No one has straddled the worlds of art and bicycles like the late, great Dario Pegoretti. A master craftsman who studied under highly regarded contract builder Gino Milani (also his father-in-law) and pushed the boundaries of both steel frame construction and how beautiful a bike could be.
The bicycle as art. Image courtesy of podia.cc
Pegoretti started his frame-building journey under the tutelage of Milani in the mid 1970s, their business at that time was building frames for Pinarello, Bianchi, Colnago and Moser amongst others. Into the late 80s and 90s and a now very experienced Pegoretti was building TIG welded bikes for many of the world’s fastest riders, to be rebranded with their sponsors’ decals, chief amongst these was Miguel Induráin’s ‘Pinarello’. Pegoretti described this period of building as 'not a very interesting job', but he had obviously learnt a great deal about how frames are designed and constructed and, with persuasion from a US distributor for Milani, Pegoretti started his eponymous brand in 1997.
One of Miguel Induráin's 1994 Tour winning 'Pinarellos' built by Pegoretti - Image courtesy of eBay.
At first the new frames built with Pegoretti’s name on the downtube were painted in one colour and looked much the same as any other: the quality of the welding and the tube choices were exceptional but they did not have the flair for which his later frames would be renowned. His understanding of steel, and the way a bike’s parts fit together led Pegoretti to work with Dedacciai, Excell and more recently Columbus to develop his own tube sets and influence his suppliers’ output. Although he was a big believer in steel as the optimum frame material, even when it was unfashionable, he also built with aluminium.
A beautiful example of what Pegoretti can offer. Image courtesy of Above Category.
In the early 2000s Pegoretti began to experiment with the look of his bikes, a natural progression for someone who had already mastered the technical side of bike building. As an art and music lover he was inspired to make increasingly elaborate designs and sketch out these ideas to be painted by their in-house painter. Influenced by Basquiat and Rothko amongst others, the designs became increasingly outre and the unadorned, seemingly plain, TIG welded frames were the ideal canvas for Pegoretti’s vision. As the brand’s reputation grew, more and more customers came to Pegoretti, firstly for an impeccably executed bike frame, and secondly for his strong visual creations. Pegoretti began offering custom bike builds with bespoke paint jobs that would be delivered sight unseen with minimal input from the patron. This was a huge mark of the power of his reputation – a frame was not cheap and to order something as personal as a custom frame, built using precise body measurements and discussions about riding style, but without any aesthetic direction from the customer requires a high level of faith in the builder.
Work in progress in the Pegoretti paint studio. Image courtesy of Above Category.
In response to a battle with cancer (from which he subsequently recovered) Pegoretti introduced an option for its custom frames called Ciàvete (which roughly translates to ‘we do the f*ck we want’). Although every design and paint job were different this became a kind of signature look. These designs would start with black if Pegoretti was having a bad day, or yellow or white if he was in a sunnier mood. They would be complex and show their influences (Basquiat’s scratchy freeform scrawls; Rothko’s blocks of colour) but would be unique.
The Luigino is a lugged steel frame with classic 1" head tube and biplane crown fork. Image courtesy of dariopegoretti.com.
Dario Pegoretti was the framebuilder’s framebuilder, he existed at the point where art, technical expertise and an intangible understanding of what makes a great riding bike collide. His frames have been ridden to numerous Grand Tour victories and hung in art galleries. He built a reported 40,000 frames under contract for other brands, and he created a very small number of frames with unique paint jobs, each one worthy of being called a work of art. For all of that however, we'll leave the last words to the man himself:
'It is my hope that the frames I make are used on the roads and not hung as art on the wall.'
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