A "Brief" Tutorial On The
Italian Road Bicycle and its Merits!
road bikes have a mystique. This cannot be argued. This mystique creates
appeal and desire. These bikes are works of mechanical art, built by
artisan frame builders who inject a passion and interest into their
frames unlike other builders. Italian bikes are every bit conversation
pieces as they are world-class sporting gear. A thoughtfully built,
sized, and equipped Italian road bike is truly an extension of one’s
As you move on in this
collection of information, you will read about how the Italian bikes we
sell are steeped in this mystique, how they are built with passion and
unmatched workmanship, how they perform and ride unlike most other
bikes. Basically we’re going to peel off some of those layers of
mystique. BUT, we think that the underlying details are so
worth knowing, you won’t even feel the mystery being unveiled. It is
all great reading. But, it ends up being even better …RIDING!
Artisan frame building is a lost art...but the frame builders at Torelli
and Guerciotti are producing incredible products these days.
Antonio Mondonico is a living legend in this business. His work
cannot be matched.
To begin, we want to
educate you a bit on tangible things like geometry, sizing and how we
like to classify Italian style bikes into two groups – RIDING bikes and
RACING bikes. All of our thoughts here are specific to the Italian bikes
we love so much. READ ON TO LEARN WHY ITALIAN BIKES ARE SO GREAT:
Looking past the mystique, passion and craftsmanship, one thing that
stands out when comparing an Italian road bike to most others is the
frame geometry. The geometry of a bike frame refers to the configuration
of frame tubes and the angles at which they meet each other. A bike
frame is basically made of two triangles, a front triangle and a rear
triangle. A bike frame’s geometry has everything to do with how the bike
rides, how it feels, how it performs, how it responds to the rider’s
maneuvers, how it climbs, descends and much, much more. "Stage" geometry
gets its label from STAGE RACING. This means the bike is designed to
ride well and perform for long periods of time on a variety of road
conditions. You can ride a stage bike many different ways. You can
hammer it on short sprints or you can lay back, pace yourself and wait
for your opportunity to make your move….or NOT…you can just lay back for
5 hours if you prefer. No one will issue you a traffic ticket for riding
Bikes using Italian STAGE GEOMETRY are heavily FIT ORIENTED.
The general ride quality, personality and performance of the bike
depends on the rider using the correct size frame and that the full bike
is set up (fit) properly for them. This "general" rule applies to all
bicycles, but has been lost or buried in recent years with the advent of
production lines and robotic mass builders. Some Italian bikes come in
18 different stock sizes in increments of just one-half of a centimeter.
There are many choices to be made to FIT a rider properly.
Sizing and Fitting a
customer properly to a road bike has also become a lost art. With less
and less biking knowledge and experience being available to the consumer
at the retail level, many companies "force" certain ideas or components
to make it easier on the retailer to sell or service items. For
instance, Linear Pull Brakes (V-brakes) were hurried onto every level of
recreational bikes a few years back partly because they were painfully
easy to set up "correctly"…this meant many more bikes being sold would
have brakes that actually worked well…a novel concept eh?! COMPACT frame
geometry makes it easier to sell someone the correct size COMPACT
BIKE…but this is more about guesswork than a full working knowledge of
how a rider is supposed to fit onto his or her bicycle.
Torelli, Mondonico and
Guerciotti are ready to accommodate every rider properly with many stock
frame sizes and
custom frame options. Smart Cycles is well prepared to size and fit
road bike clients with excellent equipment and tons of experience…not to
mention a lot of interest, passion and pride.
If Italian Stage Geometry is so great…why does any other type of frame
design even exist?
