Every spring, Road Bike Action publishes our special European issue, a homage to Euro bikes and cycling culture and lore from the other side of the pond. Inevitably, all roads lead to Rome, or in the case of Italian cycling, Milano.
Originally founded by the founded by the Insubres, a Celtic people, Milan was captured by the Romans in 222 BC, and eventually became the capital city of the Western Roman Empire from 286 until 402 AD. Milano has long been the center of the Italian bicycle industry. Edoardo Bianchi started his bicycle-manufacturing business in a small shop at 7 Via Nirone, Milan in 1885 and Bianchi was emulated by famous Italian bicycle brands like Dei and Gloria. Cino Cinelli founded his eponymous firm in 1948 in Milano with his brother Giotto in Firenze but Cino moved the business to Milan to make his world famous stems, bars and frames at their legendary workshop at 45, Via Egidio Folli.
Tim makes a point about the wine list with a (skeptical) waiter and Deda's Fulvio Acquati.
Fast forward to the fall of 2011 when Zap, long a lover of all things Italian, met up with yours truly for some legwork on the annual "Euro" issue. There is nothing like actually getting out in the field to get the firsthand, up-close and personal story and our sojourn in and around Milano was no exception. In this edition of "Racy Language", we invite you to follow along as we tour through what can be argued is the heart of the Italian cycling industry.
COOKIES & COFFEE WITH COLNAGO
Always the hospitable one, Mr. Colnago made time for us despite having just flown back from Asia the previous night.
We started the day just east of Milano at Colnago HQ for an espresso visit with the Mago of Cambiago himself, Ernesto Colnago. Signor Ernesto had just returned from a long trip from Asia that morning and was feeling a bit jet lagged from his travel, but still graciously made time for two American journalists. As always, our conversation was accompanied with a coffee and some cookies as Signor Ernesto quickly turned the conversation to bike racing. Even at 79, 60 years after his last race, Colnago is still passionate about racing. For 2012, Colnago has decided to stick to the teams he sponsored this season; Europcar, Colnago-CSF and Team Type 1. "We always get asked to sponsor ProTour teams", explained Colnago, "but we simply do not see the sense in spending two million euros to sponsor a ProTour outfit. We showed this year with all the attention that Voeckler got in the Tour we really don't need that."
ON TO CASATI
Our coffee with Colnago finished, the RBA crew of two headed north to Monza to visit the venerable establishment of Cicili Casati. Founded way back in 1920 (!), Casati has been producing racing bicycles for 91 years. Although Casati has never sponsored a big pro team, they have built bikes for many pros in their workshop and have never stopped building high-quality artisan steel frames. Like so many other venerable Italian brands, they too have made the move to carbon fiber frame production.
We were given a tour of the small workshop by Stefania and had a chat with Signore Gianni, son of the founder, who will celebrate his 80th birthday next January. Signore Gianni told Road Bike Action that he was pleased to see the return to popularity of steel frames. "We have never stopped building steel bicycles; many of our long-time customers here in Monza have stayed with steel and always will. Steel is the only solution for a truly custom bicycle."
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON - AGAIN
Daniele Marnati looks over one of his new bikes in his small shop.
After a fascinating visit with Casati, we headed back from Monza to Milano, and after a pizza break at one of my long-time favorite Pizzerias, Uno Piu, we headed for via Delfico, in northeast Milano. A visit to Daniele Marnati's tiny two-room workshop is like stepping back a half century into the golden age on Milano racing bicycles. The 58 year old Marnati learned the art of building custom racing bicycles from his father Ugo Marnati, a legendary racing mechanic who built bicycles for Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi among others. "My father had a servizo corsa since the 1940's", explained Marnati. "In those days pro riders all raced on custom frames and the team mechanics built them for the riders."
I saw my first Marnati in the mid-80's when John Eustice brought one back from Italy. When Eustice rode for the Fanini team, Marnati built the team frames. It was super clean classic Italian racing frame with a distinct pedigree. George Mount also rode a Marnati built Benotto frame when he was a pro on the San Giacomo-Benotto team in 1980. Daniele Marnati rode this beautifully restored 1954 Marnati, built by his father Ugo in last year's Eroica. Marnati still builds about 100 steel frames a year and all of them are made the old way, with the tubes pinned together rather than being placed in a jig for brazing.
THE VENERABLE MASI METHOD
Alberto Masi entertains a question about bike design while one of his daily visitors thumbs through RBA.
Another legendary Milanese bicycle builder is Masi, located under the south curve of the now inactive Vigorelli Velodrome near Corso Sempione. Road Bike Action was welcomed by Signore Alberto Masi, son of the legendary Faliero Masi, who's bespoke bicycles were ridden by all the greats from Jacques Anquetil to Eddy Merckx.
The jig where many, many steel Masi frames have been born.
Signore Alberto still builds bikes and his brand is available in the USA under the Milano 3V name as the Masi name was licensed in the USA by his father Faliero in the 1970's. His gorgeous Masi Prestige frames are made in updated Columbus triple butted steel rather than the original Columbus SL and they are not replicas, but Masi has never stopped producing this model since it replaced the legendary Gran Criterium frame (featured in the movie "Breaking Away" as Dave Stoller's race bike). Masi rolled out this rare Fuchs racer from 1955; the restored team bike of Fiorenzo Magni from the Nivea-Fuchs squad that Magni rode in the legendary 20th stage of the Giro d'Italia from Trento to San Pellegrino. Coppi won the stage but Magni blew away Maglia Rosa Gastone Nencini that day and won the Giro d'Italia after the dramatic breakaway through the Dolomiti mountains.
Look for much more on Multo Milano and all things Euro in the May issue of Road Bike Action