“I made my first aluminium frame for Giani Bugno and he won the Italian title on it. That turned cycling here upside down. And now I want to do it again. If all goes well, then I will die with everything changed again. You’ll see—I want to be remembered when I die. They’ll say, ‘Do you remember Ciöcc? He was crazy—but happy!’”
Happy is an understatement. There’s a contented satisfaction in the voices and the faces of everyone at Pelizzoli, all sure of the fact that they’re doing things the right way. And even if this is against the grain of modern business, sometimes the old ways really are best. Impressively, Giovanni tells me that he personally made 120 frames last year—not bad for a 69-year-old. But obviously, this kind of output is minuscule in comparison to the made in Asia opposition.
“They’re all swindlers—from the first to the last,” he tells me right away when I mention competition, manufacturers that have outsourced to Asia rather than keeping faith with the old ways. “They’re bandits and double bandits.”
Like every other small manufacturer, Pelizzoli is the antithesis of the multinationals. Every frame, from the retro-styled track frames aimed at urban cyclists across Europe and the US to the high-end carbon fiber racers, is made by hand, with attention and perhaps what you can call a little bit of love. There’s attention to detail, from the first measurement to the final coat of paint, that’s just impossible on a large scale.
The soul of the thing is lost when you mass-produce. Outsourcing to low-paid workers in Asia breaks the bond between builder and rider, a link that was once a tangible and important part of every serious cyclist’s life. It’s a link that many of today’s riders are searching for again, and in the funny way the world has of coming full circle, the old ways of the craftsman are being saved by the new ways of the internet.
Now, cyclists can search out framebuilders around the world from the comfort of their home. And thanks to that, Pelizzoli and many like him are able to enjoy a renaissance, shipping frames to happy customers in unlikely locations. The man himself enjoys a busy trade everywhere from Asia to America, with that growing band of enthusiasts who are eager for some old-fashioned quality.
That old-fashioned quality doesn’t mean old-fashioned performance, however. Using new materials—like the modern steel and aluminium that the Curno shop gets from Columbus, the well-known Italian tube manufacturer—and their experience, a good frame-builder can make a bike that will out-perform and out-last its mass-produced rivals. And they look a damn shade cooler, too.
There’s triangular tubing and stainless steel, custom paint jobs, the choice of different dropouts and fork crowns, all of which means that no two Pelizzoli frames are exactly alike. And owners can rest safe in the knowledge that none of their buddies’ bikes will have been welded by a 70-year-old Italian in gold-rimmed Ray Bans. Which is something.
The workshop is a very social place, and it seems that anyone is welcome to pay a visit. But all good things must come to an end, and after a couple of hours of good conversation and a thorough look at how things are done at Pelizzoli, the main man excuses himself.
“I must collect my grandchildren from school, it’s very close to my heart. I had a client once who was always calling me and asking ‘Is my frame ready yet? Is it ready yet?’ and one day he made me 10 minutes late, meaning the kids were left outside. The day I finished his bike, I told him: ‘It’s ready but I’ll never work for you again because I don’t like you, every day you delay me with my grandkids!’”
Not wanting to suffer the same fate, I don’t get in his way. Everyone else in the shop works away quietly after he leaves, though even with the cacophony of hammers and metal grinders and the paint booth fans it misses the frantic energy and color of Giovanni. I’m left wondering if I’ve ever met someone so truly larger than life—and trying to think of an excuse to come back.