An interesting chat with Alessandro Battaglin discovering more about Officina Battaglin’s way of thinking and producing their frames and bicycles.
With a deeper look into Portofino R 2023.
Ciao Alessandro, which is the frame you would like to talk about today in our interview for Heart of Metal?
The Portofino is our flagship product. It’s the product that sets us apart from the many manufacturers who specialize in fillet brazing tig. The Portofino’s oversize lugs characterize us the most. We started with the idea of developing the Italian frame, as the Italians have always been recognized in the world for their lugged frames. In the end, we came up with a modern lugged frame built from oversized tubing and oversized lugs. It was a project that no one had ever done, very challenging and avant-garde, but we are receiving a lot of appreciation. We will continue to develop lugged frames, as we want to be recognized more for this construction technique rather than tig or fillet brazing.
But in a world, in a niche, let’s say, that is moving more and more towards custom, dedicated geometry etc, is this not a constraint for you? Isn’t it too onerous to produce bikes with lugs that ‘limit’ this possibility of customization?
The truth is that we can do anything with lugs. Our goal is to develop a comfortable product: from our point of view and from the tests we have done, a lugged frame is the one that gives the most elasticity to the frame, as the lugs help with shock absorption. As a result, the customer feels incredibly comfortable on a lugged steel frame, with the weight and aesthetic benefits of modern oversized tubing. In addition to that, with welding techniques, we were able to stiffen the frame, as ‘old’ classic lugged frames with thin tubes have always been known for being too soft – although this was never really tested scientifically: the ride feel was that of a very elastic frame, even torsionally. Instead, with our Portofino frame, by combining oversize tubes and oversize lugs, we achieved our goal of comfort, but at the same time, the frame is very responsive. This is the perfect mix, and we were looking for this when we started the project.
Speaking of tubes, which Columbus tubes do you use and why?
Mainly a custom version of Columbus Spirit HSS called GB81. We might test something on the XCR in the future: we’ll see if we can come up with any new ideas for which XCR could be a good fit. The idea of always testing new materials and new, cutting-edge solutions belongs to us, and we enjoy it very much.
The lugs, do you design them?
Yes. All the designs are our own. For the production, we rely on Italian companies for both our cast lugs and the newest 3D-printed ones. The investment from this point of view is substantial.
Do you offer complete bikes and/or just frames?
We give a choice of frame or complete bike, but 96 percent of customers prefer to purchase the complete bike. We work directly with the end consumer who wants authoritative advice on assembly choices, and a product entirely designed to their specifications. Everything is customised from A to Z. The experience of a custom bike is as complete as it can be.
Can you tell me what the main markets are?
The US has always been our main market. Now Southeast Asia has also been growing steadily. And Europe, especially Germany and the UK. In general, most cyclists are now aware and have the desire to have something ‘unique’ and custom-made for them. They are tired of seriality; it is a more mature market than before. Although some time ago steel was mostly researched by people over 50, now even young people, 30 years old, are approaching it; especially in Asia, they are all very young.
How does the experience of choosing the frame etc. work?
We do everything online. Today’s communication tools allow us to develop the whole process, from product presentation to product choice to construction updates, remotely. It’s a solid process, tested and refined over the years. Also, it allows to keep the customer updated: every step of the construction is documented almost ‘real time’ with photos sent to the customer, who is constantly updated on their creation. Some want a more direct experience and come to collect the bike when it is ready. They often stay in the area for a few days so they can live the Italian experience. After the pandemic, we’re getting more and more requests to take the measurements at the factory, which we’re more than happy to do.
Can you define Columbus tubes in three words?
Made in Italy (3 words). It’s difficult to define Columbus in three words, but my product has to be Italian to the core, and this is why we have been working with Columbus for 40 years. Columbus is part of our family, they are an essential part of every project we do. At Columbus, there are very skilled people, who are always available when we want to develop new projects.
Do we have Columbus custom tubes designed together with you?
Yes, of course, almost all of them. In particular for the Portofino R 2023, we designed a custom version of the Spirit HSS. In need for a more racing and stiff version of the Portofino, we made a few major changes to the tubing, such as increasing the tubing diameters. We also lowered the seat stays, so we had to drastically re-engineer the seat lug making the most. Other changes include new flat chain stays and a proprietary new dropout. All this is combined with a unique paint scheme of two cromovelato colors with a filigree design, a perfect match for the Portofino R’s chrome lugs.