When the Machine and the Man Become One

a Formigli classic against a stone wall

Taking the step to buying a custom bike can be a long journey.

It often starts when the you are left dissatisfied with what you get from the “step into a shop, instant gratification” option. Or you have constant bike set up issues.

I believe it’s most often a long journey because we don’t really know how a bike should feel when it actually fits properly,  This is due to a number of factors ranging from:-

  • Not having enough knowledge
  • Not having heard of anyone else buying a custom bike
  • Less options and low awareness as there are fewer companies making custom frames
  • Being ‘retrofitted’ by a shop representing bike brand that has moved in the direction of having fewer sizes; retro fitting you to the bike with the a stem, seat post and saddle position to get you close, gives you a feel that you’re being ‘custom fitted’.
  • Being poorly measured up by someone with limited experience
  • Assuming carbon being better than steel
  • A belief that the lighter the better

I have lost count of the stories of people being sold a bike too small or too large because that’s what was on the shop floor.

My personal experience of ‘measurement’ and ‘fit’ 

It feels as though the machine and the man are now one. Truly amazing.”
Renzo Formigli testing a bike
I’ve been measured up for a bike a couple of times over my 30 years of riding

1. The first was a “bike fit” with a shop in Melbourne who then “sold” me $500 bucks worth of stem, seat post and handlebars to fix my position.  This did fix one problem but also then created another. In reality, the frame was too small and when the stem was adjusted, it affected the handling. I also ended up feeling like I was riding a city bike.

2. A few years later, we were in Italy and I had a full set of measurements done at the De Rosa headquarters, with a frame built up for me from scratch and delivered a few days later.  A truly beautiful bike, fast and comfortable. Bellissimo.
I thought my De Rosa was as good as it gets….

Until just recently, when I ordered a steel frame from a master frame builder with a small shop in Florence.  I followed the instructions on how to get the correct measurements, sent them off and then the frame was  made for me, to my specific body measurements.  Three months later, a classic steel beauty was ready.

When I collected my new prized possession, there was also a “final fitting” as it were, to get the exact position correct.  Then I was away.

There were a few micro tweaks in the first week to get the new saddle in just the right position, but what just absolutely floored me (and still does) is the fit. I now actually feel as though I am part of the bike.
I’m lower and my default position seems to be in the drops. It feels as though the machine and the man are now one. Truly amazing.

The art of going Custom

“There is something special about taking a step back to a time when waiting for something to be made was worthwhile”.

a close up of a bicycle wheel and hub

Going custom not only gives you the perfect fit, but also the opportunity to go completely bespoke, taking the time to search and research what to put on it, how to do the paint work and create something beautiful and unique.

There are so many different options and brands out there, so enjoy it – have your wheels built for you, find some beautiful hubs and rims and build it, don’t just go for straight out of the box. There is something special about taking a step back to a time when waiting for something to be made was worthwhile.

I made a choice of steel because it rolls as quietly as a ghost, floating over the ever changing terrain. I will have this frame for life.  Just like the machines of L’Eroica, there are bikes from the 1920’ and they are still going strong. This is the type of quality and durability I want in a world which has become obsessed with disposable.

Overt the course of ordering and through arranging the details for the bike I came to understand and appreciate more of what goes into making a bike in the way that it was in the past, and in my view, should be more in the future.

“It is about putting the customer experience first again and not the ease of manufacturing or ROI for the now large entities”. 

Formigli Custom Bicycles

Your Unique Geometry and Comfort 
When talking with Renzo Formigli, he mentions that today’s bottom line leads companies to manufacture their products where costs are much lower. He understands there is a belief in cycling construction that machines are precise and stock moulds are just as good as tube to tube construction, and that there is no need to build custom frames by hand anymore. However, he maintains that a custom tube to tube constructed frame has better fit, performance, and longevity.

Renzo builds every frame with a tube-to-tube construction process as it allows for the creation of a custom frame to be based on each individual’s specific body measurements. Tube-to-tube design also enables the use of superior carbon that varies in layers and composition.
Having a custom frame built is an interesting process in determining the characteristics of a bike and how geometry affects this. Many of us don’t really know anything about geometry and what it takes to turn a customer’s request into reality.  Renzo certainly does.  The fit measurements and information he takes for each customer consist of:
  • bone lengths and body ratios to determine various bicycle geometries that would be suitable;
  • explanations of the particular characteristics of the bicycle they are looking to ride; i.e.. comfort, speed, descents, long legs, back problems, etc.
A steel bicycle against a wall
From this, Renzo advises not only the geometry fit that would suit the customer, but also the material he believes they should order the frame in and how they can adjust the geometry of the frame for lessening such issues as back pain.  Further, when they make a frame to perform in races, they completely change the geometry, using other parameters.

The Power of Advertising re: Bike Weight

It’s also very interesting and not surprising when you think about it, the role that marketing and advertising plays in conditioning us as bike consumers as to what is good and what is not.

When Renzo talks about a perfectly balanced bike vs a light bike, he says that to sell a bike today, there are three important things: The first being the bicycle must be light, second that the design is eye catching and beautiful, the third it must have good advertising.
He says that his bikes only fulfill point number two above, because the other two are not part of his philosophy- light weight and advertising.
He has worked for 20 years with PRO racers and knows with certainty that a bicycle that is too light, can cause big problems, including steering, He believes that when a bicycle is very light, it means the carbon used is too thin. He says carbon and steel are among the best materials to make racing frames, but to be good, they must be thick. Building a true racing bike used by professional riders, requires a structure completely different from what we normally see on bikes for the general public.  Yet how many of us are conditioned to think we need to have what the Pro’s have.
A custom frame doesn’t just mean it has been sized specifically for you. It means that it isn’t mass produced in a mould. It means handmade tubes, the highest grade steel or carbon fibre available, tube to tube construction, and hand painted.

It means that you have a personal connection between the builder and rider in what amounts to a work of art you can use for a very long time.

If you’d like to find out more about Formigli Bikes, read more here and if you’d like to talk more about the process of ordering and owning a beautiful Formigli custom bicycle, contact Damian on 0410 651 573 or damian@aqtocycling.com

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