Il Bellissimo Regalo

I was about seven or eight the last time anyone gave me a bicycle. The seconds between my first glimpse of that shiny, red and chrome path-to-independence and the first turn of its pedals were simply agonizing.

While that moment is permanently etched in my memory, the truth is I don’t remember much detail about that bike. I began my career as a tinkerer early, modifying that red wonder and subsequent bikes many times over until the original was unrecognizable. Money earned from chores was channeled into a series of bikes or bike parts that I bought on my own until eventually I found my way to a torch, workbench and steel tubes.

Riding a new bike for the first time is always a thrill, but when it’s a bike that you build it’s a little more complicated. There’s always a mix of excitement and dread- a flirtation between my expectant pride should my hopes be exceeded balanced by a fear of failure, an anxiety that the new bike might not meet expectations. Yet for me that dynamic is a constant motivator. It’s why Serotta bicycle models were continually tweaked, tuned, caressed forward. I honestly couldn’t help myself.

Fast-forward to this past winter when I wrote about my past, contemplated my future and openly shared my sentiments with everyone. Somewhat self-indulgently, I blogged about the sadness that I felt riding my bike when I looked down and saw the logo that had for 40 years belonged to my family and stood for many good things, but had come to represent darkness. Among the many emails and notes I received there was one that was so different from the rest that I first considered it a fake offer- perhaps one of the small minded internet personalities was seeking a new way of trying to get me to engage in idiotic banter.

Curiosity finally got the better of me and I replied. “You want to give me a bicycle?”

And in the next exchange, “you of all people should continue to enjoy riding a bike and it would be our honor to build one for you if you will ride it…” Dumbfounded I delicately searched for what the catch was and eventually became convinced that they truly meant “no strings attached.”  And that was my introduction to Formigli, the bicycle builder from Firenze (Florence, Italy) and Kensington, his American business partner, spokesperson, translator and #1 brand ambassador.

Touched, amused and curious I gracefully, if not somewhat humbly, accepted. In subsequent communication I provided detailed sizing information and component preferences. I insisted color was something that I wanted to come from Renzo, suggesting only that I was in the mood for something with flare.

As the weeks passed I was provided progress reports, which although I hadn’t asked for, were appreciated and if I had been worried, would have provided assurance that my order was never forgotten. Actually, it’s more than that. The correspondence made me feel like my new bike was the one bike that the company was focused on. Without thinking about it, a relationship between my new bicycle and I was being cemented.

~ ~ ~ ~

Two, short-enough-to-be-friendly horn blasts announced the arrival of the UPS truck that stopped in front of our house. The driver, who was familiar enough to ask, “you’re expecting a bicycle from Italy…?” moved to the back of his truck…and I realized that I was experiencing that childlike expectant giddiness- fixed smile, sweaty palms, tunnel vision focused on THE BOX.

Only vaguely aware that the UPS/Santa drove off, I realized that I had no idea if I’d even uttered any courtesies. Like a sugar-deprived child who has just stepped into a candy shop I was transfixed on the box. While my brain was calculating whether or not to take the time to fetch a folding knife, I was already ripping and tearing at the cardboard and then at the foam wrap that was protecting something brilliantly citron beneath it. Pulling the translucent padding back revealed an unexpected personal touch in the form of my own name… and with that I paused. It was as if someone wacked me on the side of the head reminding me, “hey!, someone has put great thought and care and time into making something special here, how about a little respect!” I resolved to set the bike aside, get my day’s chores out of the way, organize my tools and do this job the right way. IMG_0370

There’s something calming, maybe even Zen-like about staging tools for a task. It’s also a sign of respect for the job ahead. In truth, it took only a few minutes to prepare the bike for its maiden voyage- someone at the Florence workshop is a real mechanic. I had assured the generous Formigli folks that I didn’t need wheels so I did need to adjust the brake pads to match the wider HED Ardennes ( I use these as benchmarking wheels because they perform great in any condition and don’t impart their own ‘feel’ to the bike). Then a quick set of the saddle and bars and it was ready. The Formigli was the first non-Serotta bike that I had worked on in a very long while so I took some extra time just looking it over closely. This was a bike that someone poured thought and energy and care into making.

How was it going to ride?

As a bicycle designer & builder there’s always a competitive spirit when riding a product that is the result of someone else’s efforts. It’s a crazy combination of excitement and fear. On the one hand, finding that what you’ve done still feels better than whatever it is you are testing is gratifying. On the other, as a cyclist, you’re always hoping that you will experience a break-though product. Or at the least, a performance that pushes the designer in you to keep raising the bar while still wishing no one else’s product is actually better than yours. About a year ago I went on a binge of trying popular bikes that sported all the details the cycling know-it-alls were suggesting any great road bike ought to have… and those bikes were OK. They looked great, but by the third ride the bloom was off. Some bicycles are just bicycles.

Others speak to you, imploring you to ride.

The Formigli sings.

It’s sound is a combination of hard driving rock and roll and classic tear-stained arias, the quintessential Italian machine, delivers bold, forward reaching design and meticulous performance. Clearly, Renzo suffers the burden of detail.

I’ve had the Formigli out more than twenty times by now and we’re still getting acquainted. Unlike most of the better-known carbon marvel bikes, this one has many dimensions, a bicycle you can build a relationship with. I’ve thought about this phenomenon during my rides. You might give the same sheet of music to two musicians. One plays it perfectly, but when the other plays you get goose bumps. How? It’s impossible to define. With the bike, it’s part technology, but I’m pretty sure it’s also part magic that infiltrates the bicycle. It’s OK to call it fairy dust, because it comes from a very small number of bicycle builders who not only have had years of experience building, but more importantly have been consumed, heart, mind and body, for countless hours trying to put their entire being into delivering something special. I’ve not yet met Renzo Formigli, but I know him. This bike is his raison d’etre (or whatever the Italian equivalent is) as building Serotta was mine.

As it turns out, my Formigli is three gifts in one.

The first is a bicycle that is pure joy to ride and for that reason alone, I’d keep it. The second and greater gift is a reminder that honest, thoughtful, unencumbered generosity still exists. But the third and greatest gift was least expected- the gift of inspiration. This bicycle has refreshed my spirit and reawakened the designer-entrepreneur-builder in me that had been tainted from the last couple years of, you know,…crap.

At the risk of seeming overly dramatic, I am refocused, reborn and there’s absolutely no turning back. Now that I’ve come to know this bike, I’m pretty sure Renzo intended it to be this way.

Grazie mille Renzo, grazie mille!

Hoping to see you on the road somewhere,


IMG_0373For more information about Formigli Bicycles go to: