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An Old World Master Frame Builder in the Carbon Ti Era?
 
By Staff
Date: 9/21/2003
An Old World Master Frame Builder in the Carbon Ti Era?
 

By Phil Miano

Before Colnago, before Derosa, there was Cicli Mondonico, an artisan bicycle frame shop in Milan, Italy, founded by Giuseppe Mondonico in 1929. While today you can find the carbon wonder bikes of the larger, better known Italian bicycle frame factories in the thousands around the world, you can also find Giuseppe’s son and grandson, Antonio and Mauro Mondonico, building each year a few hundred bicycle frames by hand in their backyard shop outside Milan, Italy.


Cicli Mondonico in 1929.

The Mondonicos are quite literally “Old School”. Antonio is fond of saying that he grew up with “steel filings underneath his fingernails” from helping his father in the frame shop. Antonio has built bicycle frames all of his life, initially with his dad, and then for Motta, Cinelli and Colnago. He was also a partner and supervised all production for Guerciotti during the glory years of the late 1970’s through the mid 1980’s.

Regardless of the name on the down tube, Antonio applies the art of melding steel tubing together with pins, sand cast lugs and bronze to each frame set that he creates. I recently visited with the Mondonicos as they began a custom fitting tour of the US, organized by their exclusive US importer, Bill Semonian, founder of Torelli Imports. I caught up with the Mondonicos at Smart Cycles in Norwalk, Connecticut, the third of 23 shops they will visit in 10 days in the US.

Antonio Mondonico is probably past legal retirement age in most western countries that have rules about such things. I only know this from my pre-visit research and some simple math, knowing how long he’s been brazing up world-class framesets. In person he is energetic and quite debonair. Attired in a long sleeve azure blue polo shirt with “Cicli Mondonico” embroidery he exemplifies Italian style. Assisted by his son Mauro, Antonio measures each new Mondonico owner. Antonio works quickly, taking perhaps 20 minutes with each person for the actual measurements. Like any master craftsman he makes his art look easy.


Antonio Mondonico measuring a Mondonico owner.

Much more was happening as became evident as the frame spec sheet was reviewed with each client. As usual, top tube and seat tube length varied by the riders size, but how about 3 different choices of tying the seat stays to the top tube depending on rider and their riding style, or specifying a mix of 3 separate tubing types in a frame to provide optimum performance? A full analysis of the merits of a custom frame goes beyond the scope of this report, but let it suffice to say that a box of Columbus tubing brazed up on an assembly line may look the same on paper, but is a poor imitation of a custom frame done right. Amazingly, while certainly not inexpensive, custom frames by Mondonico can be had for less money then the bigger “name” Italian brands.

But how do they ride? Conveniently enough I had recently replaced my Trek 5500 primary ride with a Mondonico Futura Leggero fashioned with Columbus Brain OS tubing. Built up with Shimano Dura-Ace components and a few trick bits such as a carbon FSA crank set with ti bottom bracket and a ti Cinelli Grammo threaded stem, my steel frame and steel fork bicycle weighed in at just 19 lbs.


Mondonico Futura Leggero

I use a 5.2-mile circuit from my home for my everyday morning training laps. It features both flats and a decent climb with some twisty 90-degree turns mixed in. The Mondonico was pleasant as any high dollar bicycle should be on initial rides but felt a bit off on the hills and when sprinting out of the saddle in comparison to the Trek. Instead of the immediate gratification that the Trek gave me, the Mondonico felt, well, different.

It was only after several 6:30am rides, a rainy hilly century and an impromptu sprint and 4 mile, 40 mph motor pace behind a moving van that the Mondonico revealed itself to me. At times the bicycle disappears underneath me and I ride with the utmost ease, sometimes I get out of the saddle and sprint and look with disbelief that my accurate Cateye computer is showing 35 mph, but overall I get the feeling that this bike is telling me, “Ride me, I will show you how it's done; ride me.”

I can tell you how Antonio builds his frames, how he is careful not to overheat each joint so as not to make a “hard” frame, but I think the ride is something different, something to learn over a long time. Like Grappa or Verdi or Palladio, this is an acquired taste that reveals its riches over time. A lot to say about a bicycle? Sure, but that is the romance of it all. How Italian! “La bicicletta che vince.”


Antonico Mondonico, Phil Miano, Mauro Mondonico.

Special thanks to Bill Semonian of Torelli Imports, Alex from Smart Cycles, Norwalk, Connecticut USA, and Antonio and Mauro Mondonico.

P.S. Visit Bill’s web site for huge amounts of great information about cycling and bicycles.


"Chairman Bill" Semonian of Torelli.com


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