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When it comes to the bespoke world of bicycles, few names hold the aura of Dario Pegoretti, the iconoclast Italian frame builder who married high-quality frames with, well, art. Back in the early 1990s when the cycling industry was lunging toward carbon-fiber frames, Pegoretti insisted on steel, producing the highest quality steel frames possible with custom paint finishes that were utterly unique. Decades before the renaissance of steel tubes, years before it was cool, Pegoretti was a true original.
Then, at the summit of his career, when production and recognition were at its peak, Pegoretti died of a heart attack in 2018, at age 62. “He just walked out after a day of work and that was it,” remembers Cristina Würdig, a longtime friend of Pegoretti and now the brand’s co-CEO. Würdig, who worked with Brooks saddles and was key to repositioning the historic British brand on the market, came to Pegoretti after Dario’s death at the request of Pietro Pietricola, chief of production, in an effort to keep the brand alive after its founder’s death.
“I knew everything about the workshop,” remembers Pietricola, who shares the CEO title with Würdig. “But I don’t know how to run a business. But Cristina does. So, I asked her to come help run the front end of the office. I told her that together we could keep Pegoretti alive.”
The two set out to not only honor outstanding orders but also to show the world that Pegoretti’s vision of iconic steel frames still had a future. But it was a struggle, as many suppliers simply thought that without the visionary founder, the brand would collapse.
“When Dario passed three years ago, a lot of our suppliers cut us off immediately,” Würdig says. But she also remembers those who stood by her and Pietro. One key partner was Antonio Colombo, the charismatic head of Columbus tubing and his entire team—without their products there was no way the Pegoretti brand could have continued. “Antonio was really one of the first to get behind us and trust us to keep the Pegoretti tradition alive. Our shelves were empty, but Antonio immediately sent us 50 or 60 tubesets without asking for us to pay in advance. So many suppliers just turned their back on us saying that without Dario, Pegoretti is finished. And overnight they said simply that they would not ship to us if we did not pay in advance. We had a lot of orders, but our shelves were bare. It was not an easy time. But Columbus was there.”
For Colombo, however, the decision came easily. “I knew Pietro and Cristina and I trusted them because they have soul,” Colombo says. “And Columbus is all about the soul of cycling!”
While Colombo knew the company remained in good hands he also was committed to keeping the tradition alive in honor of his friend, not to mention one of the figures he most respected in the industry. “Pego and I would often chat about music, art and how difficult it was to be understood in our own country. He was funky. Much funkier than me. Basically, I wanna be funky. But Dario did not want to be funky, he just plain was,” Colombo says.
“Dario is one of the three people that I owe the most to in the cycling world, along with Maurizio Castelli and Richard Sachs. Dario was authentic, and authenticity is my obsession. With Dario, the freedom of the bike and art really exists. And his taste and style was utterly unique. Dario made bike art. He was a performer with his hands and an actor on the stage that was his workshop. Plus, Pego and I were just plain friends.”
But while Pegoretti earned a reputation for his exquisite finishes that often called to mind his modern-art heroes like Mark Rothko or Jean-Michel Basquiat, he also had a penchant for pushing the limits of steel-frame building. “I remember that Dario and I spent lots of time at the Columbus factory in Milan, working with Antonio and Emilvano Montorio, the long-time chief of production at Columbus,” says Pietricola. “We were always working on new tube shapes and varying wall thickness of the tubes.
“One prime example of that collaboration is with our new chainstays, which are the fruit of our collaboration with Columbus. They are special because they start as a 31.7mm and then they are bent to make space for modern wheels. These are stainless steel, which is not easy to bend. But we have achieved that, and these chainstays are an example of our relationship from past to present. They started with Dario and with Emilvano. But they came into being today.”
While many gave the Pegoretti brand low odds of surviving the fall of their founder, now, three years after Pegoretti’s passing, production is as high as ever. “We were producing 300 frames a year when Dario died and this year we will again match that,” says Würdig, who adds that most of the frames are their top-of-the-line models that combine the Columbus cutting-edge XCr stainless tubes with the Pegoretti one-off Ciavete custom-paint finishes.
“XCr is by far our most popular tubeset and that is really market driven,” says Würdig. “We have developed a reputation for producing the most high-end steel bikes, ones that are on the level of titanium. And the XCr tubes are often the tubes of choice for customers looking for such a bike. In addition, we sell a large number of bikes to places in the world that are humid and require stainless steel, places like southeast Asia. We have developed a reputation as leaders in stainless steel, so it is only natural that XCr tubes are our choice. They are tremendously easy to maintain, and their performance is outstanding.”
Pietricola, who worked for years as Pegoretti’s production assistant before taking over himself, is committed to keeping the Pegoretti spirit alive every day in the Verona workshop known as The Bottega. “I will never forget the sense of curiosity that Dario had,” says Pietrocola, talking in the lounge that sits at the heart of The Bottega. “Even when he was really established and when people started referring to him as The Master, he always remained curious. He was always in search of new things. For me, it is important to keep that tradition alive. For me, the future of Pegoretti is being created here every day. I am looking beyond the bike frame every day for inspiration.”