The latest generation of Italian steel frame still has plenty to offer a carbon-obsessed world
Dario Pegoretti is enormously respected by the new generation of artisan bike builders, who are mostly based in the USA. His small factory in Caldonazzo in the Italian Dolomites is thousands of miles away from the handbuilt frame revival currently happening across the Atlantic, but ideologically he lives next door.
Pegoretti, 54, has been making frames for over 30 years and has been contracted to build bikes for superstars like Indurain and Pantani - though at the time he was sworn to secrecy - but what the bright young American craftsmen like about him is he's not stuck in the past. He is not even remotely retro. Rather than abandon steel when carbon came along, he has devised ways to improve the weight, stiffness, ride quality and aesthetics of his frames. It's that creativity that is so compelling about Pegoretti, and why everyone wants a piece of him at the moment.
Steel tubing technology has also progressed considerably since the Eighties, and Pegoretti himself has had a hand in designing some of it. The Marcelo is made of oversized, heat-treated Columbus Niobium Spirit, which is lightweight, stiff and strong. Pegoretti is one of the pioneers of TIG welding, claiming to be the first in Italy to use the technique, so the Marcelo's joins are predictably very neat.
Unexpected, however, is the size of the stays. The diameter of the chainstays and seatstays is much larger than anything normally found on a steel bike. The distinctive hand-cut dropouts, housed under a steel plate designed to maximise the extra rigidity of the stays, are a feature of Pegoretti's frames. The head tube extends slightly higher above the top tube than conventionally, making spacers unnecessary and improving steering by placing the upper headset bearing directly under the stem. The paint scheme - all Pegoretti's painting is done in the factory - is also unconventional and unique.
Built with Campagnolo Athena 11, the fourth-tier groupset, the 58cm Marcelo weighs a whisker under 18lb, which is pretty impressive. Despite this, Pegoretti insists that his frames are not about the weight - it's the ride that matters. In fact, he refuses to publish frame-only weights, not because his frames are heavy, but because he believes too many people pay too much attention to a figure that has little bearing on the capabilities of a bike.
He's quite right. The Marcelo feels incredibly decisive. It's definitely a racing bike and the big stays mean excellent power transfer. It is stiff enough for the most muscular sprinter, and we would even say it responds best to riders who are able to ‘load' it properly. There's none of the heavy flexibility of the old steel frames that supposedly had the ‘feel of steel', but a less powerful rider might opt for a more forgiving rear end - the Pegoretti Duende would be a better choice for those wanting the same front triangle of the Marcelo, but a slightly different construction at the back.
If we had any doubts about the tall head tube, they were dispelled once we rode the Marcelo in the drops. The position was perfect with our off-the-peg test bike and the steering is completely precise. It's a full carbon fork and even though it might not fully fit the pure steeliness of the rest of the Pegoretti, it complements it well.
It's a beautiful bike with a superb ride quality, built by one of cycling's luminaries and the whole experience of taking the Marcelo for a spin is quite inspiring. Whoever buys a Pegoretti Marcelo may never need - or want - to ever buy another bike.
At first the Marcelo seems full of contradictions. At a glance it’s traditional — round steel tubing, classic geometry, horizontal top tube — but go in close and there are many carefully considered and perfectly executed improvements to the old format. Oversized stays, reinforced dropouts, extended head tube, lightweight Columbus tubing and an off-the-wall paint scheme.
Ridewise, those looking for a trendy ‘steel is real’, old-school experience will be disappointed, because it rides like a race bike. It’s light, stiff and fast.
Overall, the Marcelo is the result of years of experience of handbuilding racing bikes, with the latest materials and innovations via an artist’s attention to detail and loving care.
NB: Price quoted for frame and forks only
Columbus Niobium Spirit
50/34 and 11-25
49-62cm or custom
Mavic Ksyrium K10
Mavic Ksyrium K10
Mosquito Bikes www.mosquito-bikes.co.uk