The Merge

The Merge

The oppressive need of the market to exact the new is an oppression that does little to permit peace. Most artists I know have what we call “actual” employment. They pay the bills by something to which we attach value. The overriding lesson of Napster was that we don’t attach much “actual” value to music, even to the time spent recording or the capital necessary to rent a recording studio. So the artists I know teach at universities, work in book stores, make bicycle frames.

That ability to use the functional to couch art is subversive. That said, it’s also true that people who tie one to the other are frequently called sellouts; those who say that are short on empathy. We like to call certain bikes rideable art. And yet the industry has largely moved away from those craftsmen and toward bikes that are more easily commoditized, less obviously distinguishable.

DSCN3088

When the bike industry collects statistics of the many bicycles sold each year, they seek data from the big players like Trek, Cannondale, Bianchi—all the players with a sales force and stickers on the doors of bike shops. However, the industry does nothing to collect stats on bikes sold by custom builders. The message is simple. To the industry, this doesn’t matter. This slice of the market is so small that it doesn’t count. And yet, in the circles in which I move, the people who buy these frames are frequently some of the most respected and influential riders. The clients of these builders help shape millions of dollars of other purchases annually. It’s a delicious irony, no?

Arguably, one of the more influential builders ever is Mark DiNucci. His name might not be as well known to prospective clients as say Peter Weigle or Brent Steelman, but his reach among builders is legendary. He’s a gifted builder and his time in the trenches is publicly woven into the fabric of Strawberry Cycles and Specialized—and behind the scenes into many others. To this day, Mike Sinyard speaks of DiNucci with unreserved praise. In my conversations with DiNucci over the last few years, I’ve come to appreciate him as a thoughtful artist with the rigor of an engineer; it’s a rare set of skills.

DSCN3051

DiNucci is a guy whose work as an engineer encompasses everything from tubing and lug creation to suspension design. What he understands about bike geometry eclipses what most experts I know would claim to understand. And yet, what he can do with a file is within the wheelhouse of maybe two dozen other builders on the planet. His is a skill set that is truly unmatched.

He’s building a frame for me, in part to showcase his full range of talent. I sold an older bike and a bunch of components I’d meant to save in order to make this happen. I should also make clear that DiNucci is an advertiser here at RKP. I wanted him as an advertiser not because I need his money (well, I do) but because I want to help elevate his profile. He doesn’t get the accolades he deserves.

DSCN3053

The frame here is being built from the tube set and lugs he designed and were used in the Specialized Allez reboot. I keep teasing new details about the tube set out of DiNucci. In our last call he revealed that the head tube weighs 20 percent less than other lightweight head tubes. By his own admission, he pushed Reynolds to the limit of their ability in working on the specs for the tube set.

When Richard Sachs and Dario Pegoretti worked with Columbus to bring to market PegoRichie tubes, Sachs told me that one of the big reasons for it was the knowledge that some mills had discontinued producing some tube sets. Unless you had a private stash, your choices were work from existing stock, or locate sets on Ebay. Sachs didn’t have the horsepower necessary to place an order on his own, so he teamed up with Pegoretti and then took a long position on the tubing, ordering enough to supply other frame builders as well. While Pegoretti and Sachs were able to give Columbus input on the tubes, ultimately the spec was determined by the manufacturer.

DSCN3028

With this tube set DiNucci has undertaken an effort to create the lightest, most high-performance lugged frame ever produced. You can produce a lighter frame by welding it, and adding brass fillets is a decorative touch that isn’t functionally necessary, but the aesthetic DiNucci is chasing sits somewhere between art and machine. To my eye he’s doing all he can to blur that line.

DSCN3062

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, DiNucci is the only builder I’ve ever encountered who has the chops to do all the CAD files and drawings necessary for tubes, lugs and braze-ons, oversee their production, then build those items into a frame. He’s doing everything short of drawing the tubes himself and painting the frame. It’s a singular accomplishment among frame builders and he’s earned his day in the sun for it.

, , , , , , , ,

15 comments

  1. Waldo

    Let’s be honest here: DiNucci, for all his skill, prowess, and vision, would have been impotent to convince any manufacturer to design the tubes he envisioned without Specialized’s Allez project as a carrot to dangle in front of Reynolds.

