OUR TOP 5 CUSTOM ITALIAN FRAME BUILDERS
If you’re like us, there are few things that wet your whistle like these three words: Made in Italy. While the big boys, like Pinarello, Bianchi and Wilier, cash in on their Italian heritage, few brands actually build in Italy today.
Over espressos, pastries, and a fair bit of quibbling, we came up with a shortlist of the five best custom bicycle brands that are still made in Italy. They’re a diverse bunch that has two things in common: Italian flair and production in Northern Italy (just like us).
1. Nevi for Titanium
Lots of brands do Titanium these days, but few do Titanium like Nevi. We had a booth next to him at a show recently and were super impressed by his custom Titanium bike frames, not to mention his workmanship and dedication to the craft.
Nevi’s frames are equal parts beauty and performance thanks to his considered tube choices and intimate knowledge of a rider’s needs – Nevi raced back in the day. For superior strength, Nevi welds his frames old-school in a vacuum chamber. For the layman, this means welding in a big metal box while looking in through a small glass window. In short, not easy.
Nevi learnt to weld from the Russians who pioneered Titanium technology for their submarines. Back when he started, tubes weren’t available and every piece of the bike had to be rolled from flat-sheet and zipped shut with a long weld. Today, pre-fab tubes are available, but he still makes his own custom tubing for certain applications.
Like all of the builders featured here, his site isn’t necessarily the best showcase of his work. If you can, visit him in the foothills of Bergamo. http://www.nevi.it/
2. WR Compositi for Carbon
The gang at WR Compositi are starting to make a name for themselves thanks to their ultra-lightweight parts, clean design ethic and made-in-Italy credentials. We’re personal fans of their Avera 42 wheelset – ridiculously light clinchers for climbing and quick attacks - and their FK1 Fork – a super light, rigid fork with beautiful branding and great performance.
WR Compositi was born in 1992 and, while unknown to most, has a start-of-the-art facility where they research, develop and manufacture world-class carbon bits and bobs. They’re up their with the likes of ENVE, Zipp, Fast Forward and Fulcrum, but like most of our Top Five, fly under the industry radar.
Alongside their own products, they build for the likes of Campagnolo, which gives you an idea of their quality level. Our guess is that they’re contributing to the latest generation of Bora wheels and Campagnolo drive train parts.
Like Nevi, you’ll find WR Compositi in Bergamo. They offer full custom carbon bike frames and paint, but getting in touch with them can be a bit tricky. Email and phone often go unanswered. Best to drop in when you’re in the area. https://www.wrcompositi.it
3. Zullo for Steel
Tiziano Zullo strikes us as a stubborn character. Despite the bulk of contemporaries turning into importers or quitting the game, he’s doggedly kept building in Italy, trying his hand at new materials as they became popular, but ultimately sticking with his beloved steel.
What we love about Zullo’s custom frames is his unique point of view on both construction and paint. You can pick a contemporary Zullo by its crisp, fine tig welds and Tiziano’s outspoken paint.
Beyond appearances, the guy knows his stuff. His resume includes bike frames for several pro teams and a custom tubeset for Dedacciai. He’s also managed to stay relevant in a changing industry, which is of itself a remarkable achievement.
You can find Zullo in his workshop down the road from Lake Garda. We’re guessing he’ll have retirement plans within the decade, so you may need to get in fast for a genuine Zullo. https://www.zullo-bike.com/
4. Sarto for Carbon
We share a painter with Sarto and often get to ogle their custom frames hanging in his workshop. We’re really digging the latest evolutions of their gravel range that offer lightweight performance in a sturdy package that still damps well.
Their road bikes look mean, too. Next-gen features like contemporary wind-tunnel lines, aero stem integrations, and strong tubing that can take a crash or two, put them on par with bigger names like Trek and Specialized.
The nice thing about Sarto is that they do all their R&D and production in-house, in Italy. This means that they’re able to evolve their range quickly and bring new features to market fast. They also produce their own carbon tubing, which creates an infinite range of possibilities for customization.
Chances are you’ve seen Sarto frames under other bike brand names in the past. They still build for others, but now do a lot more under their own name. Sarto are more into email than drop-ins, but if you’re in the area, you can look them up in Padua. https://www.sartoantonio.com
5. Pegoretti for Steel
Dario Pegoretti is a bit like the Richard Sachs of Italy. Except more famous. Not one to dance to the beat of another’s drum, Pegoretti has single-mindedly followed his own aesthetic throughout his career, elevating him to rock star status amongst frame builders, and blurring the line between builder and artist.
Pegoretti first rose to notoriety due to his innovations. He was one of the first to build with tig and he turned more than a few heads when he rethought the main triangle, lowering the top tube and increasing rigidity. He was also one of the leaders in oversized tubing with custom tubes drawn by both Columbus and Dedacciai. Oh, and he built frames for Pantani and Indurain.
Frame building credentials aside, what we love most about Pegoretti is his Ciavete paint scheme. Every Ciavete that Dario paints is custom and reflects his mood on the day. That level of whimsy takes balls and we’ve got nothing but respect for that. We’re also really into his drippy paint lines, visible brush strokes and the way that no two Ciavete’s are ever alike.
If you want to visit the man himself, Pegoretti’s workshop can be found in Verona, where he works with a small team on his creations. Be sure to call ahead, the demand for his time and his frames are (rightfully) large these days. https://www.dario-pegoretti.com/masperigallery