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Stuff We Like: Steel Frames

Bill & Carol McGann's book The Story of the Giro d'Italia - A Year-by-Year History of the Tour of Italy, Vol 1: 1909 - 1970 is available as an audiobook here. For the print and Kindle eBook versions, just click on the Amazon link on the right.

Confession time.

To me, the the greatest expression of the art of cycle making is the hand-made lightweight steel frame.

I know, I know. Carbon fiber frames are extraordinary light and can be raced much faster. Aluminum frames can be incredibly light and still be very reasonably priced.

But this old guy no longer races. If I did, I would surely be on some featherweight, aerodynamic carbon-fiber state-of-the art wonder. But I don't and I'm not.

I ride now for the pure pleasure of cruising down the road, watching the scenery go by. I especially enjoy the sensual pleasure of having an artfully crafted bike under me as odometer counts the miles. And for me, the joy is maximized by riding a steel frame made by a builder who knows what he is doing.

I have always believed that the builders of northern Italy, in their small shops, achieved a level of craftsmanship and quality of ride that has kept me returning to them, decade after decade.

Bill McGann

Nothing better: Riding a hand-crafted Italian steel bike. This is in Italy in 2004. Helmets have certainly changed since then.

When I owned Torelli Imports, I had the honor of being Antonio Mondonico's American distributor. Antonio, long retired, embodied the Italian tradition. He was a life-long artisan builder who learned he craft working in the shop of a builder of a previous generation. After selling off the carbon-fiber and aluminum racing bikes, I still treasure and ride two bikes Antonio built for me.

In my wholesaling days, one of my best customers for Antonio's work was Alex Stanek's Smart Cycles (admittedly, an advertiser on my site). Alex started his own brand, Il Massimo, in 2004. He has found other Italian shops building steel frames that he likes, including the Barco and Telebi shops in northern Italy.

Ilmassimo frame

I love a well-designed frame with curved steel blades brazed to an old-fashioned fork crown. A level top tube and classic Italian road geometry go a long way to warm the cockles of my heart.

I hope the good stuff never disappears.