Dario Pegoretti steps out of his door, characteristic long hair pulled back in a workmanlike ponytail, stretching out a hand with a twinkle in his eye, “Welcome Pete, Dario.” Wearing a paint-spotted t-shirt and pocket-heavy 3/4 length shorts, he stops to pat his shuffling 13-year old German Shepherd Jack as we step out of the fierce heat of Verona’s midday sun. We enter the cool, cosy embrace of his office, before stepping down into a lounge area bookended by welcoming, well-worn sofas; a recessed maintenance pit formerly used for the trains built and repaired in this once active industrial area.
Amongst the many magazines and records slipped into the shelves left over from the office's former life, a Dario-painted skateboard leans against the wall between the sofas. A newly minted coffee machine gleams in the corner, out of step with the student-esque vibe of the room.
“Someone sent that to me to paint,” he offers, noticing my interest as I recall that in recent years, Dario’s artistic and frame building skills have been recognised in equal measure, although what he will paint on it is not yet decided. “Hmm, I'm not sure, but I'll get around to it”, he ponders, thumbing open a packet of cigarettes from the table between us. “I’m giving up,” he says, tapping the end into an overflowing ashtray. “Soon,” he quips, laughing again.
Cristina from Brooks England had kindly arranged the visit to see Dario, and as these old friends chat animatedly over coffee opposite me, I spot a forlorn Banesto frame upended against a concrete support. “Go ahead, pick it up. Turn it over,” encourages Dario. “The name is on the top tube.” P.Delgado - a Pinarello? “Well yes, but actually one of mine I made for the Banesto team.”
Fabricating frames for riders like Pantani and Delgado under contract was heady work for a young craftsman, if not one that a frame builder could hope to be recognised for. “At that time it was a secret,” Dario explains. "It was normal here in Italy. The only one who probably made his own frame was Colnago at the time, but the other brands used contractors, not just me, other contractors.”
It seems that practical considerations as well as a desire for something custom were often at the forefront of the teams' minds. “Bianchi at that time in the beginning of the 90s only had a small shop to build the frames for the teams, Pinarello too. And so they used the contractors to solve the problem. It was only 30, 40 frames at a time.”
Yet making the frames and seeing another name take the credit must have been hard to take? “Sometimes, yes. But it was normal, something like a contract. You take the money, you make the frame. But I didn’t tell anybody. I mean, the riders knew that I did the frames for the Banesto team in 92,93, but was just because the riders recognised my work. Not because I said I made the frame for Pinarello. One of the sons of the guys that made the tubesets in the team - a French pro cyclist - he recognised the tubesets of his father, because all of the tubesets at the beginning of the 90s….for example - the seat stays were 14 or 16 diameter maximum; we used 19. So it was clearly different. And the frame was 2-300g less than the Colombus!”
Building frames for a rider of Pantani's stature though, was according to Dario, quite demanding. "Pantani changed the sizing during the year", explains Dario. "He was always searching for something different, something new. I built a lot of frames - don’t remember exactly - but one year I built I think, 25 different complete frames just for him. He would test the bike, experiment and see if the response was positive or negative. This was Pantani. For example, Indurain never changed the size. Just one size. He knew very well his size and during 4 or 5 years it was exactly the same every year. At the end of the story, I think, just the road can say it’s the truth, not the centimetre.”
Thanks to such rich history, curiosity, and the melding of art, music and new techniques into his work, Dario has forged a relevance that belies his age, with demand for a Pegoretti frame remaining white-hot. “Yes, the last few years, things have gone crazy, totally crazy. I finish a frame and 10 more need making!” jokes Dario, as he leads us out of the air-conditioned comfort of his office to the heat of the factory. Tubes & frames, raw, tacked and primed hang from mounts, or fan out in captivating semi-circles on the floor.
“The process is very simple. I design all the geometry, one by one. Metering and CAD, the tubes, the right measure, put into the jig - tack - back from the jig. We weld, then we have some machines for the little jobs - reaming, facing, things like that.”
Although an apparently simple process, building a frame can take up to 6 months, including paintwork. But how does the process get started and how is a frame first sized to the rider?
“Sometimes I receive data from a fitting machine, but it’s not always coherent,” explained Dario. “So I will ask for some additional data, a photo or video. The video is best, so I can see details of the body, shape, the right leg for the crank-side and how it sits with the rest of the body.”
We move on past a rack of tacked frames ready for welding. Noticing the thicker tubes, particularly at the rear triangle, I ask Dario about his unique specifications. “I started to increase the diameter in 91, 92. I found a company in France that would draw all the sizes I would need, before Columbus and Reynolds. At that time those companies were very, very closed and not open to new ideas. Although mountain bike changed the rules for the framebuilder in 92, 93, even for the road market. It opened the minds of the manufacturers to new ideas, tube sizes, so that was important. Now, for example, I only use custom tubes. I specify length, butted part, wall thickness at the ends and middle, and they produce the tubes.”
At the end of the story, I think, just the road can say it’s the truth, not the centimetre.
Whilst the frame is the heart of a Pegoretti, Dario’s work is arguably a blend of art and design. His talent with a brush sees many customers give free rein to Dario’s creativity on their newly-built canvas. Some customers though, can get a little more specific. “I had one guy send me a frame to paint, and he asked if I could listen to his music whilst I painted it, to get inspired. Well, it was heavy metal, so I painted it totally black and sent it back to him. I think he liked it!”
Passing me a brush-painted frame, it’s clear that what visually separates a Pegoretti from other brands is not just tube choice and smooth welds, but an organic paint finish that speaks of depth, texture and a for once genuine artisan approach.
“It’s different, you see the hands, and I like this, it’s less uniform,” explains Dario, passing me a brush-painted carbon fork to match, before shouting across the studio as squeeze off some shots: “Hey Tina, come here, get in the picture! Pete, take our picture - the beauty and the beast, eh?” Though Cristina declines his invitation, Dario puts the frame around his neck and plays to the camera, all the while laughing and generally acting the fool.
Back in the cool of the office, and with Jack the German Shepherd enjoying his second coffee of the day - “he loves coffee, what can I do?” - we take the opportunity to shoot a few shots outside, with Dario again happy to oblige, before we bid a fond farewell.
As we drive off to the airport, I realised how fearful I had been that Dario would not live up to his name. Never meet your heroes they say, but with the warmth, fun and appetite for life he so clearly imbues into every frame, Dario Pegoretti does not disappoint.