ANSWER: With the exception of some very
SPECIFIC USE designs - for example time trial bikes, track bikes, and
pure touring bikes – most other popular, or COMPACT or SEMI-Compact
frames exist purely due to manufacturing constraints. Let us be straight
here…we are NOT dismissing COMPACT and SEMI COMPACT frames as poor
designs or poor performing bikes. We sell plenty of them. A lot of races
are won on compact frames. BUT, we believe that the overall ride quality
and riding experience of the Italian style bikes is BEST. Back to
manufacturing for a moment. Commercial bike companies pump out
thousands, tens of thousands…even hundreds of thousands of pre-packaged
bikes at great full bike prices. Compact geometry allows them to offer
you one of five different sizes. About 80% of the "general public" can
be "fit" onto compact frames within the guidelines that the
manufacturers set as "proper fit". If a rider falls into the other 20%
and doesn't fit a compact frame well, we've noticed that the problems
they encounter are magnified greatly. Imagine GIANT (a leader in road
bikes) trying to manufacture 12 or 15 different models in 15 or 18
different sizes, keeping them in stock at all times, limiting
close-outs, turning inventory quickly, etc, etc, etc. Well, they
probably could do all of that….but certainly NOT at the price that they
can do it at by only having to make 5 sizes. From a business standpoint,
it makes much more sense for a mass producer of good quality bikes to
make compact frames. We don’t think that this point can be argued.
There really isn’t a
fully "standard" Italian geometry chart that applies to all frames
coming out of Italy. Different Italian builders have different ideas of
how their bikes should ride. Some builders use a steeper seat tube
angle, some a longer top tube, etc. However, they ALL design their
frames to deliver the riding characteristics we describe next:
General Ride Quality
and Personality of Italian Bikes
A fine Italian bike frame with STAGE GEOMETRY delivers a luscious ride.
The Bike and rider are involved in a "dance"…one reacting to the others
movement to create a seamless, efficient flow. Italian bikes are fast.
They ride with the best stability available. They climb well. When
fitted properly to the rider, an Italian bike is as
comfortable as it gets. "It
goes downhill like a cannonball in a groove"…says one of our customers
when describing his bike’s performance on a fast descent! A rider
instantly has greater confidence and is a better cyclist when they are
on a bike that has all these features.
People who want to
experience their riding environment while cycling are going
to love a bike built in the Italian style. If you want to go out and
FEEL the road below you, FEEL the bike respond to your input, and FEEL
and experience the bicycle’s many riding personalities…you are very well
suited to owning one of these babies.
There will be times where
you realize that your bike is in total control of you and your ride…you
are no longer steering it…the bike is taking you along for a thrilling
ride! You do not get this when you buy a cookie-cutter commercial bike
made on a production line. AND…you certainly do not need to be a racer
to enjoy these benefits and take full advantage of these fantastic
bikes. READ ON…
RIDING bikes vs.
Our Italian bikes
are easily classified into two categories. Racing bikes and
Riding bikes. There is a lot of overlap between these two styles. A
good racing bike needs to be a good riding bike. Afterall, racers
need speed, stability, good climbing and good descending qualities in
their bicycles… they also need COMFORT whether they admit it or not! The
big differences between the RACING bike that a serious competitive rider
needs, and the RIDING bike that an enthusiast will get the best service
from are more about equipment, materials, specific needs for specific
events, and price …NOT about differences in fit, geometry, and basic
riding characteristics. There are some exceptions of course, but in
general this is the way it is. A testament to the Torelli, Mondonico and
Guerciotti bike lines is that all the models except maybe the extreme
ones (entry level vs. top model) can cross over into both the riding and
Pizza SHACK vs. REAL
A few words about how the construction of these frames, and who is
building them, makes the biggest difference in the end product: First,
let us state that Italian frames are works of art as much as science. As
the end user, YOU THE CUSTOMER, certainly want this artistic, passionate
component present in the building of your frame. Quality lost on a
production line is not a factor here. There are no tolerances accepted
outside of making a frame as perfect as it can be. Perfection is not the
same as mass duplication!
You can give the same
Columbus tubes, lugs, tools, and other frame components to two different
builders and get two vastly different end products. Go to "PIZZA SHACK"
and order a pie, then a week later go to a small Italian Pizzeria known
for quality and tell us if the seemingly same flour, tomatoes, cheese
and other common ingredients ended up tasting the same or how your body
handled the two meals differently. A friend of ours is a master
carpenter. He has the same tools and uses the same materials as previous
carpenters did at the job sites he goes to. His specialty is
re-construction. He gets hired by insurance companies and banks to
repair sloppy, or outright horrible work done by other "builders". I
think we’ve made our point.
