Both Jeff and I have a lot of experience in this industry and have pretty strong opinions on the stuff we choose to represent. In most cases there’s a lot of rational reasons we’re doing what we’re doing- the product is technically superior to its alternatives. It’s better made, will last longer, and/or will make our client athletes faster and more efficient.
Sometimes, the product is an un-paralleled value. More often than not- it is simply the best regardless of price, availability, margin for our shop- or any other factor that’d make business sense alone. Almost always there is a little bit of emotion driving what we’re offering.
In the case of Pegoretti Cicli, the choice to represent these bikes has everything to do with emotion. It’s rare that “love” drives what a retailer decides to shill- but with Pegoretti there isn’t a better word to describe the relationship we have with these bikes, their late maker, and the current team of folks who have stepped up to build upon the legacy of one of cycling’s greatest frame builders.
I wrote the above to a close friend of mine after hearing that Dario Pegoretti- the last of the great Italian builders of confidence- had passed away. It was brutal. We had vultures calling the shop almost as soon as the news hit- asking what frames we had in stock in their size. The conversations were all the same- “I’d always wanted a Pegoretti. I probably missed my chance- do you have anything in size xx?”
Our friends at Dario’s North American distributor- GITA Sporting Goods- made the incredibly wise decision to freeze all sales until Dario’s family both professionally and by blood- could take their time to mourn and decide on the future of the project. All of us North American retailers who stocked Pegorettis- all six to ten of us- did the same.
While I was bitching about these fucking vultures and mourning in my own way the death of a man who had meant so much to me- I also begged Nelson and Giorgio from GITA to hold a 57cm Duende in the Guantanamo paint scheme for me. Somehow, the fact that I didn’t own a Pegoretti of my own was different. I wanted part of my friend and part of my hero and part of that whole romantic secret crazy passionate absurd history of Pegoretti race bikes back and to be mine. Mourning is never about the dead- it’s about those left behind. It’s always about the vultures and vultures need to eat too. Vultures are ok and need time to mourn too.
The first Pegoretti I ever saw in the flesh was a light blue Palosanto sometime in 1995 or 1996. Both Jeff and I were working at a large bicycle shop in Boston. One of my go to bike frames for clients looking for a great road bike was the Eddy Merckx Corsa 0.1. This was the quintessential Belgian race bike. Constructed from Dedacciai Zero 1 tubing- a new fancy steel tubeset from a new fancy Italian tubing company- this bike worked as well on New England’s winding broken old post roads as it did racing around Flemish town squares.
It was a good bit cheaper and more robust than the equivalent De Rosa- stiffer and more planted than the heavier yet somehow flexier and twitchier Pinarello- and a five minute test ride showed even the most body unaware cyclist on earth how far behind the likes of Trek, Specialized, and Cannondale were when it came to building race bikes. Suffice it to say, I sold a shit ton of these things. I was in the process of selling yet another one- when I was informed that neither us nor the GITA- Merckx’s distributor at the time- had the 49cm size that I needed for a client. What could I do? Maybe I can switch her to a Pinarello? Are there any Stelvios in stock? Nope. How about a Neo-Primato from De Rosa? I was already pushing my clients budget- and those things were about $500 too much.
Enter the Palosanto. Supposedly these things were made by the guy who built all of Miguel Indurain’s bikes. He was the guy who introduced the European Peloton to TIG welding. He’d once built Marco Pantani 25 different geometry bikes in one season collecting checks while the Pirate chased ghosts and exorcised his demons for a time by varying setback by millimeters and head angles by minutes. Tafi, Bartoli, Simoni, Garzelli- if your name ended in a vowel and appeared in print in the Gazzetta della Sport without a soccer ball between 1988 and 1995 chances are this was the guy who “really” built your bike.
I was convinced. I let the client know the bad news/good news situation.The Merckx wasn’t available- but we were able to get something really, really special. I’d bring it in- we’d built it up- and she could decide if she wanted to wait for the Merckx or get this thing.
When it showed up I was overwhelmed with how goddamn PRO this thing looked. It had no lugs and impeccable, tiny welds. Everything from the modernist font to the small mountain bike like drop-outs just stated pure, purposeful, and deliberate. The bike frame looked like a handmade tool as opposed to a handmade piece of craft in a way that I had never seen before.
Unlike the bikes that would replace things like this in the Pro-Peloton, there was no pretension of commodification. This frame was solely conceived and fabricated as a sporting good. It was like a luge built by an Olympic Federation where every other sled we’d ever seen was either a hand carved wooden toboggan or a plastic red flyer from Walmart. This was the thing the pros “actually” rode. It was simple- but infused with the experience of hundreds of thousands of kilometers of professional European racing.
Once we built it, it looked and rode like a race bike. Confident, deliberate, tough, and undeniably perfect. This bike was the present cutting edge of race bike. I can count on one hand how many bikes have had such an impact on me. This bike was a peek behind the curtain of the theatre of Professional Cycling. This was the reality of professional cycling and here it was available to me and everyone else who wanted to be privy to this secret world of pro bike stuff.
