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A few blocks inland from the Mediterranean, a young Italian frame builder plies his trade. His name is Mattia Paganotti and he’s at work in an industrial part of Sant Marti in Barcelona, on Spain’s northeast coast, a long way from his northern Italian homeland of Franciacorta, near Brescia. His workshop is in a second floor walk-up in a large orange, mixed-use building that houses a number of oddball businesses. There’s an optician supplier, a wholesale grocery distributor and a computing consulting firm. Oh, and there’s Feeling Woman, a pole-dance studio that offers twerking classes.
Legor Cicli, Paganotti’s frame-building business, is fast becoming one of the darlings of the bespoke cycling industry. (He even made the trek to Salt Lake City for this year’s North American Handmade Bicycle Show.) While he’s still relatively new to the game, Paganotti is an exuberant personality and a quick learner, as both a frame builder and a cyclist. Before I arrived in Barcelona on other business, I reached out to him about getting together to learn a bit more about Legor Cicli. His reply was short and to the point: “Let’s ride bikes and then drink some beers.”
It’s a sunny Mediterranean afternoon and Paganotti’s workshop is just across the street from the Bogatell metro stop, on Barcelona’s L4, or yellow line. He comes off as one of those guys whose comfort with himself you envy. A broad, toothy smile and an immediate ease radiate from him, even as he says “my English is not good.” It’s a hell of a lot better than my Italian. There’s an exuberant youthfulness to Paganotti that is striking, even for a young guy. We pedal through Barcelona’s rush hour making our way to the mountains that look down on the city and the sea. In a T-shirt and shorts, my companion climbs these silly steep roads effortlessly while I struggle to keep him in my line of sight.
Just like the Santa Monica Mountains in Los Angeles, Barcelona’s Serra de Collserola range juts up from the fringes of the city. In a matter of minutes we’re pedaling among scrub pines along the Carretera de les Aigües, a sort-of wide gravel boulevard that overlooks Barcelona and the Mediterranean. It’s late April, but the weather is already ridiculously perfect, and there is still plenty of sunlight here in the Mediterranean. The Parc de Collserola is the world’s largest urban park, 22 times the size of New York’s Central Park—it’s a gravel rider’s nirvana. For Paganotti, like many Europeans, Barcelona is a sort of playground paradise. He and his wife came for the sunshine and the city’s disposition. There is a creative strain that runs through the cosmopolitan Barcelona. It’s a European fashion capital that boasts some of the world’s most captivating modern architecture, with the indelible traces of Catalonia’s native son, Antoni Gaudi. The Paganottis are both artisans. Mattia builds bikes and Franka designs clothing.
“I remember all the bikes I had as a child. When I think of my early days as a young cyclist, it’s not pain in my legs that I remember, but my arms, from all the wheelies I did and practicing landing jumps,” Paganotti says. Sometime between the age of 13 and 14, he put down the bicycle and picked up a skateboard.
When I ask him what he thinks differentiates custom, hand-built bicycles from production bikes, he waxes poetic about the Italian frame-building tradition. His biggest influence is Tiziano Zullo, a Veronese frame-building legend, whom he spent two years learning from. “If someone is making something for you, it should include, in someway, a part of the creator.” Paganotti’s draw to building bicycle frames came from a genuine interest in riding—fixies at first when the craze came to Brescia around 2008. At the time, he was completely invested in skateboarding and thought that perhaps that’s where his future might lie. The fixie scene felt similar and soon he found himself pedaling bicycles again.
Paganotti went from one bike to four bikes to a real interest in the actual creation process of the frames themselves. He convinced Gino Lissignoli, who once built frames and owned a local bike shop in Brescia, to teach him. It had been probably 20 years since Lissignoli had done any frame building. The two of them labored for a long time and, at the end, Paganotti had finally built his first frame and fork. It may have taken three or four days.
He went on to work for two years under Zullo on the shores of Lake Garda. It was a humbling experience and one that left him with a lot of his “master’s secrets.” As Paganotti sees it though, the resulting friendship was more important than anything he learned. While the bicycles branded Legor Cicli look like the “new hotness,” and while steel has become trendy, Paganotti was not on a quest in pursuit of a fad. For him, the experience and development of Legor Cicli has been about learning a tradition. It’s about the understanding he learned from Zullo and the friendship he formed with another legendary Italian frame builder, Dario Pegoretti. It’s about making their bicycles from steel because it is the best material, not because of its popularity.
Paganotti makes a number of models—race-inspired road and track bikes, as well as cyclocross and MTB rigs. But he is certainly finding a keen interest in his all-road/gravel Porreca Gravel build. He uses Columbus steel tubing and finishes the frames with Chris King and Enve. “I think I’m able to create tools that work well, models with different characters, in order to fully satisfy the needs of my clients. I’m trying to make something with the simplicity of tradition projected to today.” Legor Cicli’s most eye-catching frames use oversized tubing and some very inventive paint schemes. His favorite customer though remains himself. “I like making bikes that I get to ride. As much as I’ve learned from others, I learn from the bikes themselves—riding them, playing with the geometry and understanding what changes will do to what the bike can do, and how it feels.”
We meet on the morning of my last day in Barcelona. He’s got a 50-miler planned for us, with plenty of gravel. We head north along the beach. Paganotti is pulling wheelies and stoppies and hitting jumps along the urban trail that will take us to Badalona and then up the coast onto Mataró before we head into the coastal mountains. We head south, back in the direction of Barcelona, along a long gravel stretch that could be a dried riverbed.
We stop off for a Coke and a sandwich just outside Montcada i Reixac, the hometown of Spanish classics great Miguel Poblet; and I’m already on my second flat tire. There’s a refreshing realization that comes with riding and talking bikes with someone like Paganotti. It’s about a joy that comes from the bicycle, and it’s what got any of us riding. He’s not trying to sell an image or convince anyone of anything. I have an outstanding “bullshit” detector, and there’s none of it here. Paganotti loves to ride, and he doesn’t overcomplicate it or muddy that by spouting a particular philosophy or coming off as jaded, cynical, or “industry slick.”
Legor Cicli translates to Jackrabbit Cycles, but it’s not an Italian term. In the northern provinces of eastern Lombardy there are languages that are often mislabeled as dialects. The two languages, Bergamasque and Brescian, are spoken most broadly in the provinces of Brescia, Bergamo and Mantua. These languages are not necessarily Italian in any way, and pre-date the use of Italian in these regions. “I was looking for a name, a name that did not have an Italian sound, but it was more than Italian, it was about my land, and really spoke to where I am from. A name that reminded me of Franciacorta, that reminded me of home and the countryside.”
We pedal back toward Barcelona, back toward the Parc de Collserola. Paganotti has begun adjusting to the life of a frame builder with a rising cachet in the industry. He builds frames on contract for Crema bicycles and his Legor Cicli brand’s reputation is growing. He has orders to take, invoices to issue, emails to answer. It’s a one-man show—corresponding with customers from all over the world, making frames, having them painted, shipping them out. Just recently I saw a post from Mattia Paganotti on Instagram. His bike propped up against a downed tree overlooking the city of Barcelona, the signature view of the Parc de Collserola. The caption was pure Mattia: “Twenty eight frames to make, an inbox full of emails, I got into frame building because I like to ride my bike. So I go for a ride.”