Italian Custom – The search
After what seemed a life-time of riding my trusty Wilier Triestina Izoard, a well-engineered monocoque machine bought at Filipos (ex-MTB Italian national champion) Dieffe Bici Wilier Punto Rosso store. Known previously as Bicicli Verona, is probably one of the best road-bike stores in Veneto. Bicicli was my local bike shop for a number of seasons, with Roberto as resident expert mechanic their services are highly recommended if you ever have a problem in the area or need any obscure part. He goes the extra kilometre.
So the Izoard was due for replacement and I had been window shopping for a Titanium frame to contend with British roads and mucky winters and a spare for summer. This was proving quite a challenge with a vast array of manufacturers offering all sorts of quality at all sorts of prices; Lynskey, Moots, Van Nicolas, Qoroz, Enigma, Lite Speed, Dedacciai, the list goes on. I was struggling to find an ideal frame, as I have an anatomical build similar to many Italians, short torso and longish legs. Stack and reach really needs to be comfortable without compromising pedal stroke and leg angle, and hence avoid injury! As a massive Italophile, I knew it should be Italian made, but I was running out of options as many manufacturers are full on carbon with only a few metal frame builders, Legend being one. However, Il Re and The Queen are high quality craftsmanship and the ride quality is superb but they don’t quite have the aura I was looking for.
No….I needed something with more prestige, heritage…and closer to the spirit of Bicissimo. Tomassini, Grosseto although infamous doesn’t immediately spring to mind, but is still one of the longest standing and understated frame builders in Italy. The company could have been considered to have passed it’s prime with high profile Italian teams such as Mapei Quick Step, but it has a provenance as good as any Chianti DOCG and is etched into perpetual cycling history.
The factory is located on the outskirts of Grosseto near the south-west coast of Tuscany and border with Lazio. They are still going strong in the sea of modern copycat carbon frame designers, with the classic retro styling updated and sculpted into modern competitive machines for all levels of cyclist. Advanced styling and geometry with a strong flavour of Tommasini heritage…the frames offer something unique, an exceptional piece of artisan Italian ciclosport.
Not to say I wasn’t tempted to stick with sleek carbon, as I have been guiding on some excellent rentals for guests. The De Rosa R383 is a couple of steps up from entry level but the frame is solid, elegant and handles extremely and is well balanced in the Chianti hills. Even the new full race profile Tommasini VCL-3 looks stunning, although I haven’t been fortunate enough to test ride one yet! My head was only turned briefly as I caught a glimpse of the Mach, a new addition after the X-Fire. Both frames are considered Grandfondo style geometry, more relaxed, although this is determined by the custom fit (su misura) and frame sizing which is what also appealed to me….a trip to Grosseto was on the horizon! Between tours I managed to sneak in a visit to the factory (instead of sending third party fit geometry for the frame builder to use), and met with Barbara and the authentic famiglia Tommasini to get my custom fit done.
In typical Italian fashion I was late for my appointment (roadworks on the Florence-Siena highway was my excuse), but Barbara had been flexible throughout our arrangements and the only concern was for everyone to get to lunch on time, during this extremely warm August week-day. First things first, café of course….even in 40 degrees of heat who doesn’t need a strong coffee?
One of the reasons I founded Bicissimo is because I love Italian customs, friendliness and ability to make everyone feel welcome regardless of time. This may be apparent to those who visit Italy regularly but shouldn’t be considered rude when standing in line or waiting for others to be served as everyone receives full customer service. So I rushed to get changed for the bike fit, and even after just five minutes of pedalling in the fit studio had me at the start of a full sweat, not reflective of my self-reported fitness level! Although I’m sure the resistance was cranked up ‘on purpose’.
After a few adjustments and feeling truly comfortable, all was well except for the litre of lost body water. Next came the tour of the factory to see production, which probably hasn’t changed much since Tommasini was founded in 1948. I met with one of the frame builders, who took great pleasure and time in describing the process of tube assembly and welding (in an inert nitrogen atmosphere for Titanium), even with lunch fast approaching. In the heat, my Italian was struggling to keep with the technical details involved as the sense of history washed over me like a giant wave realising how many cyclists had been equipped with a frame from this very workshop, over the years. With a few minutes to spare Barbara took me to the office to complete administration and fine details of my desired ‘personalizzato‘ finish, brushed or polished titanium, internal or external cable routing, electronic groupset/ analogue or choice of mounting and holes for both, fork type/ colour and custom sandblasted lettering style, size and position were all part of the Mach package. Of course I opted for a Bicissimo logo.
As the Italian summer break was imminently upon us, building would be delayed, although I was in no rush and expected my first ride sometime during the winter. Everyone was genuinely pleased for me to make the visit to the factory, and definitely made the whole experience. Even though I was given the full customer service, 12.30pm was quite late in the day knowing the importance placed on pranzo….as I managed to get one of the shop assistants to snap a quick photo just as the gates were being closed and I bid a farewell salute to the Tommasini family and their passionate employees, and I was soon back on the road to Florence.
True to Barbara’s word, my frame build started in September and she was exceptional at addressing the many (unnecessary) concerns I had throughout. I took receipt in December just in time for an Elite training camp in Calpe, Spain. The frame arrived with a very steel like mirror finish which I believe is much nicer and cleaner than brushed Titanium that can look greasy and patchy if not looked after properly. The external cable end stops are perfectly positioned to make the cables flush with the frame, and the welds were smoother than any other frames I had seen. I swapped across my original Campagnolo 10 speed Chorus group set so I was ready to go.
My first ride unfortunately wasn’t on Italian roads, but was smooth none-the-less and had a chance to take it up some long ascents and appreciate how good the transmission of power was through the frame, yet comfortable enough to absorb the rough patches and not feel all the bumps on longer rides. I spent two weeks habituating myself with the new ride and custom geometry, although a kilo heavier than the Wilier, this meant descents for me were slightly quicker with more ‘cornering’ to negotiate. Back in the UK I fitted new 2015 Chorus 11 speed components and a semi-compact 52/36t crank-set which gives me a nice range of gears on the flat and still allows plenty of cadence for all gradients of climbs even though I still like to sit in the big ring. The video below by Campagnolo Tech walks through setting up the drive system for those who feel capable and have tools and the patience.
Now, pretty much on every ride there are frequent comments about the bike and knowing it is custom made for me, leaves me exceptionally chuffed I chose a Tommasini. I can’t thank Barbara and the dedicated people who make the Tommasini name enough for turning my ideal titanium frame into reality with Italian passion. The only thing left to do is to take it back to Tuscany for a long giro!