In the 20th century, it is estimated that Switzerland was home to 200-300 bicycle brands, and the national Helvetia Bicycle Museum is in Brügg, near Biel, in the Canton Bern. With 16 manufacturers in the town, Biel was the Swiss bike capital. The top Swiss brands like Tebag, Staco, Cilo, Villiger, Tigra, Allegro, Alpa, Eiger, Condor, Tour de Suisse, Automat, Helvetia, Schwalbe, Cosmos, Stella, Wolf, Vifian Estielli were known for their high-quality, handmade steel frames. Today, Aarios, in the Canton Solothurn, is the only remaining manufacturer making steel bike frames in Switzerland. All of the other brands have disappeared, either bought out, or now have their bikes manufactured and assembled in Asia. Because of that, a lot of know-how in building steel frames has disappeared from Switzerland.

There are a number of private enthusiasts who are working to re-build the special Swiss, bike building tradition, however. Their hand-soldered, artistic models can be seen at Zurich’s “Bike Lovers Contest”. It is a competition that takes place every March as part of the largest Swiss event for secondhand bikes and bike parts.

The Swiss manufacturer, Cilo, started making bicycles in 1914, and designed and manufactured bikes until they invited the receivers in for the first time, and when it closed its frame building doors to the world in 2002. After this first bankruptcy, and three years later, the brand was taken over by a group of investors in 2005, which launched a new range in January 2006, with a new logo, and with production taking place in Asia. This is not an unfamiliar story for bicycle manufacturers the world over. They also assembled and sold a lot of mopeds during this period as well. The company finally liquidated in 2009. Throughout the life of the company, it had always sponsored a lot of the local cycling clubs as well as the Swiss semi-professional teams’. Cilo put a lot of sponsorship into the top Professional Tour cycling team, Cilo-Aufina, from 1978 to 1986. They also provided bikes to other professional teams as well.

Cilo is an acronym for the owners name, and the two locations of the factories. Charles Jan (pronounced Yan) was the founder of the business, and the name includes his initials, except they changed the ‘J’ to an ‘I’, but with it still pronounced ‘Yan’, so it goes like this; Charles Ian Lausanne Oron. Cilo was a quality bike builder and their racing bikes were used by several world champions because of the high level of Swiss, quality workmanship. They were specialists in both Reynolds 531 and Columbus tubing. Their bikes weren’t cheap to buy either, but if you grew up in the 1960s, 70s & 80s along the lake Geneva corridor, you rode a Cilo of some sort. It was just normal, just like British kids rode Raleighs, the French rode Peugeots and the Italians etc etc…..

Cilo bikes are relatively unknown in the global bike brand world, but their work was special, and those in the vintage cycle world are starting to be aware of the company and their bikes. Of course, Cilo bikes in Switzerland are starting to gain value. I’ve bought, brought back to life, and sold quite a few Cilos to date. You can see all of my bikes (the total number of which some might argue, has got to the stage of ‘collector level’), on my Instagram site (see link at the bottom of the page).

Each of the Cilo bikes I have bought have had a story associated either with the bike, or the owner, and here are just two examples:
The second Cilo that I ever bought was found in a local free-advert. It just said: vintage Cilo race bike. The advert in the photo didn’t have too much information either, so I contacted the seller. A visit to see the bike revealed some interesting stuff. The bike was built to order in 1971 and for the man who was selling it, and it was actually one of 10 bikes that made up the same order. The seller told me that he and 9 other friends, all went to the Cilo factory and ordered 10 bikes exactly the same; Silver paint, Campagnolo gears and hubs, Swiss Weinmann brakes (naturally) and tubular tyres. This bike had been hanging in his Swiss, farm barn over his British 1960s Lotus Europa sports car for the last 30 years, so it was ‘sold as seen’ and just needed some light restoration, greasing etc. It was my size and I liked it, and it was cheap, so I bought it. The quality of the paint isn’t great, but none of it ever was in the early 1970s anyway. I do wonder where the other 9 bikes are though……