Part of buying a Torelli,
Mondonico or Guerciotti is the trust and knowledge that the person
building your frame is a MASTER ARTISAN consumed with making every bike
he lays his hands on a piece of scientific, ride-able art. Tubes are
selected by hand. Cuts are made to perfection. Mitering is done to be
seamless. MOST importantly…whether your frame is welded or brazed, you
can rest assured that the builder has not overheated the frame
materials. This is the most difficult skill to learn and the reason that
builders undergo LONG apprenticeships before they are considered MASTER
FRAME BUILDERS. Overheating of tubes and lugs SAPS the performance
qualities of the tubing your frame is built with. "Hard Spots" then
develop and the frame is NOT ALL IT CAN BE. Hard spots are an example of
"acceptable" imperfections caused by a production line. This is FAILURE
as far as our Italian friends are concerned. It is true that certain
materials are less affected by heat, but these expensive and exotic
materials are not meant to be put in the hands of inexperienced builders
for the purpose of making the frame easier to weld. None of this is a
worry for the customer who selects Torelli, Mondonico or Guerciotti.
We really think it
would be hard to find a store and staff that has more experience with
REAL ITALIAN Stage Bikes than Smart Cycles. Along with this
experience comes un-compromised passion, knowledge, understanding of
fit, un-equaled ability to design and build the PERFECT bike for
our client, and so much more that is priceless in value for the
Below: 11 PURELY CUSTOM Mondonico masterpieces arrive at Smart Cycles!
Raw Mondonico frames arrive at Smart Cycles!
Yes, some of these bikes can get up there in price. If your tastes fall
in this upper level, you will not be disappointed with your goods! But,
for others, the good news is that you can get a fine Italian bike with
name brand equipment for the same price as a mid-level commercially made
bike. Feel free to contact us for quotes.
We believe in budgets.
Spend what you can…spend what you are comfortable spending. We see
people struggle with how to spend their dream bike dollars. To assemble
the best possible riding rig, follow the rules below:
Where to put your
dollars, in order of importance:
- Saddle and
Equipment and Brakes
- Color and
Paint Quality (hey…it has to look good and last!)
Sizing and Fit
You can read the details on our proprietary SIZING and FITTING system
called SMARTFIT HERE.
We will make it painfully clear that the most important part of a road
bike purchase is getting a bike that fits you correctly. You need to get
the correct frame size and then you need to be fitted to the whole bike
properly. We’ll let you get all the details out of the SMARTFIT section.
But to make the point again, remember that Italian Geometry and overall
bike performance is dependent and built on the cyclist riding the proper
frame size and that the full bike is properly fit to the rider! AVOID
THOSE "GREAT DEALS" on Ebay…it might be a great deal, but if it doesn’t
fit right…you are ‘outta luck…you’ll look good…but feel..well,
Steel is REAL!
and read that steel road bikes have made a "comeback". COMEBACK?
We don’t think that they have really gone anywhere. Fans of
steel bikes have remained loyal. As recently as 20 years
ago, a professional rider feeding his family with his pedaling
talents rode a steel (cromoly) bicycle. End of story as far as
frame materials went. Steel was the gold standard. Since then,
many different materials have come onto the scene…some more
successfully than others. The general consensus remains to this
day that steel (cromoly) frames deliver the best overall ride.
Other materials might make a frame stiffer, lighter, more
aerodynamic, and in some cases some materials might make a frame
even MORE compliant and comfortable than steel tubes, but the
idea is still to make them all ride as close to steel as
Making a great
frame that rides incredibly well requires the balance of all
these characteristics (comfort, shock dampening, weight,
stability, traction, etc.). These attributes are all directly
related to one another. Making a frame lighter automatically
changes or "digs into" one of the other distinguishing
performance features. So all of these important riding aspects
must be considered carefully and be balanced. It seems that
steel frames keep this balance at a more favorable ratio than
any other frame material.
The number of
brands offering a full line of steel bikes is dwindling. This is
great news for Torelli and the Mondonicos, but a sad statement
of where the bike industry has gone in the last 20 years.
