Photographer Paolo Martelli heard of an avid bicycle collector in Taipei so, as he was in town, arranged to visit Asahi Chang.
Several trains, buses and taxis later, Paolo arrived at what he’d built up in his mind as a huge house with a massive exhibition space adjoining, only to find a garage stuffed to the gunwales with racing bikes from the past 40 years.
Mr Chang keeps a small corner sectioned off to sleep in, with the most valuable of his collection for company, “two air conditioners always turned on to keep the correct temperature for bikes and components,” Paolo says.
Elsewhere, it is wall-to-wall bicycle porn for anyone with an appreciation of cycling’s recent history. Among his collection of over 650 frames and complete bikes, there are racks of Colnagos, a sea of celeste Bianchis suspended from the ceiling, a clutch of Merckx machines in classic orange livery, early experiments in carbon from around the world, alongside a host of great names who worked in steel before the turn of the century: Tommasini, Guerciotti, Masi, Nagasawa, De Rosa, Benotto, Cinelli… the list goes on, 186 brands represented in total.
Chang started track racing as a young man in the 1970s, buying a Katakura Silk that he still owns today – and so began a lifetime obsession that has taken over his life. He works away in the evenings, drinking coffee in his Rapha tee-shirt, listening to classical music, and rebuilding and restoring his collection to their former glory.
“He looks for complete bikes,” Paolo says, “but also for frames and components to rebuild the bikes exactly as they were. The paint jobs are perfectly done, not just because the sprayers are very good in Taiwan, but also because it is still possible to use the paints and the materials of 30 years ago – in Europe, it is forbidden for health and safety reasons.”
Chang’s favourite? “My Colnago Master from 1984, that I had when studying in Tokyo for five years. I think that should be my favourite.” He rarely parts with a bike once added to the collection. “Only if I buy the wrong size,” he tells Paolo. “I can’t see a reason to part with them.”
Only one question remains: why amass this cornucopia of wonderful two-wheeled history? “The purpose of the collection should not be cumulative, but to constantly enrich knowledge. I like them because they have a beautiful story.”
Chang’s final comment on the subject may well have come via Google Translate, but there is something brilliantly apt about it.
“I am not a bike collection. I am a collection of my life.”
Bianchi C4 (1987)
At the 1987 Giro d’Italia, while Stephen Roche was busy kickstarting his Triple Crown season, the Gewiss-Bianchi squad took to the start line of stage 3’s team time trial on these revolutionary designs, made in conjunction with Swiss company C4. World champion Moreno Argentin got his own extra special version, white with rainbow bands, which must be the holy grail for collectors like Chang.
Cinelli Rivoluzione (1995)
Cinelli also played with the no-seat tube style, with this dramatic-looking Rivoluzione, one of only two in existence. Note the bizarre extra strengthening strut below the chainstays. While the front end looks sleek, with Cinelli’s attempt to integrate the lines of the stem with the top tube, we suspect the absence of any tubing in front of the rear wheel is an aerodynamic disaster.
Masi Special (1962)
Tucked away in an unglamorous workshop beneath the legendary Vigorelli Stadium in Milan, Faliero Masi beavered away building frames for the greats: Fausto Coppi, Fiorenzo Magni, Louison Bobet, Miguel Poblet, Rik Van Looy, Jacques Anquetil, Felice Gimondi, Vittorio Adorni and, of course, Eddy Merckx. This Special from 1962 has everything that is great about track bikes of the era: simplicity, clean lines, Campagnolo Pista components and a whole lot of chrome.
Masi Special Chronometro Faema (1968)
Re-badging the handiwork of master framebuilders to conceal the real maker’s name was not unusual back in the ‘60s. What makes this beauty stand out – apart from the trademark slotted stays which would take hours of Masi’s attention to perfect – is that, instead of another bike producer’s colours and transfers, it is team sponsor, coffee machine manufacturers Faema, whose name adorns the downtube. Merckx signed for the Italian team in 1968 and insisted on trusted craftsman Signor Masi building his bikes, as he had done at Peugeot previously.
Published in issue 17.2 of Rouleur