An interview with Mattia Paganotti, while he is eating a ‘bocata de tortilla’.
We record how the philosophy of some frame builders stems from a deep concern and knowledge of technical details, measurements and the behaviour of materials, while having well clear in mind the experience of riding and the effect of their choices on the quality of the experience, sometimes also despite the mere theory of numbers itself.
Mattia, before we start, the idea of Heart of Metal is to talk about your job and especially about one frame of yours: which frame did you choose?
Is it necessary to talk about one frame?
Well, yes, but not really… it helps to be more precise about the measurements and the specific character of that same bike, so as not to keep the discourse too general. But it is not compulsory. We prefer that you feel comfortable talking about your work the way you conceive it.
Well, better, I am not a man of number and codes, you know…
Ok, let’s start then: when was Legor founded? And why?
It’s a story I’ve told many times, I come from skateboarding and I started riding fixed gear, you know, the old steel track bikes, rough and simple. I was always looking for old track bikes and I was passionate about trying to carry on something, an art that had been lost. At the time it seemed almost impossible, it’s not like today when you can find anything on the Internet. I suppose I was the first in Italy to attempt to reinstate the missing link.
You mean re-weld the chain link?
When I started fixed-gear cycling, Franka (my would be wife) came across a welding course from the Italian Academy of Welding. It was the time when Columbus launched XCr tubes, and I remember they were very challenging to weld… even the teachers at the academy had trouble welding them (heheh)… I bought all the tools and some tubes from a frame builder, but I still wasn’t able to make a frame myself. To make a long story short, I finally went to Gino Lissignoli who took me under his wing – the deal was that I would set up his lathe (which had been broken for 15 years) and he would teach me how to make a frame. And so my first frame was made together. And a true friendship began. You see, I recently came across that frame and bought it again. The zero frame, where it all began.
You are the last of the romantics…. So, when did you start using Columbus tubes? And why.
At first I bought the tubes (any tube) from the old frame makers in my area; then, at a Bicycle Film Festival in Milan, I think it was in 2009, I arrived with one of my first pursuit bikes – at the time I was making them asymmetrical – and I met Antonio Colombo who was struck by my bike. He introduced me to Antonio Mondonico (who worked for Columbus by the time), who helped me a lot to grow and learn, and every time he was around the area, he came to see me and helped me in making decisions – and with the tube codes, me not being a man of numbers and codes, as mentioned. He had been a frame builder himself, so he knew what I needed even more than I did, and spoiled me for quite a while. It was good. That was the time when I started using Columbus tubing only.
(And here Mattia shows us the paint job on his frame, which was supposed to be Coca Cola in the front triangle and Cedrata Tassoni in the rear triangle, whereas the result is more of a brown and banana frame. And this should have been a cue for future painting issues. We have a little detour talking more in general about the bike industry direction and Mattia’s great passion for vines and heroic wine making and his parallel project to make a living out of that, while still making a few bicycles. But this is another story).
What are the most noticeable differences when working the tubing? From the riding point of view are there any noticeable differences?
Look, I don’t know if Columbus tubes are the best in the world, but without a doubt they are the ones you can get the best result from.
As in everything, even in cooking, you have to start from a raw material that you know and have full control over, and above all repeatability. The result must be the same, constant and consistent. Not all frames are the same, of course, in fact they are all different because they are handmade. But I need the quality to be consistent in the process. The Columbus tube is designed to maintain its characteristics throughout the process and this helps us frame builders a lot.
This has always been the design thinking at Columbus: the goal is to provide our customers with the best product that is easy to work with and maintains its inherent properties and characteristics throughout the entire frame building process. To achieve the best result, as you said.
Now, how would you define Columbus tubing in three words?
When I think of the Columbus tubes… Three words… Okay:
The very ‘smell’ of your tubes reminds me of the first times I came to Columbus and your tubes always have that smell. It’s not just the smell of the metal, it’s the special combination of the composition of your tubes and the oil you use that has that unique smell. The smell of Columbus.
One end of your tubes is red. And I like that very much. It is red like the background of the dove in your logo.
As I told you, Columbus tubes are reliable because they maintain their properties throughout the process. It’s easy.
Which frame would you like to talk about?
I don’t know. You see, after all these years, I don’t do custom frames anymore. Let me try to explain. From my experience, I have learnt that if I want to keep the quality of my frames high, I need to establish models. And I believe that this is the only way to control the quality of what you produce. The other thing is to use these models, to ride them, in order to really be able to suggest your customers the frame and the bike that best suits their needs, character and desires. So the models can even have the same geometry but, according to the tubing selection and their material you will get a completely different result.
You have to set the measurements, the geometry, but above all you have to choose the material and tube the behaviour of…
So many factors determine which model fits your needs and behaviour. You can make more flexible structures or stiff frames, according to your habits and will: if you like going downhill then you may have more flexible a structure, while if you are very explosive and have a good technique you can go for a stiffer bike or you actually need one; in short, there are various factors that determine which model goes better, including the place where you live, your characteristics, your experience, your strengths and weaknesses…
But this is ‘super custom’, Mattia
No, it’s not. I listen, I ask questions, I understand and then I choose the best frame for you. I give you the price and the lead time and if you agree we can proceed to next step.
I ask questions and based on the answers I make a proposal for the frame that best suits your type of cyclist. More, that suits you. It’s a matter of trust.
If you could choose a model and tell me something about it.
I won’t choose a model, but I will tell you something about my way of proceeding in projects and how sometimes the theory comes to its conclusions, but you need to know and especially to experience more.
Let’s put the case of the Porreca, for instance. I came to this frame and got the custom seat stays from Columbus, that I further customize and adapt; the tubes are oversize, super stiff, performing and so on… I rode a lot of kms on it; then I did the opposite, the Rotonda, with slim tubing. The first time I got on this bike, with the same geometry as the Porreca, I did a route I’ve done a thousand times and, without too much effort, I did a KOM (King Of the Mountain, in Strava ed.) downhill, just because of the choice of diameter and shape of the tubes, I wasn’t even trying to gain the KOM! This thing made my head blow up!
I am deeply convinced that in this job it is essential to ride the bikes, test them, and not rely on mere theory only; otherwise right now I wouldn’t know what is really suitable and valid for my customers’ needs. But above all we have to choose the material and the tube sets according to the behaviour we expect and what we want our customer to experience.
And, who is the typical customer of your bikes?
There are mainly two types of typical customers.
Those who mostly appreciate the aesthetic and at a certain extent wouldn’t even ride their new Legor bike.
And those who ride and enjoy and consume them. Like me, they consider that the bike is a tool and beauty and aesthetics is a consequence of functionality.
If a customer doesn’t adhere to this kind of vision, he will not look for me. And this makes already a good filter.