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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.