Renzo Formigli was born in Florence, Italy in 1969. Discussions around the dinner table with his grandfather, father and brother, all semi-professional cyclists, involved cycling, as did family activities and every free weekend. Renzo was surrounded by bicycles and the thrill of racing.
At age eight he told his mother that when he grew up he would build bicycles.
When he was 12, before and after school he would hang around the local bicycle shop. By listening to the mechanics and builders in the shop, he began to understand the mechanics of a bicycle. That same year he asked his father for a gift, a bicycle build kit he’d seen in a shop window. That was the first bicycle Renzo assembled, the beginning of his dream to become a world class bicycle builder.
Renzo’s career path was set when he met Cino Cinelli at age 21. Cinelli, a legendary figure uniquely able to claim the following three titles: champion bicycle racer, manufacturer who stood out as a genuine innovator, and master frame designer. Cinelli saw something in Renzo and invited him to his home to discuss the theories and practices of bicycle building. Cinelli began to teach Renzo the secrets of a master craftsman, including the step-by-step process of handcrafting steel racing frames.
When you see the fit and finish of a Formigli steel frame’s tubes and lugs, you know that only a master craftsman, someone who knows the secrets, could create something so fine. Materials and frame designs have changed since his time with Cinelli, but Renzo still uses much of what he learned at the old man’s bench as his foundation for design and creation.
In 1990, Renzo created Formigli Cycles in a small shop near Florence. His ambition was to honour the tradition in which he’d been trained, and at the same time, integrate modern technologies to keep alive the Italian legacy: handmade, customer-specific frames.
Over years, Renzo Formigli has perfected the art of custom frames, built through a process that has itself evolved. Each Formigli frame is one-of-a-kind, each is the highest quality racing frame available.
Having established his name in Italy over the last 26 years, Formigli serves over 40 Italian shops and hand picked cycling teams.
Renzo learned his craft with steel. He still makes steel and aluminum bikes, but today he focuses on applying the art and skill of the master framebuilder to carbon fiber. His hands-on approach allows him to create completely custom bikes from cutting-edge materials.
Every frame Renzo Formigli makes is custom crafted by hand with Italian materials, made 100% in Italy. No Formigli frame will ever be mass-produced or mass-marketed.
Q&A WITH RENZO FORMIGLI
Can you tell us a little more about your desire to bring old world craftsmanship to modern materials?
I believe that the lineage of old world frame builders is a dying craft, and might not exist in another few generations. Companies like ours that make products by hand, custom made for each individual customer, are few and far between. Today’s bottom line leads companies to manufacture their products in the East, where costs are much lower. Our philosophy of craftsmanship is to keep the art and secrets of the original Italian bike builders alive. Our goal is to produce a frame that maintains the hand built elements, where we can customise the product according to a customer’s needs, but in today’s highest standards of modern materials. We remain faithful to our traditions, and although we us use modern materials, we continue to build every frame by hand. We understand there is a thought in cycling construction that machines are precise, and stock molds are just as good as tube to tube construction, and that there is no need to build custom frames by hand anymore. We maintain that a custom tube to tube constructed frame has better fit, performance, and longevity.
How important is accurate mitering?
The customer who buys a Formigli frame is very attentive to a frame’s finish. In addition to providing a customer with a product of superior quality, we believe, as Italians who love art and beauty, it is also equally important to produce a product that is aesthetically beautiful. The mitering is a stage in the process that is done by hand, and to do it requires many hours of work. In fact another of the reasons why the big bike manufacturers build frames exclusively in monocoque, is also due to the fact that the monocoque, when it exits from the mold, does not need mitering because it is already finished. This has a much lower cost than a frame which after assembly still requires many hours of work to make it cosmetically almost perfect. I say nearly perfect because any finishing work done by hand will never be perfect as work done by a machine. Just like a painting isn’t perfect compared to a digitally produced poster, it is the qualities given to the piece by hand that make it unique.
Many riders don’t know much about bike geometry and would rather let someone else choose their angles. How do you help those customers get it right? How do you turn words like “nimble and comfortable” into geometry?
The fit measurements we take of each customer consist of bone lengths and body ratios that determine various bicycle geometries that would be suitable. We ask the customer to explain the particular characteristics of the bicycle they are looking to ride, for example, comfort, speed, descents, long legs, back problems, and we advise the customer not only the geometry fit that would suit them, but what material we believe they should order the frame in. As an example, we would not recommend a bicycle made out of aluminium for a person who has back pain. As well for this customer, we would advise how we can adjust the geometry of the frame for lessening their back pain by lengthening the wheelbase, preventing the rider from having to bend the spine, we raise as much as possible the head tube. When we make a frame to perform in races, we completely change the geometry, using other parameters.
Many people now believe that real carbon know how is in Asia, why should a rider consider a custom Formigli?
Some cyclists and shops might think that a bicycle frame made with the monocoque system from Asia, has a carbon better than ours. I believe that this is accepted as fact because advertising dollars have been spent to condition the customer into thinking this way. I am not one to be the preacher, I just say, that our customers can tell you Formigli carbon feels so different and superior from Asian carbon, it doesn’t seem possible they are made from variations of the same material. It is not my style to say that my product is better than others. I hope in the future as Formigli is written about, ridden, and discussed, that people will better understand our bicycles, and then, maybe, people will understand what it truly means to own and ride a Formigli.
You talk about perfectly balanced bikes vs purely light bikes. Can you help us understand the difference?
Today to sell a bike, there are three important things for it to establish in the market, and to be considered. The first being the bicycle must be light, second that the design is eye catching and beautiful, the third it must have good advertising. Formigli bicycles only would fulfill point number two above, because the other two are not part of our philosophy- light weight and advertising. We have worked for 20 years with the racers, and we know with certainty a bicycle that is too light can have big problems, including steering. Returning to the discourse about the qualities of materials, especially in relation to carbon, I believe that when a bicycle is very light it means the carbon used is too thin. 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.
What separates a Formigli frame from the rest?
A custom frame doesn’t just mean it has been sized specifically for a rider. Custom frame design means this frame isn’t mass produced in a mold with mono layer carbon. It means handmade multi-layered tubes, the highest grade carbon fiber available on the market, tube to tube construction, and a hand painted frame.
Our Formigli riders tell us it’s not only the most comfortable frame they’ve ever ridden — our multi-layer carbon absorbing the road’s vibrations — but that they’ve never been faster.