From Issue One of the Gear Patrol Magazine. Free shipping for new subscribers.
“It is artisanality, not luxury,” Danilo Colombo says in the shadow of one of Passoni’s $18,000 custom bikes. Colombo, a spokesman for the Italian brand, stands at a booth in the back corner of a convention hall at the world’s largest bicycle convention, Eurobike. The booth is Gokiso’s (a Japanese hub and wheel manufacturer). Passoni isn’t a listed vendor. Those who know, know. Those who don’t, likely can’t afford. Passoni makes its custom bicycles in a factory (an “atelier”) in Milan. The company’s craftsmen shape titanium into custom sizes for riders who have been carefully measured and analyzed. They spend 30 hours to finish a welded frame.
Colombo is a compact man with a trim build. He’s attentive and focused. He maintains exceptional eye contact. He wears a well-tailored suit without projecting the casual apathy of some Italians in suits. He cares desperately about not only the performance of Passoni bicycles, but the culture that surrounds them. He does not want potential customers to believe that they are buying a luxury good. He wants them to know they are buying a finely built riding machine. He also wants them to know they are buying an experience — one that’s distinctly Italian (beyond the Columbus forks, Campagnolo components, Selle Italia saddle).
I first talked to Colombo, on the phone, while I stood on a hill overlooking Saratoga National Park, New York — a pivotal battle- ground in the American Revolution, in 1777. Colombo was in Italy. He wanted to know about the ride of the Passoni bicycles, the titanium Top Force and the carbon fiber Nero XL I’d been spinning through the rolling hill- sides. He asked if it made for a performance-oriented, comfortable ride. He asked if the bike rolled smooth, if it was responsive, if it absorbed road noise. He wanted to know, not as someone looking for casual hillside rides through casual vintage Americana countryside. He wanted to know how the bike would ride in the region it’s born — the Alps.
Passoni’s bicycles are smooth and elegant. Weld points, often problem spots for titanium bicycles, are so finely finished that the frame appears as a monocoque. The lines are clean and traditional and flow straightforward and steady from headtube to toptube, downtube and into the rear triangle. The triple-butted titanium, in a buffed, matte finish, shines without shouting; it is a narrative of performance geometry fitted to a material known for comfort.