We know many
dedicated riders who have been riding aluminum or carbon for the
last few years and have decided to go back to steel, purely for
the quality of the ride and the experience that a steel bike
delivers. Frankly, a lot of them want a more comfortable bike
that doesn’t beat them up in certain riding situations. These
are men and women who have logged many miles on stiff, tight,
robotic frames for years and they are quite simply tired of the
lack of personality in their rigs. We mention durability and
longevity when speaking of steel frames. Aluminum and Carbon
frames have an effective "performance lifespan" that is much
shorter than steel. This means that the quality of the ride
deteriorates over time. It doesn’t refer to an all-out frame
failure. We think it is fair to say that a good steel frame,
built properly, can last 25 or 30 years if cared for. Aluminum
and carbon frames are much less predictable, but we think it is
reasonable to say that they won’t have the lifespan of a fine
Here are the
major reasons riders love steel frames:
Best Overall Ride
Quality, Comfort and Shock Absorption (important in our area
with the quality of our roads)
Stage Bikes Have the
Steel Provides the
BEST rear wheel Traction
Best Longevity – 30
Options to Suit Rider’s needs and to make rider FIT the highest
Very Favorable for
ARE STEEL BIKES HEAVY?
This topic is best left for in store
conversation, but let us type a few words on the matter.
First off, proof is in the pudding: we've built full bikes with
lugged, steel frames that weigh in UNDER 17 pounds. And
NO, they did not cost $6000. Most of the steel bikes we
build weigh in between 18 and 19 pounds.
frames are the lightest available. There are some
exceptions, but if you want to talk about top-shelf, proven,
stage style frames, this remains accurate. Titanium is light no
doubt, but it has lost the label as the LIGHTEST bike material.
Carbon, in general, is light....but in some specific cases it is
NOT. When you consider ride quality, you can debate for
hours on weight vs. material. Ask us (in store) to explain
to you how some companies at the TOP of the food chain have
decided that Titanium and Carbon on their own don't make for
very good bike frames at all. The combination of these
materials is another story. More on this when you visit
Aluminum seems to
be the material that has come closest to the goal of doing what
steel does but with less weight. 20 years ago, aluminum
was lighter than steel but it was harsh riding and too stiff.
[There is a great story about an engineer from a BIG CORPORATE
BIKE COMPANY in the pits at the Tour De France in the early
1980's. A team competing in THE Tour was riding his
company's newest aluminum frame. When the riders returned
from the stage, they we assembled under a tent to meet with the
engineer for a feedback session. The engineer, through an
Italian speaking helper asked "How was the ride on our great new
frame"....the riders muttered to each other in Italian and their
collective reply came from the one team member that spoke a few
words in broken English, with a heavy twist of Italian accent..."It's
a-fast, but it's a-too a-hard!"]
As higher quality materials and aluminum alloys became
available, tubing manufacturers became more and more able to
make aluminum tubes with a thinner wall thickness which reduced
stiffness and even lowered weight more. BUT, at the same
time, steel tubing benefited from new alloys and advancements in
production and design. Steel tubing is now much lighter
than it had been. Also, frame parts like lugs, bottom bracket
shells, seat collars, etc. have been slimmed down by new
materials and production techniques to reduce full frame weight
even further. This lends some proof in our eyes that steel
is still at the forefront of frame material. If steel is
"OLD SKOOL" or "RETRO" or whatever you want to call it, contact
Columbus, Reynolds, True Temper or some of the other steel
tubing manufacturers and ask them why they continue to spend
millions of dollars on R&D for steel tubes!
what you lose in weight you gain in many other departments.
A light steel frame is 3 to 3.5 pounds*. A SUPER light
Aluminum frame is 2.5 pounds*. So we are talking about .5
to 1 pounds net difference. If your absolute 1st priority
is building as light a bike as possible, you won't choose steel.
If you want a very light bike that performs and rides to the
highest quality standard, you will love a steel frame.
WEIGHTS...not catalog weights or tech sheet weight!
and titanium are fine frame materials. After all the touting
we’ve done here about steel frames, you still might very well be
better off with another material. No worries, our friends at
Torelli, Guerciotti and Mondonico all know this very well and
all 3 brands offer frames made of these materials, and of
course, all are crafted in the Italian Style. If you aren’t sure
what is best for you, please consult with us. We can give you
solid advice. We will always throw the warning flag if we think
a customer is wandering down the wrong path when buying a bike
or making a fit decision. Ultimately, it is your choice,
but we are here to help you match your desires and needs with
the right product.
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are exclusive property of Smart Cycles Inc. No reproduction is
allowed. Copyright 2004 Smart Cycles, Inc. Norwalk, CT USA