There can’t be a more cost-effective way to get a made-to-measure Italian frame that has a classic look and a dreamy ride. You have to accept the limited options that come with that very low price but it’s worth it.
Made to measure
Handbuilt in Italy
By Simon Smythe
Walthamstow is an unlikely setting for an immersive Italian cycling experience, but that’s exactly what Diego Lombardi offers with his Racer Rosa bike shop and brand.
Lombardi flies Giuseppe Giannecchini, WorldTour bike fitter, to east London once a month and has Racer Rosa custom frames built in Padua by Antonio Taverna, a Veneto contractor whose family business made frames for the big brands before they moved production to the Far East.
There are are the expected high-end custom steel and carbon frames in the Racer Rosa range, but when I interviewed Lombardi for our custom bikes special feature in the February 21 issue of Cycling Weekly magazine he told me about his made-to-measure aluminium frames – Racer Rosa celebrity customer Jonathan Edwards had just ordered one – costing a highly competitive £800 for the frame only, the geometry of which results from a fitting session with Giannecchini and is included in the price.
To keep costs down the frames, made from TIG-welded Dedacciai Fire tubing, are produced in small batches all with same basic spec: rim-calipers only, external cable routing, no mudguard eyes, BSA bottom bracket and integrated 1 1/8in straight fork steerer. The only colour options are blue, orange or pearly white. However, all are handbuilt in Italy to each rider’s individual measurements.
Giannecchini, who fitted Valerio Conti the week before he took pink jersey in this year’s Giro, fitted me for a CW feature two years ago and still had my measurements so it would be a simple case of getting me onto the next batch of orders and then timing a visit to pick it up at Walthamstow with the next ‘Giuseppe day’ for fine-tuning me onto the complete build.
Previously I had been both impressed and horrified by Giannecchini’s uncompromising approach. He told me my Colnago Master Olympic – my pride and joy – didn’t fit me and never would. Now, as I waited, I watched him telling the customer before me that if he wanted a lower front end he would have to lose three kilos since his current body shape did not permit it.
After a quick lunch break – during which I ate nothing at all – it was my turn.
Fortunately this time there was nothing quite so upsetting. Giannecchini immediately rejected the saddle I had brought with me, which we swapped for one with more suitable geometry, but after that it was a matter of validating the measurements taken two years ago and checking them against the new bike — which with the Columbus Futura carbon fork, Ultegra groupset at the best online price, Deda finishing kit and Venn 35 TCC wheels totalled just under £2.5K and weighed a respectable 7.8kg or 17lb.
About three-quarters of an hour later, with everything to his satisfaction, Giannecchini pointed to the blue sticky dot marking the centre of the saddle. There was exactly the same amount of saddle rail either side of the clamp. Perfect.
Next came the riding. Lombardi had promised a “sublime ride”– which isn’t the way aluminium bikes have traditionally been described – but in this case is absolutely accurate. Granted I had fitted a set of Venn carbon clinchers that I particularly liked when I tested them last year, but if this was a blind study (not recommended for cycling) with its lightweight feel, connectedness with the road and whippiness I would have reported that I was on a good-quality carbon frame.
Most crucially – and dispelling those pre-conceived ideas many people still have about aluminium frames – it is not harsh.
As the late, great Dario Pegoretti told me in 2011: “The general consensus is that aluminium is harsh, steel is smooth and carbon-fibre is the perfect balance – it’s not true. It’s about the choices you make during the building process. You can build a really good frame out of aluminium but a really bad frame out of steel.”
Of course Pegoretti was right. In the safe hands of Taverna and built to Giannecchini’s geometry this is without a doubt one of those really good aluminium frames. Or, in the words of Walthamstow's former favourite sons: "it's really alright."
Simon Smythe is Cycling Weekly's senior tech writer and has been in various roles at CW since 2003. His first job was as a sub editor on the magazine following an MA in online journalism (yes, it was just after the dot-com bubble burst).
In his cycling career Simon has mostly focused on time trialling with a national medal, a few open wins and his club's 30-mile record in his palmares. These days he spends a bit more time testing road bikes, or on a tandem doing the school run with his younger son.
What's in the stable? There's a Colnago Master Olympic, a Hotta TT700, an ex-Castorama lo-pro that was ridden in the 1993 Tour de France, a Pinarello Montello, an Independent Fabrication Club Racer, a Shorter fixed winter bike and a renovated Roberts with a modern Campag groupset.
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