Based in beautiful Florence, Renzo Formigli is one of my favourite bike builders.
Not only is he a man with an interesting story and approach, but he has a desire to retain his master approach to frame building; working out of a small shop and creating bikes that maintain a personal connection between builder and rider – a connection which I have had the privilege to experience and which I value.
When Renzo was young, 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. He 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.
He also has a strong view on what a bike should be. He says “today to sell a bike, there are three important things for it to establish in the market, and to be considered:
- the bicycle must be light
- the design is eye catching and beautiful
- it must have good advertising.
He goes on to say that his bicycles only fulfil point number two above, because the other two are not part of his philosophy – light weight and advertising”.
Renzo says that he has worked for 20 years with racers and knows with certainty that a bicycle that is too light, can have big problems. This includes steering and believes that when a bicycle is very light it means the carbon used is too thin. He says that carbon and steel are amongst the best materials to make racing frames, but to be good, they must be thick. Building a true racing bike requires a structure completely different from what we normally see on bikes for the general public.
What I love is that every Formigli frame is custom crafted by hand with Italian materials, made 100% in Italy. No Formigli frame will ever be mass-produced or mass-marketed. This is also about getting a bike made for you with the ride characteristics that you want and about having something made by hand. 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 truly unique.
Since 2016 I have been riding a custom Formigli Classic, in steel of course and I love it. With the fit and feel being just perfect, it’s an absolute joy to ride but I can’t help wondering why did it take so long to get to the door of an Italian master.