Interview with
Eric Grieshaber.
May, 2013.

Eric Grieshaber (87) is one of the pioneers in Swiss cycle racing. From 1953 to 1979 he was sports director of more than two-dozen of teams, which were successful on road, track and in cyclo cross.
In addition, as an entrepreneur Eric developed some of the most well-known Swiss cycle brands with Tigra, Bonanza and Olympia.

In spring 2011 we had the chance for a talk with Eric Grieshaber.

 

Interviewers: Stefan Schaefter, Bernd Meissner
[editors' notes appear in brackets]

 

 

 

 

 

Speedbicycles (SB): Hi, Mr. Grieshaber. Did you race in former times?

Eric Grieshaber (EG): I raced in 1939 when i was 16 years old. In Allschwil [Switzerland] i made second in a criterium race. A local newspaper wrote that i have “gold in the legs”. But it turned out this way: i had an apprenticeship in precision machining. The first year i earned 10 Swiss centimes an hour, in the fourth year, 40 centimes. That gave 9.60 Swiss Francs in two weeks. At the time a Collé [tubular tire] cost 30 Francs. We always bought the collés in Chiasso, Italy and smuggled them. This had been Pirellis. In Switzerland it was not possible for to buy tubulars at that time. My first race bike was given me by my father. It had been made by an Italian named Moresi who had lived in Basel for five years. In 1943 i did military service. I wanted to join the cycle troops, however, because of my apprenticeship i was assigned as a weapons inspector. After WW2 i was too old for a career as a racing cyclist. I always cycled from my home Oberwil to the barracks to Liestal with the road bike, dressed in with racing attire. My superior officer did not like that. One way was 36 km to the barracks.

 

(SB): And after the war did you not raced any more?

(EG): No. But cycling was my great love. 1947 i started into the “two-wheeler industry” and became representative at the Arios company. I sold cycling spares to the dealers by bike with a large crate on the bike. The only bicycle parts that were available after war were hub axles. One accommodation at that time cost 7.50 Francs in Appenzellerland. There i met a ski instructor from Villars. With him i wanted to found a bicycle company. His name was Eduard Piguet. Eduard became acquainted with a Mrs. Rüttimann while dancing. She had 100,000 Francs, which was enough to establish our company. My father, who was a typographer, contributed 20,000 Francs. He mortgaged our house at Oberwil. That was then my portion. We called the company TIGRA. Eduard wanted to call it TIGRE. We fitted out a shop in Renard [?] in an old sawmill. In Thun we got two old military accommodations for living quarters. We assembled only, manufactured nothing. We got the frames from Cilo (Lausanne), they were painted in Geneva. Cenci, a huge shop in Basel, was a large customer and bought 300 cycles from us directly. When Mr. Cenci came to our sawmill one day, he asked weather we made the bikes from wood. The mechanics (from France) hung the frames up on cords. They did not wanted assembly stands, because they could not walk all around them. We built up to 3000 bikes a year in total. In 1955 Mr. Piguet did not want to continue the company and we sold it for 760.000 Francs to Maschinenfabrik Gränichen. I then became an employee (sales representative). Mr. Piguet wanted to be a ski instructor again.

 

(SB): What sports activities did you engage in?

(EG): 1949 we engaged into cyclo cross. That was at that time completely new for us. Via cyclocross sports we came to road racing. 1950 saw the first Tigra team in France and in 1952 we had the first Swiss road team. From 1953 on i took care of the team. Shortly before the end of the Tigra teams, Gribaldy [Jean de Gribaldy, former French professional from Besançon] participated also. He took some Swiss riders such as Zollinger for racing in France, and i got some French riders for the Tour de Suisse from him in addition. So we got six, seven Swiss, plus four French. He was a pippin, that Gribaldy. He had an airplane and he fetched the Zollinger twins at the airport Mulhouse and flew them to a uphill time trial in Tignes. He later committed to suicide. He had financially overrated himself in cycle racing. He had sponsored too many teams. When Anquetil arrived on the scene, he sponsored him, too.

 

(SB): Who were the best riders during that time?

(EG): 1956 Rolf Graf, former Allegro team member. We have had Marcel Huber with Tigra, a Swiss, who had been active in Africa before. And we had much success with Robert Hagmann.

 

(SB): And what of Albert Fritz, Louis Pfenninger, Peter Frischknecht and Albert Zweifel?

(EG): Yes, Albert Fritz, had won criteriums with me and one Tour de Swiss Alpine stage. Sepp Voegeli (TdS director) said once to me: “Albert Fritz should not win. He is a track rider." Journalists would not appreciate it if a track specialist would win an alpine stage. Albert raced down the Lukmanier pass so fast that we could not keep up with him at 100 kmh in our support vehicles. At the summit Albert was seven minutes arrears. By Bellinzona he had caught up with the peloton. Three had pulled away from Rudi Altig then. But Albert was the best sprinter and with ten kilometers to go, he left them all standing and won the stage. Later he ran a cycle shop in Schaffhausen.

 

(SB): Had all this been done with Tigra cycles?

(EG): Mr. Gautschi was a millionaire, boss of Machinenfabrik Gränichen. They had their own cycle brand, Standard-Jaguar. Gautschi paid the riders. Fritz Pfenninger got a basic wage of 600 Francs as a professional. And for each finished race 50 Francs. We sold at that time 3000 bicycles (a year), although we could have sold as many as 7000. Mr. Gautschi dissolved the Tigra race team in 1968. Because of that i quit. I earned 750 Francs with Tigra plus three percent commission as a salesmen. I had enough money and wanted to do my own thing (founding Bonanza bicycle company). By 1953 i had married my wife, Walli. She was 12 years younger then me. A beautiful woman. I had to engage her somehow, because i always was en route on at least two round trips. My wife was trained and worked at the cigarette importer Weitnauer in Basel. We opened in St.Louis (France) and Lörrach (Germany) tobacco shops. The Parisienne cigarette company advertised at the Tour des Suisse and gave a lot of freebies to me all the time, small boxes with few cigarettes in. I distributed these to our shop clients, who very pleased and i had no costs. That was the only time i made money without doing anything for it. In 1969 i bought a shop in Münchwilen. My daughters worked there in the Ciba chemicals factory (today Novartis).