Little did I know how fleeting this moment was. The aforementioned non-considered Treks, Specializeds and Cannondales went from being not good enough a product to be raced at the elite level- to being attached to big enough bags of money that it started not to matter. You could put Cannondale or Specialized decals on an aluminum De Rosa or Pegoretti for a little bit- but the Americans knew that the silhouette of the bike and the story it could tell- was as important to their advertising efforts as letters on the down tube.
When all bikes were lugged steel- the differences in bikes really came down to angles and measurements. Pegoretti was a builder of confidence first and foremost because he could put the wheels in the right place. In most cases early on- the materials themselves were supplied by the same sponsor who was supplying the down tube decals. Dario Pegoretti introduced TIG welding, oversize steel, aluminum, threadless headsets, “micro” dropouts and all sorts advantages to the Pro-Peloton.
Scientific training regiments (not to mention PEDs and other questionable advances) had begun to produce stronger more powerful riders. Off the shelf lugs and standard diameter steel tubes weren’t going to be enough. Pro racing was faster than it ever had been- and ever would be again. For a very brief period, so were the bikes-in large part due to Dario Pegoretti’s ability to break tradition, push boundaries, and march to the beat of his own drummer.
Soon American money chased the hand built custom bike out of the Professional Peloton. While I saw this as a tragedy- our heroes were now for the most part riding bikes that were appreciably worse than what we as consumers could ride if we knew enough- this created a wonderful opportunity for Pegoretti. For the first time he could focus exclusively on bikes that were going to have his name on the down tube. He was able to engage in his passion for paint and art and music through his graphics- something he’d never been able to do as a contract builder.
He also switched from developing tubesets for Dedacciai that would then be used by mainstream European and American brands- to working with Colombus and developing tubesets solely for himself. This inadvertently led to notable collaborations with esteemed frame builder Richard Sachs. Ironically- Dario Pegoretti- the man who almost single handedly made the lugged ProTour race bike obsolete- developed the PegoRichie tubeset- the first and only modern tubeset designed specifically for lugged frame construction.
Why did he do this? To hear Dario tell it- because he wanted to build some lugged race bikes. I know too that he felt it his duty to help insure the product existed for the frame building community as a whole. Richard and Dario could have kept this stuff proprietary. The fact that they chose not to not only allowed builders around the world to build better lugged bikes than ever before possible- but also showed Columbus, Dedacciai, and others that there was a market for steel tubing.
Dario left us with a line-up of four steel race bikes. While they vary in price- each model is an ultimate no compromise race bike for its intended purpose. The aforementioned Palosanto evolved into the Duende. This is the bike that Pegoretti recommended for 70% of his clients of which only 10% listened to him. It is also the bike that he once told me he would equip ProTour team with were he given the opportunity. (A premise he told me was stupid. They couldn’t afford it. They just want money and his bikes would never be raced at that level again.)
Pegoretti’s most popular model is his Marcelo. It shares the same front triangle as the Duende but has larger rear stays. It also uses a larger hooded drop-out. This increases drive train rigidity at the expense of quick wheel changes and ease of construction. Both of these being primary reasons why the Duende is better suited to the demands of professional racing. The frame also undergoes a more complex heat treatment schedule which further hardens the frame- giving it a sharper more reactive feel.
The two most extreme bikes in the Pegoretti Line-Up are the Big Leg Emma and the Responsorium. We’re going to devote much of the next chapter to the BLE so we’ll just discuss the Responsorium for now. This frame is built with Columbus XCR tubing. It is stainless and the lightest frame in the Pegoretti line. It basically rides like a somewhat smoother and even more refined Marcelo but weighs 25% less. Easily built up to the UCI’s weight limit- the Responsorium was conceived as the ultimate bicycle for say- a Grand Tour podium contender. It pushes the limits of weight for a steel frame- while equaling or exceeding the torsional rigidity of professional level carbon fiber frames. It’s a testament to Dario’s ability to design a no compromise race bike out of his favorite material to build a bike out of.
We have examples of all these models here at Summer Cycles and we’d encourage you to come in and see for yourself just how wonderful these bikes are. There is really no equivalent to a Pegoretti in any other field. They are race bikes first and foremost- but also examples of true mastery of craft. Some people view Pegorettis solely as works of art. Others solely as examples of craft. To us- they are first and foremost race bikes borne of genius. Dario Pegoretti was truly the best.
(In part ii we’ll talk about Dario Pegoretti’s influence on Gaulzetti and his responsibility for me starting the project. We’ll also take an in depth look at Jeff’s Pegoretti Big Leg Emma- a bike that both Jeff and I agree to be the stiffest, fastest, and most powerful race bike either of us have ever ridden. In the final chapter, we’ll talk to Pietro, Dario’s right hand man and the current boss at Pegoretti Cicli, about what the future holds for the line and the bikes. Stay tuned!)