At a time when most bike frames roll out of a few huge factories in Asia, it’s refreshing to know that there are still skilled craftsmen building bikes the old fashioned way. Giuseppi Marinoni, who has been one of Canada’s best known bike builders for three decades, is one of those old world builders who still believes that steel bikes built by hand are the best.
From Racer to Builder
Giuseppi Marinoni was born in Bergamo, Italy in 1937. He learned to ride a bike in the foothills of the Alps during the 1950’s. Before long he was racing bikes across those same foothills, and around the famed Vigorelli Velodrome in Milan. In 1958, he was the champion of Lombardy. During the early 1960’s, Marinoni briefly apprenticed with the great Mario Rossin who was head frame builder at Colnago. After a month, Rossin told him that he had learned everything he needed to know – now it was time to use his hands, build frames, and learn the rest on his own. Once he had built his 1000th frame, Rossin told him, he would have the “touch.”
Italy’s loss, Canada’s Gain
In 1965, Marinoni came to Canada with the Italian national team to race the Cours de Saint Laurent and decided to stay. He continued to race until 1972, winning Quebec-Montreal in 1966 and 1968, and pretty much every other event he entered. He also competed in six-day races on the track. He became trainer for the Quebec provincial cycling team, and for three years groomed riders for Canada’s Olympic team.
Bikes in the European Tradition, made in Canada
In 1974, he returned to frame building and established Cycles Marinoni in Terrebonne Quebec with established frame builder Marc Bouchard. His goal – reinventing the bicycle in Canada. At a time when there were very few frame builders in North America, without advertising, the company was an immediate success among cyclists who hungered for custom made bikes built in the European tradition. Some of Canada’s greatest cyclists including track riders Gord Singleton and Jocelyn Lovell, and Tour de France stage winner Steve Bauer all rode Marinonis.
Marinoni makes it in the US
A favourable exchange rate made Marinoni’s bikes very attractive to US buyers and by the 1990s, they were building 2000 bikes a year, 20% of them going to buyers in the US. Today, the company makes half that number, and along with their signature handmade steel frames, Marinoni also offers carbon fiber frames that are manufactured in Taiwan.
Custom Frames and Materials
While Cycles Marinoni has always been best known for their custom frames made in the shop in Quebec, they also offer stock steel frames that are made by hand in Italy. Marinoni himself believes that only 10% of cyclists require a custom built bike. The frame tubing used depends on the purpose of a bike. Marinoni builds racing frames out of Columbus tubing for its rigidity. Racing frames are designed to be as small as possible for each rider, keeping the frame as stiff as possible. Touring and long distance riding were formerly made from Reynolds tubing for its flexibility but according to Marinoni’s website are now made from Columbus Zona. Long distance frames are also built larger than a racing frame made for the same rider.
Still Fast as Lightning Well into his 70’s
Giuseppi Marinoni no longer builds frames and day to day operation of Cycles Marinoni has been taken over by his son Paolo, but Giuseppi is still a very active rider, averaging 300 km a week. In October 2012, he broke the hour record for the 74 to 79 year old age group by riding 35.728 km at Brescia, Italy.
You can buy a brand new Marinoni, but if you are patient, used bikes come up for sale quite regularly, especially in Canada. Since they’re not as well known as other builders like Colnago, Masi, or Bianchi, the prices tend to be much lower – sometimes ridiculously low for a hand built, steel frame. If you are looking for an excellent hand built frame made in the Italian tradition, a bike built by Cycles Marinoni might just fit the bill, and your budget.
As Clean a Vintage Marinoni as You’re Likely to See
Want a little more Marinoni eye candy? An old friend of mine who’s a museum conservator and a bike nut sent me recent photos of his vintage Marinoni that I thought I would share with you. He bought the bike new, and judging by the downtube shifters and brake levers, he’s had this bike since the late 80’s or early 90’s. Everything he owns looks like it has never been used. All photos by Richard Fuller.
If you’d like more information about classic road bikes, check out Tom Jordan’s Vintage Racing Bicycles for great articles and photos of some beautiful bikes.