Any well-dressed man knows that a suit bought off-the-rack will never compare to the fit and quality of a custom tailored one, so why should a cyclist invest in a mass-produced bike frame instead of a custom-made offering? For the designers at Passoni, one of the world’s greatest bespoke titanium frame manufacturers, the answer is in the name; passion. Passion for what you do and what you ride has to come from your very soul. Working in a studio in the Italian fashion and design capital Milan, a team of only ten people produce 300-400 Passoni frames a year with each one catered to fit a client, ranging from professional racers to amateur enthusiasts.
The bespoke quality is not an option for Passoni: it is in the DNA of every single frame we make. We cannot imagine one of our bike as not bespoke or produced in sizes as many bike other producers do.
Passion is what led its founder, Luciano Passoni, to leave behind a lucrative career supplying electrical cables for commercial construction projects to build bikes. After first witnessing Amelio Riva riding on what he’d soon discover was a titanium frame, Luciano became fixated on the silver bike, but no matter the price offered the man was reluctant to build Passoni his own. After some negotiating though, Riva agreed to let Passoni send his son Luca to learn the man’s craft after graduating from high school and pursue the passion for titanium that Luciano and Luca had become mesmerized with. Luciano invested what he’d saved up to purchase the welding torches and chambers necessary to build and manipulate titanium, housing them all in an aircraft hanger-like building on the outskirts of town, and Passoni Bikes was born. As Passoni Co-owner Silvia Gravi recalls, Luca worked alongside his father throughout the 1980s in search of harnessing the awesome power of titanium through enormous effort; “[Luciano and Luca] obsessed from the beginning about the mechanical properties of titanium. Frames that were almost 50% lighter than the steel frames used by other riders. Back then Passoni was able to assemble full bikes that would weight less than 7 Kg. The challenges were significant and we took 20 hours only to produce our [titanium] forks. All tubes were created manually by bending flat sheets of titanium to form a cylinder (shape of the tube) and creating the section for each tube that would match the expected characteristics of the frame we were producing.” But all this effort paid off, as Passoni garnered great success with riders winning stages of grand tours and spring classics on Passoni frames. Word of Passoni’s craft spread like wildfire, and even before the Internet the small Italian company was tailoring bikes to clients from across the globe. With Luciano’s retirement in 1997, Luca continued to helm the company with his wife Silvia, innovating on new ways to bring their products to the world while still maintaining the rarity that has kept the brand thriving for so long. Since Luca’s tragic death in 2006, Silvia has carried on the nearly 30 years of Passoni tradition, never straying from the quality benchmarks present in even the earliest prototypes models. From the Boomerang to the Mito and up to the Top Genesis, the company has always been run by the dogma of providing quality over quantity without ever backing down from an inherent spirit of experimentation.
This mentality led the company to be regarded with the utmost esteem in the racing world, as the titanium frames offered unprecedented handling to their riders thanks to their renowned tailoring. “The bespoke quality is not an option for Passoni: it is in the DNA of every single frame we make,” says Silvia; “We cannot imagine one of our bike as not bespoke or produced in sizes as many bike other producers do.” To shape, miter and machine titanium is a difficult process in general, but to do so in an unrepeatable fashion (as bespoke frames demand) requires a surgical level of precision alongside a laborious amount of pressure. Much of the work needs to be done in special chambers that utilize argon to ensure the welding processes never oxidize, and at Passoni if there is the slightest dip in quality under the vigilant eyes of the inspection, the process will be repeated without hesitation. This is because as a custom-tailored design company, every frame is suited to the preferences and sizing of each individual customer so not a single solder can be done hastily. It also has lead to a wide range in geometries the engineer must master in crafting the perfect frame, which is why the team at Passoni is comprised of such a select few craftsmen.
These craftsmen all share the passion Luciano and Luca embodied, and in fact two of the skilled workers who still assemble the frames were hired by Luca himself, and continue their mission with absolute devotion. But after meeting the customer’s checklist for a suitable bike the real work has just begun, as once the bike frame is fully constructed and passes inspection, members of the Passoni team will spend up to 30 hours polishing each frame before it’s allowed to leave the atelier. That’s three times as long as it took the Beatles to record their first album, and like Please Please Me, each frame is a masterpiece of precision and perfection. The company’s high level of passion is tempered by a strong sense of humility, as each frame only offers four identifiers of its make, the only prominent one being the word “Passoni” inscribed on the down tube. Alongside specializing in titanium frames, the designers at Passoni also have a clear understanding of what brands will work best with their handiwork to deliver a beautiful finished product, and over the years have built relationships with partners from all around the world to ensure none of their oeuvre gets bogged down with inferior accouterment. From Campagnolo components to striking Gokiso wheels, the Passoni stock room gives an entrancing glimpse at the best the cycling world has to offer, with each frame finding unique unions akin to the allure of witnessing a royal marriage.
The Top Genesis model finds a particularly intoxicating pairing, incorporating Dinamo handlebars and astonishing wooden Cerchio Ghisallo rims that make the bike feel almost too exquisite to ride; more a work of art than a transportation tool. As Silvia puts it; “every Passoni frame tells its own story and the Top Genesis model is an excellent storyteller. Its design is very traditional with small size tubes that [recall] the great Italian tradition of bike builders, its carbon fork [performs] even at high speed, and the wood wheels are one of the most incredible projects that one Italian engineer could have created.” And while enthusiasts will always flock to the traditional style titanium frames the company was built upon, one of the biggest challenges Passoni faces today is losing ground to cheaper offerings, such as the influx of carbon fiber frames from East Asia that has led to a waning of titanium frames in pro cycling since its 90s boom. “A full frame and fork painted and produced in China or Taiwan after having paid both shipping and duties costs less than 500 USD and some of them are now sold for over 6,000 USD” says Silvia; “We spend over 1,500 USD only for the raw materials to produce one of our Ti frames and spend over a week with very experienced artist/frame builders to assemble one (ALWAYS in Italy).” But this overhead cost is nonnegotiable to the designers at Passoni, because nothing can ever match the pure joy of riding a titanium frame. “Although a TI frame from the 1980s is nowhere close to the performance and maneuverability of a recent Carbon frame, [a titanium frame] produced now is in our opinion the very best one could buy.
Many pro riders after retiring become addicted to riding our frames.” Rather than backing down from Passoni’s commitment to quality in the face of these new challenges, Silvia has applied the Passoni experimental spirit to address them, keeping up with the times by offering alongside their traditional titanium frames stainless steel ones as well as frames that integrate carbon fiber, such as in the Nero XL and the XXTi models. But don’t construe this as some kind of compromise, as the company has stayed true to its heart with the inclusion of titanium-milled components on every bike. These silver devils tempt riders with their promise of an even better ride, and silently remind them that the best cycle doesn’t come down strictly to the numbers, but to the feel. As Silvia surmises; “Every single customer of ours that starts riding [titanium] frames never goes back to ride a Carbon frame. We believe that there is still room for a company like ours and our recent growth over the last couple of years is a clear testament of it. Ti frames enable us to produce bikes below UCI minimum weight that last for life and provides both a stiff structure that still is able to absorb micro vibrations, making it one of the most well-performing and comfortable frames in the market.” Like Alfa Romeo, Passoni bikes will never cater to the lowest common denominator, and over 30 years has mastered production and tailoring techniques custom fit for riders filled with the purest of passion; who seek to own only the world’s best bicycle. And at Passoni, they’ll find it.