It was love at first sight when we saw our first titanium Passoni road bike. So we just had to interview Passoni MD Matteo Cassina to find out how his passion for Passoni started with shopping for his dream frame and ending up with him buying the company: there’s something about Passoni that fuels those emotions. And finally this August, we made it to Monza, to the church of the god of cycling, to the bike factory or atelier, as they like to call it, that has no equal.
If you happen to have a spare €12,000+ you too could be one of the lucky 350 or so new Passoni owners each year, for this is how much it costs to become the keeper of the titanium bike par excellence. Yes, it’s a lot of money, but when you see the detail and craftsmanship involved in making a custom Passoni just for you – well there’s no doubt that your investment will be money well spent.
Sales Manager Danilo Colombo showed us the process involved for a prospective client. A former bike fitter, Danilo is an expert at understanding the physiology and psychology of each individual customer. The journey begins with measuring not only your body but also your reasons for riding a bike. Everything from limbs, height, shoe size to flexibility, asymmetries and how your cleats fit get the Passoni touch - they call it a 'Holistic Bike Fitting' service.
Then Danilo recreates your existing riding position on your favourite bike (because you already have a few in your well appointed garage) and video you against a scientific looking backdrop, cleverly revealing any flaws. “Bike shops tend to sell you a bike that is too big,” explains Danilo and illustrates this by showing us a video of an Australian client who came to the atelier the previous day. We’re no experts, but it was clear to us that the cyclist was over-extending himself – his saddle was too high and there was no magic bend in the elbows.
“Exactly,” agreed D, “he is losing power and his position will cause his body stress which will lead to pain in time. At Passoni, we are all about economy of movement – finding the position in which you can ride comfortably for many hours.”
It is this ethos of ‘comfortable riding’ that explains why Passoni is famous for manufacturing titanium bikes, although they also produce carbon and steel frames. Carbon is a material famed for its stiffness; titanium is also stiff, but has an inbuilt flexibility that carbon doesn’t have - meaning that while titanium absorbs vibrations and prevents the body from jarring, carbon can’t. Passoni recommend titanium for longer rides and carbon for shorter, faster outings. It is interesting to note that many of Passoni’s clients have been ex pros looking for a personal bike, which is not only classy looking but scores highly on easy ride-ability too.
Once you have chosen from the current range of beautiful designs the next step in the average 14-week bespoke process is to transmit all your measurements onto the custom builder machine (I don’t think that’s actually its name…) The frame building process starts from the bottom bracket and works it’s way outwards, each stunning titanium round or oval tube measured with pinpoint accuracy and pieced together by Reuben, a craftsman with 20 years experience in cutting the precious Reynolds-manufactured metals.
I’d heard that the welding took place in a tank of special gas so that ‘air’ wasn’t allowed to corrupt the delicate process of binding metal to metal – was that true? Absolutely, revealed PR and Marketing Manager Matteo Cavazutti, our guide for the second part of the tour. All the welding takes place in a tank of argon gas. After experimenting with several different gases, argon was found to give the purest, cleanest joins. No other bike manufacturer aims for this level of perfection and this explains why Passonis have a moulded, organic look which we’ve not seen on any other metal bicycle.
The other Passoni myth is that each frame is polished by hand for 40 hours – this couldn’t actually be true could it? Surely the poor polishers would go mad! Matteo confirmed that this was also correct and that the bike builders were happy to spend all that time polishing, sandblasting, welding and so on because they take a real interest in the client and want to know as much detail as possible about who they’re building for. That really is a bespoke service!
Matteo showed us a miniature titanium frame to illustrate this – built for a Chinese client who had commissioned a scaled version alongside the real thing – made with the same level of craftsmanship as his road-worthy one.
We watched, enthralled, as another worker manipulated a frame inside the sandblasting machine looking more like a deep-sea diver at work than someone doing a rather sophisticated stenciling job. The end process, for the full bike, is adding top of the range parts – groupsets by Campagnolo, handlebars by Cinelli and specially commissioned suede and leather saddles from Selle Italia. We loved the Nokon cabling which features a little Italian flag just to remind you where all this beauty and design excellence originates.
Passoni make their own wheels too – you can choose from titanium hubs, which resemble the finest handcrafted jewellery, to the highest tech, lightest weight carbon imaginable. The friction-free hubs ensure the wheels spin with perpetual motion.
The Passoni logo is of two wheels side by side. These reference bicycle wheels, obviously. But there’s more to it than that – the design was inspired by Italian engineer and artist, Leonardo da Vinci. The first atelier was located near the landscape that features in his infamous Mona Lisa painting; craftsmanship and cutting edge design run through this region like a stick of seaside rock. Da Vinci is equally famous for his drawing of the Vitruvian Man which shows male figures superimposed within a square and a circle, arms and legs in positions resembling the spokes of a bicycle wheel.
The drawing is based on the correlations of ideal human proportions with geometry described by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius. Vitruvius described the human figure as being the principle source of proportion among the Classical orders of architecture. He calculated that the ideal body should be eight heads high.
Passoni and da Vinci have in common a love and respect for the human form as the most naturally beautiful of proportions, but while Leonardo glorified perfection in human geometry, Passoni look to forgive and improve. A Passoni bicycle is the ultimate example of human and machine complementing each other and if you ever get to own one, you can be guaranteed to possess something that will not only make you look better but feel better on the inside too. A Passoni bike is equally a work of art and a highly skilled piece of engineering all put together with craftsmanship reminiscent of the old days of Italian frame building. So yes, this really is an atelier staffed by artisan workers. Leonardo would be proud.