Sunday, February 26, 2017

Tommasini Unicorns

So my last post (and a sick household with not much to do on a cold winter day) generated some motivation to get out the old photos and fire up the scanner. I have a HUGE collection of Tommasini images collected throughout the years and one thing that never fails to amaze me is the sheer number of unique and stunning paint jobs they've done throughout the years.

I'd love to try to decipher the names and catalogue the various published styles over the years, as well as document some of these "unicorns" that have popped up over time. Names come to mind like Colonia, Retinato, Magniflex and Alessandra, not to mention the great "Colorado" style made for Colorado Cyclist back in the 80's. Then there were the horses on the top tube, the quattro colori fades and on and on. I also love how there seem to be many exceptions to the rules, or perhaps no rules at all. I've seen Diamantes in unique colors with horses on the top tube, and all sorts of Velocista's. The sheer variety is amazing.

On that line of thinking, here are five scans from my first trip to Grosseto in 1992. What stands out to me here are the 4 colori mountain bike (which I was very into at the time), the Titanio (in the Tommasini script), the blue Diamante with the baffi or swirls, the blue Tecno, the blue/yellow design and... the fabulous pink Super Prestige (likely) with the ZIPPERED logos!!

As far as I know, these were not officially published or named colorways here in the US. Does anyone have an idea of what these were called? Would love to know!


Old Bike Article Translations #1. An Artist from Grosseto

Here is the first in what I hope will be many translations of articles on great Italian bikes, brands and people from the glory years of the 80's and 90's. This first one is special, as it was discovered while spending the day with an old friend, Irio Tommasini, after l'Eroica last fall (more on that trip later as it was an incredible day). He drove me to his house where a great lunch awaited us, and showed me the cantina shop under the home where he got his start, and the stack of photos of he and Pelà laid out on the table. He then proudly pulled out this June 1985 issue of La Bicicletta (my latest favorite eBay Italy search term). Here it is...

An “Artist” from Grosseto

by Fulvio Lo Monaco/photos by La Cuba

With a brief introduction to the Tuscan province very suited to leisurely cycling, here is the story of a visit to Irio Tommasini: a detailed artisan specializing in the construction of frames.

From a personal point of view, Grosseto represents an area of cycling by election. In the sense that for many years now, we look far forward to the time and place where we will succeed in retiring from some active career. To retire precisely to Grosseto, which is calm mainly because touristically it is not so tempting! Because there has long been a valid administration that, regardless of color, it has achieved social housing that may not have comparisons elsewhere in Italy.

Grosseto also has real neighborhoods, a network of roads and landscapes that, even if they play no active role in the cherished images of the picture postcards of Tuscany, lend themselves to a very relaxing time on the pedals. They connect to a people who in this area make up the Maremma which, not coincidentally, offers a savory red wine from Capalbio that in my opinion is worth more than the aristocratic Chianti. This love for the city and the province is born on the noblest and sophisticated part of the sea, that riviera of Marina di Grosseto to which more than once we have been invited by our friend Giancarlo Onnis. With him, we met Irio Tommasini who, in Grosseto, makes frames and bicycles with a passion that can be seen in his eyes and that sweats from his pores. It was therefore almost a duty, heading to the city by car to write this article, introduced to Tommasini by Onnis who, as we will see on another occasion, was the first to introduce Roman cyclists to the bicycles of Tommasini.

the maestro from Grosseto is posed with a humorous effect with the colored spiral of a compressor

The shop and store of the artisan are found on a connecting road between the Via Aurelia and the new road to Siena. Physically, Tommasini is the same person we knew more than ten years ago, when he worked in a smaller room attached under his house. He carries well his fifty years and has a calm and intelligent spirit with which he goes along evoking images from the past. We climb from the store, where racing bikes and clothing are displayed, to the second floor where you find a modern office space. On a large desk some components remind us immediately the topic of conversation as well as the other papers that fill the scattered notepads and folders. This administrative part is overseen personally by Irio’s wife, who was a teacher in Grosseto’s schools. We collect some observations from her regarding issues on the delivery of some material that serve in the assembly of the bikes and a question comes to mind: “Do you miss teaching, now that you are dedicated to this career?”