The red Cilo that I use as my daily ride was one of the last to come out of the factory before it closed in 2002. It apparently had only done under 100 kilometres since new. The owner of the bike didn’t live far away, and in the next village. When we walked into the owners workshop upon my arrival, which was a massive underground room, the bike was dwarfed by 5 huge radio controlled aeroplanes hanging from the ceiling. The owner, who was wearing a t-shirt with ‘seaplane pilot’ printed on it, then explained that he’d just got back from flying his seaplane. I looked up at the models hanging from the ceiling and the owner said that it was not a model one that he’d been flying, but a real seaplane. It turns out that he is the owner of a vintage seaplane and attends ‘vintage seaplane’ gatherings that take place in the Swiss and Italian lakes in summer. Not bad huh? Eventually, we start discussing the bike that I’d come to see. It was a red Cilo with a Columbus frame, which was made up of about 6 different types and size of tube. It was in great condition. The owner told me that he’d bought it new in 2002, and subsequently decided after one short ride, that cycling without an engine wasn’t much fun (he also had a number of motorcycles, which is another story for my sister site: Diary of a Motorcycling Nobody). His son also took the bike for a test ride and and also missed the ‘engine bit’, so after 98 kilometres, as stated on the computer when I bought it, it was put in the corner of the workshop. The owner only put it up for sale after banging his shin on one of the pedals, and removing some of his leg skin. I liked it, it was the right size, a very good price and I bought it. The groupset is Shimano STI RX100, which meant no Swiss Weinmann brakes, amazingly.

I love restoring old bikes and it is a pleasure riding them as well. Changing gear using a down-tube mounted, friction gear lever is an art, a pleasure, and allows you to use some mechanical sympathy on the drive chain to ensure smooth changes, or instead, read as; change gear well in advance of when you need to and this will save either a derailed chain or some awful metal-on-metal noise. DO NOT demand and expect immediate power before the bike is willing to relinquish it. FYI and bizzarely, the only place in the world where you can get a full set of Cilo reproduction frame decals is from Australia, and from cyclomondo.net

FYI – keep checking my eBay shop for Cilo bikes and stuff. The eBay shop is not open very often, but when it is………

Have you bought a bike that has a good story to it? If so, please share it in the comments box.

Photos 2 & 4 by Rodrigo Macip. All other photos, including the one of Bob, by the author.

 

24 thoughts on “The story of the Swiss Cilo bicycle company”

  1. Koblet, Kubler Schaer were Swiss riders in the 1950s who rode Cilo in the TdF. I have a few Swiss ladies bikes- amongst them Cilos- which came to South Africa with a project to provide transport for children. The project concept was flawed and failed for various reasons. I got involved and long story short started a project which became Qhubeka. So far this project has delivered almost 1000000 bikes as pedal powered transport to help rural children get to school. The word SPORT is part of the word TRANSPORT and this year the Dimension Data/Qhubeka cycle team is again riding the Tour de France which as I write this starts tomorrow. Serendipity.,. My contact a couple of decades ago with a failed Swiss programme which also involved Cilo bikes and reading your article on the eve of the Tour prompted this response to your interesting blog/article. NB ]1] though the ladies Cilos were Shopping/commuter/go to the boulangery for bread in the morning bikes they show a pride of hand- crafted workmanship and skill now lost. NB [2] Qhubeka has set up a factory to again build steel commuter bikes in this country. Perhaps sadly it is entirely robotic. Sad comment on Technological Progress in a country where employment is sorely needed RonThompson: the motive power movement.

  2. Hello Guy nice to read something about Cilo bicycles, I have a Cilo Stratos, built I understand between 1986-1990? it was purchased as a frame and forks and built up on a budget. My serial number is confusing all I can see is 161 on the bottom bracket.

