotted a description-less photo online of the tattered, fork-less frame on a tile floor. It looked pathetically maimed, sitting awkwardly back on its chainstays, and I lost my mind. I recognized it instantly and launched into a tormented spiral about how much I would love this bike but could never possibly own it and why would the owner sell anyway and at what price and international deals are hard. I reached out anyway and after a week of back and forth, sacrificing the top shelf of my component collection in trade and selling a chunk of my existing collection, the mangled clump of rusted metal landed in Portland, Oregon, in July 2019.

The frame had significant paint distress, signs of surface rust under some of the paint, and small cracks in the flange surrounding the stem. The head tube still contained the original ball and needle bearings. I corresponded with Antonio Columbo (owner of Columbus Tubing and President of Cinelli) and Andrea Pesenti (builder of all Cinelli Lasers) to address my questions about the frameset. They were generous with their time but recalled few details about the frame’s construction or history other than the win at Nationals. In exploring a restoration of the frame, my first call was to Chris Bishop, who dug around in his vintage bike parts treasure trove and located a set of new-old-stock fork crown, blades, and Columbus fork ends matching those in the 1987 photos of the original Rivoluzione fork. My last call was to Dave Levy at Ti Cycles, right here in Portland.

Dave, Rudi Jung of Black Magic Paint, and I met up to discuss renovation strategy. Dave pulled out a magnet, surprised to discover that all of the curves were metal, not composite. It was during that conversation that I began to relax in the understanding that this historic frame was in the hands of a dream team overflowing with the technical and artistic talent necessary to renovate the frame and reconstruct the fork.

Rudi took extensive measurements of the thickness of each part of the frame and meticulously documented decal location, orientation, and size. Dave then jumped in with the heart of a cliff diver, delicately removing the paint and the thin layer of filler (all Lasers were fully sprayed with a thin layer of beige filler which was then sanded smooth before paint) exposing bare metal. Despite online forums across the world stubbornly parroting that Laser curves are “solid Bondo,” we found that assumption to be resoundingly false. The Laser’s curved shapes are constructed entirely with thin, custom-shaped steel metal expertly welded to the tubing. There are very light touches of filler where the sheet metal gussets join the tubing, but only enough to smooth the transition.

As Dave excavated through the many paint layers down to bare metal, he pointed out interesting archeological details like tiny hammer marks in the sheet metal gussets from the meticulous shaping process and that one set of chainstays was made from fork tubing. He pulled out the bearing cartridges, repaired the small cracks in the head tube collar, reinforced the seat stay connection to the bottom bracket fairing, realigned the rear end, and reinstalled new bearing cartridges.

To build a replacement fork, he worked from an 8.5” x 11” black and white photocopy of the original bike, cutting the fork blades to length and estimating the rake. He sent a photo of the frame with the new fork built up with the only 650c wheel he had laying around: a Spinergy Rev-X! (if you’ve run across my occasionally irreverent bike builds on Instagram, you’ll understand why having a Rev-X on the Rivoluzione was poetic). When I digitally overlaid Dave’s photo over the original Cinelli catalog photo of the Rivoluzione, I discovered that he had perfected the rake. So much celebration.

I admire that Dave struggled to not re-engineer the fork/fairing with more a robust design. He builds bikes that last, not to hang on walls, but we settled on a design close to the original look but with a bit more residual strength so that it could be gently ridden. He designed, manufactured, and customized bolts and ‘races’ necessary to get butterey-smooth action out of the fork. He then set about building and shaping the front fairing and custom bar clamp. After more than 60 hours total, he handed over a stunning, raw replica fork and a restored frame that was as good as new and ready for paint.

I first met Rudi Jung and Ben Corbalis, owners of Black Magic Paint, years ago when they were still located in the space attached to Dave Levy’s shop. During the process of renovating the Rivoluzione, they moved to a well-appointed new facility in NE Portland, where they are even better equipped to produce some of the world’s greatest bicycle finishes. They did just that in restoring the Rivoluzione. Rudi pulled out the notes he took pre-restoration documenting thickness and decal placement, and their supremely talented staff went to work. Evan refined the curves and sanded them out to glassy-smooth transitions, taking extra care to preserve Andrea Pesenti’s engraved signature stamped on the bottom bracket shell. Rudi worked closely with their decal vendor to create precise renditions perfectly matching the original size and color. After about 75 hours of work, I got the call from Anjuli that the Rivoluzione was ready in all of its gleaming perfection.

After years of waiting and a worldwide pandemic, it was finally build time. It took all of that time to locate the original components found on this bike in 1987. The Cinelli carbon fiber disc wheels with Gipiemme hubs were the first hollow carbon wheels, rare and difficult to find—particularly the front 650c front. I finally located one in a dusty collection in Cagliari, Italy and swapped for some vintage American-made components he was having difficulty sourcing in Italy.

The crankset is a Campagnolo Super Record with a rare Campagnolo aero solid chainring produced in limited quantities for professional teams. It took some perseverance to sift through the many counterfeit aero-style chainrings out there to find an authentic version that someone would actually part with. The bars are Cinelli LA84, the saddle is Cinelli Volare SLR, the pedals Cinelli M71 aka “suicide pedals” because they required reaching down and working a tab to release.

It’s not built for comfort but rides like a rocket. It’s heavy, it flexes, it’s unbelievably responsive and it moves effortlessly under its own momentum once up to speed. Yea, yea I know: your “back hurts just looking at that thing.” No. This bike, like most pursuit style bikes of the era, puts you in a nearly identical riding position as being in the drops on a standard track frame. The only difference is that you can’t rest on the flats after a sprint. This spectacular bicycle was the predecessor to the Cinelli Laser Evoluzione — a similar design but with a seat tube — that won the Compasso d’Oro, the highest accolade possible in the world of design in 1991. There is also a road version of a seat tube-less Rivoluzione well documented online that was produced in 1995.

If readers have personal photos of this exceptional bicycle in competition or first hand accounts of its journey between Milan and Sāo Paulo I’d be grateful if you’d share with me. In the meantime, look for it locked up outside of my favorite coffee house here in Portland with a 650c Aerospoke, dropper seatpost and a frame bag ;)