“I don’t think so,” replies the kind lady. “At least not at a conscious level. I followed the work my husband committed to and I did so with enthusiasm and without serious sacrifices.”

here above, one of the minor phases of framebuilding performed by Castolin

With Tommasini we talked about components and technical problems freely: the maestro reminded us of a positive experience with Mavic sealed bearing hubs, we lingered on the topic of friction relative to shift levers designed by Simplex and Gipiemme, from the Japanese Suntour to the recent Campagnolo Record gruppo. But to build the image of the artisan we must also have some basis of a historical nature, as well. So we simply ask him: “When did you start with framebuilding?”

“I started very early with bicycles, I think in 1949, in the shop of an uncle who sold and repaired bicycles. I also raced at that time, but with little results, to be honest.” Tommasini seems to collect his thoughts and quickly adds “But to really learn the craft, that is to know how to align frames and the correct way to weld, I learned in Turin.” I had a great teacher, to whom I still turn to for some advice and also just for the pleasure to hear his voice. This great master is named Giuseppe Pelà. You know him personally and I’m not telling you anything new by reminding you that Pelà built frames for the biggest champions, even if the honor of the name on the tube went from one sponsor to another for commercial reasons. Afterward, I made my own experiences and he advised me on some of these passages.”

Above we see Irio Tommasini with his wife, an ex-teacher, who left her professional career to oversee the administrative duties of her husband's business.

We are reminded in fact of some frames Tommasini tried with Japanese tubing that didn’t give great results, as well as other courageous projects, never seen commercially, like the frame with a vertical seat tube that didn’t respond effectively to the needs of pedaling. Tommasini has been for some time, and by reason of these negative tests, very sure of the canons of frame construction. We follow him, up and down metal stairways that link together the various areas of the shop, to a workbench where precise geometry and alignment is made for a frame. Tommasini continues, “In my opinion, for example, it is more correct to study the seat tube angle with a ruler, taking the setback from the vertical off the center of the bottom bracket, instead of measuring the angle with a protractor, which for example lends itself to some confusion.”

We are perfectly in agreement with the maestro on this point and don’t want to interrupt him in another interesting observation. “… frames with identical measurements of the seat and top tube are called ‘squared frames’. But for me, a ‘squared frame’ is this.” The artist lays on the bench an unfinished frame and confirms: “See, this head tube has the same angle as the seat tube. This, to me, should be called a frame that is effectively ‘square’.

A worker behind a screen is focused on the art of sanding to which all frames of the noted Tuscan builder are subjected.

In this area we see a “press” that is a bit the pride of Tommasini. He shows us some profiles in steel in which special tubesets from Columbus are arranged and, through the machine, are then ovalized and ‘corrected’ according to the wishes of the artisan. One of his latest designs is made from studying of a form ‘ribbed’ in four points that gives greater rigidity to the entire frame. We stop for a moment close to a container of microfusion lugs that are reworked one by one in the shop. We say openly to Tommasini how we admire his new fork crown. It is a valuable work that allows welding of the blades that are sheathed outside and proudly displays the firm’s “T” merged on the side with the wording “Air”. The logos, after chroming, are filled with color and give the crown a very elegant look. Of Tommasini we have in fact always admired good taste in addition to technical competence. This conviction is confirmed when he hands us a finished frame. This frame is destined for the American market and some European markets where Tommasini’s are highly sought after. One detail in high demand abroad is in fact the double water bottle mounts (the second on the seat tube) that joins a little support welded on the head tube to hold the pump while mounted along the top tube.

In this closeup, you notice the milling of the head tube of a frame in an advanced stage of the process. Tommasini uses a special machine to model the Columbus tubing according to his personal and exclusive technical vision.

“One thing that I hold very dear is also the paint,” Tommasini tells us. “The frame first is immersed in a galvanic bath that protects it from rust. Then the paint, which is the product of my idea and in agreement with the firm Veloetruria by Mario Francini, in Montevarchi, an exclusive that we call in jargon ‘netted’.”

The paint, deep and shiny, reveals a true lattice, that is a design of small diamonds that is undoubtedly a preciousness still unknown in the bike industry. We study the bike with a close eye and when the time comes to say goodbye we linger with an eye on the workers, each intent on their specific work. Tommasini follows us with his eyes and introduces us to a new hire, destined to the assembly area where he will transform a frame into a true “specialissima” road bike. It is Giuseppe Alampi, who had fifteen victories in the junior ranks. It was for him that Del Tongo built a team of amateurs in the second league.