 

(SB): How did you come up with the name Bonanza?

(EG): My two daughters always liked the Bonanza [wild west] TV series and had been completely crazy about it. So i knew that that was a good thing and i named my new cycling company Bonanza. A friendly Portuguese language teacher at Basel University told me that Bonanza in Portugese means “calm sea", a good thing for fishermen out on the sea. This seemed to be the right choice. I got the Bonanza frames from Eusebio, brother-in-law of Ernesto Colnago, in Bologna. He got the frames from Ernesto. Those were then called Colner bikes.

 

(SB): So Bonanza race bikes were made by Colnago?

(EG): Yes, at that time Colnago had approximately 15 brazers within a few kilometers distance who built frames for him at their homes. When they were finished, he went by with his Fiat, picked up the frames, and gave them four sets of new lugs, tubes and silver solder for the next frames. The builders were paid by piecework, about 8 or 9 Francs per frame. Colner was then actually a second brand of Colnago. For example he had a Colnago importer in France, but several other dealers that wanted to import bikes too. Original Colnago wanted to call his new brand "Coller" but i told him that this would mean something like to have a "spleen" and this would not sell well. So he called it Colner (Gilbert Klaus become amateur world road champion in 1978 on a Colner). I built a new factory in Münchwilen in 1977. I still live there and I am the only resident as it is an industrial area and residences are not allowed. The best team cyclists on Bonanza bikes (1969-1979) were Beat Breu, Godi Schmutz, Peter Frischknecht, Joseph Fuchs, and Albert Fritz. In 1979 I sold the Bonanza company to the MiBa Basel (milk producer) for 800.000 Francs. Vice director Steiner was a cycle racing fan. And he wanted Bonanza to promote milk in the cycling sports. Bonanza had 23 employees on those days, no one lost his job. In 1982 i bought back (a part) of Bonanza as the thing with MiBa did not run successfully. MiBa kept the Bonanza brand name and handed it over to another company. So i called my new company and brand Olympia. At the same time i still imported Colner into Switzerland. Then Eusebio (Colnagos brother-in-law) died. That was the time when many of the great Swiss cycling brands went out of business: Allegro, Cilo, Tigra and so on. My friend Casper Villiger was a politician who owned a still-successful cycle company, but times had been hard. Banking houses then charged twelve percent for money loans. At that time i bought a whole container of folder bikes once. From the packing wood a friend of mine built up a lodge in the forest. In 2006 i sold the Olympia company, this time to a Dutch businessman. As he did not do well with it, i bought it back again. This company is for sale again now. In June 20 [2011] i will turn to 88 years. When i was as young as you are now and somebody had told me that i still have to work at the age of 88, i would have sent him to the madhouse immediately.

 

(SB): What about doping in those days?

(EG): Of course my buddies doped that time. At that time all racers doped. This was not the job of the team director, but the attendants. At the beginnig we had the so-called Stukka pills. Rudi Altig and others brought them. Later we got something from Hungary. Then we got our commodities from Italy. We got it in phamarcies and also in the brothels. Ferdi Kuebler one day said to me: "I sweat it all out in the evening and i am clean again in the morning". That was not such stuff as today with blood interchange and so on. Once i felt irrated with a cyclist because he had to sit down during the presentation ceremony. When i asked him he just said to me: "If all the others took something, i will not go "nature" on the bike".

 

 

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Eric as a team director:
1952-1963 Tigra
1964-1966 Tigra Meltina
1967 Tigra Grammont
1968 Tigra Enicar
1969/1970 Ovaphil Bonanza
1970 Frimatic De Gribaldy
1973/1974 Möbel Märki Bonanza
1977 Möbel Märki
1979 Willora Impala
1979 Willora Piz Buin

Road wins:
Tds 1968
TdF stage 1960
TdS stage 1960, 1961, 1964. 1966, 1968, 1970, 1971
TdR stage 1961, 1964, 1966, 1968
Swiss champion 1961, 1962, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1973, 1978
Swiss hill champion 1979
Zurich 1961

Track wins:
Swiss champion 1964, 1967, 1971, 1978
German champion 1969
and: Six Days Antwerp, Essen, Bremen, Frankfurt, Dortmund, Brussels, Cologne, Zurich

Cyclocross wins:
Swiss champion 1973, 1974, 1975

Eric's cyclists (selection):
Rolf Graf
Erwin Lutz
Ernst Fuchs
Rolf Maurer
Freddy Eugen
Paul Zollinger
Fredy Ruegg
Karl Brand
Werner Weber
Louis Pfenninger
Fritz Pfenninger
Willi Lienhard
Peter Glemser
Robert Hagmann
Marcel Huber
Albert Fritz
Eduard Schneider
Erich Spahn
Joseph Fuchs
Peter Frischknecht,
Hermann Gretener
Albert Zweifel
Rene Savary
Godi Schmutz
Beat Breu
Hansjörg Aemisegger







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© July 2011, Speedbicycles Ltd liab. Co, Switzerland
Original German issue: Td3.Panaché No.1
Redaktionsleitung: Bernd Meissner.
Pictures Courtesy: Bernd Meissner, Stefan Schaefter
www.jeangribaldy.com, Guy Dedieu, Jaques Burremas
(thank you for some translation support: "The Editor, Hetchins.org")