    1. Hiya!
      Many thanks for the feedback and comment. I’d love to see the finished bike and with a photo of the serial number. As Cilo were a custom builder, the number could have been a special for a specific customer and not standard production. Are there any other numbers either on the headset or rear dropouts?
      My email is on the bottom of each blog, so you can send photos to that address.
      Thanks again fellow Cilo rider!
      Guy

    1. Thanx Robin. I’ve emailed you back with my theory. I think you have a special frame made for one of the Cilo sponsored teams.
      A bit more local, Swiss research is required so I’ll be in touch again.
      Guy

  3. Hi, really nice information about Cilo bikes and the dating code. I own a Reynolds 531 Cilo with Campy dropouts, nicknamed by me and my cycling friends as “The Queen”, serial number on the bottom bracket states 74419, a 1974 I suppose. Found this bike in a local advert 6 years ago, for around 85 euros. I was unaware of the true potential of this gem at the time, I just wanted a track bike and it was good for the money. I bought a Cilo at the recommendation of a friend and also I used to own a City bike from this manufacturer. The bicycle was in a horrific state as far as the paint goes, the former owner, painting over some parts and adding reflector tape on some areas, but had really good components for the price. I decided to give the bike a full respray and when removing the reflector tape from the forks I saw the Reynolds 531 stickers that were hiding beneath. The frame didn’t have a sticker, just a halo where it used to be, but upon sandblasting I also noticed a faint inscription on the frame reading “reynolds 531”. The bike eventually got a custom paintjob and a set of new tires and is my daily runner ever since. Very comfortable, these Cilo bikes have a much better maneuvrability compared to Peugeot, Raleigh or Allegro bikes I have rode so far. I am looking forward to another build, on the same type of Reynolds 531 Cilo frame, but they are kind of a rarety around here.

    Cheers from Romania!

  4. Thanks for sharing! I’m working on restoring a 1972 Cilo Swiss Sprint X. It’s been a little challenging to find information about the bike, so I really appreciate what you’ve shared here! I’m still trying to find the original decals from the sprint x, but I have not had much luck. I will likely have to settle for a different set of Cilo decals.

    1. Hi!
      Thanx for the comment and glad to see you are keeping the Cilo spirit alive. I haven’t seen any Sprint decals anywhere. The only person who is currently making Cilo decals, and good quality ones, is cyclomondo.net
      I’ve had lots of interest from people around the world about their Cilos and will be doing a follow up story soon that will feature pictures of the bikes with their stories. If you would like to send me a picture of yours and it’s story, i’ll Include it in with the rest.
      Thanx again!
      Guy

  5. I’ve got a Cilo and I’m not sure what model or year it is .but I live this bike and when I ride it it surely feels like the Ferrari of bikes and well if anyone can help I’d appreciate it. It does have a decal “sport se” only identifying model possibility. It so has a Vento Propizio saddle if that helps.

    1. Hi!
      Many thanks for the response and your Cilo story. If you send me a picture of it i’ll Add into the latest Cilo story with other readers ides. Also, if let me know what the serial number is, I’ll let you know when it was made.
      Thx!
      Guy

  6. I have what appears o be a pre 1980 Cilo but don’t know the history of the bike. Is there any way to track down the serial numbers? I would love to know exactly what year this beautiful bike was made

  7. Good MOrning Guy!! I can find no way to upload the picture here and tried emailing it. 1st world problems

  8. Back in the 80ties Cilo was Switzerlands No. 1 Brand in Cycling. The almost sold one third of Switzerlands turnover in nombers of sold Bikes. I best years the sold aprx 80K pieces. For the Swissbranch nearly unbeatable. Now adays Cilo is still in Progress. An enterprise called Colag Ltd. based in Zurich Switzerland, bought the naming-rights from the Cilo back in 2012. Since then they tried to rebuild the great image of the good old times. But never reached so far. Rumours telling that Cilo will face soon a great comeback in Pro-Cycling-Sport. Lets see what happens in future.

    1. Thanx Alain!
      I have seen one new copy-version of an old Cilo for sale by the company. It’s a bold move in a small-ish market for this type of new bike. Let’s hope they get enough financial backing to start a team. The core of the Cilo brand is in the ‘hand-built’ market and I haven’t seen any indication of a new, differentiated, Swiss quality & premium 21st Century bike yet. Let’s hope something great happens.
      Thx!
      Guy

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