Obsession With Steel

Maybe it’s because I’m nostalgic or because I weight 100+ kilos and the extra kilo or so doesn’t matter, but I dig a good steel bike frame. My 25” Bob Jackson is a little springy in the rear triangle, but I love the snap of that Reynolds 531 tubing when I’m hauling my overfed ass up a big hill. So when I heard that Antonio Mondonico was retiring and was going to tour select bike shops in the U.S. for one more round of custom frames, I jumped at the chance to meet him and get measured up. After several months of anticipation my frame arrived at our local bike droolery, Cycles BiKyle. I figured I couldn’t get enough money from selling my kids on eBay to finance a Campy Record Carbon 10-speed gruppo, so I decided to take up the trusty old 1995 DeRosa Primato EL-OS up and have the buttery worn-in Campy Chorus installed on the new frame. After a trip to the paint and chrome shop, the DeRosa is either getting hung up on the wall or built with some 80s Record stuff I’ve been accumulating.

Like Guerciotti, Masi, Singer and DeRosa, Antonio Mondonico made his bones building frames for so high profile Italian racers like cycling star Claudio Chiappucci. All of those builders became wildly successful and diversified their designs into exotic materials such as carbon fiber, but Antonio decided that his first love was steel and continued to hand-build frames in his small shop outside of Milan. Most steel lugged frame builders “tack braze” the joints before alignment and final brazing. One drawback of that technique is that the steel tubing must be heated twice, slightly changing its properties. Mondonico drills each lug, then drives a tapered wedge to hold the frame together. The frame can then be placed on an alignment table for the final brazing, after which the wedges are filed flush to the outer surface of the lugs. The main advantage of this time-consuming technique is that the tubing is only heated once. Unfortunately, the only way to appreciate this eclectic aspect of the Mondonico frame is to feel the wedges sticking out on the inside of the bottom bracket. I guess I could just hang the frame on the wall and run my finger up there once a day, but I think Antonio would prefer that his artwork be used as it was intended.

Posted by on April 29, 2006