It was too weird and too cheap not to pick up on a long drive home: a Bianchi Advantage, a somewhat glamorous step-through hybrid frame, hanging out in a motorcycle repair shop in farm country for $20.
There was just too much on the bike that kept drawing my eye for me not to message the seller on Facebook Marketplace. The bike isn’t welded together, it’s lugged, even where the step-through not-a-top tube meets the seat tube. They’re painted lugs, so the bike is a somewhat alluring grey and blue two-tone.
This is an early example of what’s called a hybrid bike. It’s not built for going off-road like a mountain bike, but it’s also not specialized for purely going fast like a road bike. It’s a mix of mountain and road bike parts, on a beefier frame with road-style wheels. When this bike was new, a serious mountain bike would have a 26-inch wheelset. This one has taller 700c wheels and tires.
(There is a bit of comedy that modern mountain bikes now use that same larger wheel size, dubbed “29er” rather than 26ers.)
Though it has a fancy name, this particular Bianchi isn’t a fancy bike, other than the lugs. Reading the serial number stamped on the bottom bracket, it was built in Taiwan, though it is Japanese Tange steel. It’s an Italian brand, but there are no Campagnolo components. Instead the shifters, brakes, everything comes from Shimano. They’re not the cheapest parts that Shimano made at the time; they’re the second cheapest.
Brake levers that are metal on my Schwinn mountain bike are plastic here. Nuts and bolts that are polished solid on the Schwinn are cheaply plated instead.
I had a plan for the bike. I was going to take off the three chainrings from the crankset and replace them with one. I would pull off the rusty seven-speed cassette and replace it with seven cogs of a wider eight-speed cassette, just like this rather calming Utah YouTuber did with a Gary Fisher of the same era:
I’ve wanted to do a 1x conversion for a while now, mostly because I think they look cool, and I’m charmed by their simplicity.
The Bianchi quickly made it clear this was not going to be simple. The parts on this bike are so cheap that the chainrings are not bolted in place. They’re riveted. If I were to turn this 3x7 bike into a 1x7, I’d need a whole new crankset. That’s another $30-$50, on top of another $30-$50 for the cassette, on top of another $70-$80 for a narrow-wide chainring that you want to hold your chain without a front derailleur. I’m not sure if a $20 bike wants that attention.
The bike itself has somehow managed to continue to charm me. Already in the hour or two after taking these photos I cleaned and re-greased the little trigger shifter pods and they shift perfectly. I scrubbed and lubed the chain, replaced the brake pads and cables. I even managed to squeeze a chunky 700x41c tire I had lying around at the back. All it really needs now is a new seat and a new front tire. This Bianchi wants me to mess with it, but the appeal of a smooth-running junky bike I couldn’t care less about keeps pulling me in the other direction.