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Legendary bike frame builder Dario Pegoretti passed away in Italy on Thursday. He was 62 years old.
Known for his unique style and especially his distinctive paint schemes, Pegoretti was a lover of art and music. Names he gave to his frame models included references to Frank Zappa and Thelonious Monk. His creations were ridden by stars of the peloton like Mario Cipollini, Marco Pantani, Miguel Indurain, and Stephen Roche.
The Italian icon had already survived a battle with lymphoma over a decade ago, recovering and returning to his work at the forefront of modern frame-building.
US distributor Gita Sports confirmed the news of his passing, initially reported in Italian media, Thursday evening.
“He was family to all of us at Gita and a brother to me,” said Gita Sports CEO and founder Giorgio Andretta. “I am shocked and saddened by his passing. Please keep his family in your prayers.”
VeloNews profiled Pegoretti in the March 2013 issue of the magazine, reprinted here.
WITH HIS LONG, FLOWING GRAY LOCKS, white facial stubble, bright eyes, genial smile, and joyous laugh, 57-year-old Italian frame builder Dario Pegoretti looks every bit the appreciator of music and art that he is. The first thing people notice when looking at a Pegoretti bicycle is its wildly original paint scheme and model name, and his musical and artistic interests influence both.
The Big Leg Emma, with its huge chainstays, is named after a Frank Zappa song about a fat, rich girlfriend; the Marcelo frame’s optional black and white Thelonious paint scheme, complete with stylized keyboard motif, is named after the great jazz pianist Thelonious Monk.
But Pegorettis are not just about style — first and foremost, they are about performance and construction quality. Having started as a frame builder at age 18 working for his father-in-law, Luigino Milani, building 5,000 to 10,000 frames a year at the 10-man Cicli Milani shop in Verona, Pegoretti knows how to turn out high-quality frames very efficiently with few people (his shop staff is currently four, one of which does mostly paint).
After Milani’s death in 1990, Pegoretti started his own company near Verona, eventually moving to the neighboring town of Caldonazzo. Because Pegoretti only built frames for pro teams and riders under other brands from 1990 to 1997, including Mario Cipollini, Marco Pantani, Miguel Indurain, Stephen Roche, Claudio Chiappucci, and Andrea Tafi, his brand was unknown. When carbon frames flooded the pro peloton in 1997, it killed the business of custom frame building for professional riders, since carbon’s distinctive shapes meant that you could no longer “hide” another brand’s frame under a paint scheme meant to make it indistinguishable from standard production. He established the Pegoretti brand at that time, later changing it to Dario Pegoretti.
With his own brand, Pegoretti found fame and international acclaim for the quality and artistic flair of his bikes. But he sells none of them in Italy; all of them are exported. His frames are innovative in design, yet made with traditional materials. He does make aluminum frames, but the Pegoretti name is generally synonymous with steel.
That doesn’t make him a traditionalist, however. He was unique among Italian frame builders for his early embrace of TIG welding, and has pushed his tubing suppliers (currently Columbus) to make new tubes that keep the material relevant in the age of carbon. Some of that is obvious, like the massive, Columbus Spirit chain stays on the Big Leg Emma. Some innovations are less apparent, and often unique, like the down tube on the same frame. To increase lateral rigidity, Pegoretti uses lasers to cut slots into the Big Leg Emma’s down tube, then installs thin inserts through them, brazing them in place and then brazing an external plate over each end.
It hasn’t always been a beautiful life of bicycles for Pegoretti, though. In 2007, he fought a successful battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which he did with grace and humility through months of chemotherapy. One of his employees painted a giant caricature of Pegoretti cooking a huge crab (representing his cancer) over a flame on a bike fork. This became a get-well poster that attendees at Interbike were able to sign. The poster still hangs on the wall of Pegoretti’s Caldonazzo shop, where he draws inspiration from it. For him, it represents the many people who reached out to him during his nine months of chemotherapy. “Life is good again,” he says, and while he would not wish the disease on anyone, Pegoretti nonetheless says it was a “great opportunity to deeply explore myself.”
Pegoretti’s greatest skill may be anticipating what people will want in frame and paint design, and his artistry results in frame orders from all over the world. With the Dolomites looming around him, the deep blue Lake Caldonazzo beside, and Jack, the enormous dog he found as a fluffy puppy on a street in Croatia in 2005, he looks ahead, saying simply, “I have a great future.”
— Lennard Zinn