    1. Bfd

      Doesn’t the Specialized 40th use Reynolds 853 Pro tubing? I believe this is available to other builders as someone like Dave Kirk use that same type of tubing. Or did Reynolds make something special/different for this frame?


    2. Author
      Padraig

      The DiNucci tube set uses the 853 alloy, but the tube profiles, butts, diameters and heat treating are all to DiNucci’s spec. Even the drive-side chainstay is shaped different from the left. It’s a crazy trick tube set.


    3. Author
      Padraig

      Not actually true. The first misperception is that Reynolds designed the tubes. DiNucci designed the tubes, using the 853 alloy, but he also insisted they change the heat treating to increase strength. They didn’t want to do this, but when they tested tubes heat treated to his spec, they were stronger. As to his ability to get the tubes made, had he been willing to sell his house to buy enough tubes, they’d have taken the order. Specialized saved him from having to put all the money up himself, but Reynolds didn’t need the Specialized name to take the project on.

  2. Ron

    I consider my Tommasini Diamante with a crazy Italian red paint job and Columbus Multi-Shape tubing to be rideable art. The things is bonkers, hard to believe I own such a bike…and ride it!

    I also have a Casati Laser with Columbus Genius tubing. It’s a beauty, but much more understated. I actually like using that bike as a litmus test: to a casual rider, it looks kinda plain and boring. But, if you know your bikes, you realize how awesome it is. Thus, the only people who ever say, “Whoa, that is a great bike!” are truly enthusiasts.

    I own modern carbon, but nothing is as lovely as handbuilt steel.

  3. Richard Sachs

    Thanks for the mention. The reason Dario and I collaborated on PegoRichie was because the JRA I had on my own bicycle while riding in Italy was the catalyst that had me call him from Mantera (where I was that night) to discuss the (poor) state of affairs regarding material for people (like us) who made bicycle frames by hand and used the traditional methods and machinery. As soon as I returned to Connecticut, our plan was to create a set from scratch, one that would suit our needs as 21st craftsmen, and have it produced by Columbus. The industry, Columbus included, had forsaken our niche for most of the 1990s, and all the so-called newer tubing was being made for mass=producers and different going techniques. We (Dario and myself, and others…) still embraced lugs and torch brazing and wanted something more suitable, lighter, and by no means a reissue of some 1970s set for nostalgia’s sake. This is one (of many) reasons why all pipes are OS or UOS, and that none of the dimensions would be considered “classic” by those who like bicycles from the “Old Days”.

    Regarding this, “While Pegoretti and Sachs were able to give Columbus input on the tubes, ultimately the spec was determined by the manufacturer.” That’s incorrect. We created/determined all of the specs. We started with a white paper and designed the tube set, the wall thicknesses, the transitions, the various lengths it came in, and I also made sure the shapes that mattered (the O.D., the oval that the stays were pressed into, etc.) were exact and didn’t deviate at-effing-all. The PegoRichie sets come with chainstays that are referred to at Gruppo as RS shapes because it’s proprietary to what we designed.

    Since it was launched in 2004, the PegoRichie sets have evolved regularly. There are different lengths. Different weights. And as of 2011 it’s been available in Uber Oversize dimensions.

    PS Thanks for the story about Mark. His level of work and attention to detail has few peers.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Richard, thanks for the correction. Columbus told me (obviously) a different story. Guess they didn’t want to not take credit.

  4. Richard Sachs

    And PPS also meant to type (above)

    ” tubing was being made for mass=producers and different joining techniques.”

    Working from a new Mac with a wonky keypad…

    Thanks (again)


    1. Author
      Padraig

      I’ll definitely be writing about the DiNucci. That said, it won’t be a comparison. It’s meant to be a different sort of bike, but I’ll get to that.

  5. Mark DiNucci

    I am just now seeing these comments for the first time.

    With regard to Richard’s comment “the O.D., the oval that the stays were pressed into, etc.”, those stays fit perfectly into the investment cast bottom bracket shells that I designed in the early 1990s for Specialized. That BB shell and those stays were the first time that those shapes existed. That chain stay shape is now available from many makers and is considered to be an industry standard.

    If I only had a dollar for each one of those stays that has been, and continues to be produced.

    mark dinucci

  6. Pingback: Mark DiNucci - Domestic Bikes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *