Dario Pegoretti obituary
An influential frame builder loved and respected around the world, who bridged the gap between classic and contemporary frame building eras in Italy.
Dario Pegoretti, 18 January 1956 – 23 August 2018
Dario Pegoretti was born in the northern Italian town Trento in 1956, in the foothills of the Dolomites. He started his frame building apprenticeship not far away, in the town of Ilasi, Verona, under the Italian master builder Luigino Milani, in 1975, aged 19. After learning the basics, he manufactured production frames for Pinarello, and then later went on to making custom frames to be ridden by pro team cyclists sponsored by Pinarello, such as Stephen Roche, Greg Lemond, Miguel Indurain, Mario Cipollini, and many other great names.
Around the late 1980s and early 1990s carbon fiber frames were gaining popularity in the pro peloton, and the mountain biking boom was accounting for a lot of new bike sales. The demand for steel road frames was in decline and work was dwindling for Pegoretti.
Giorgio Andretta, owner of Gita Sporting Goods which imported Pinarello frames to the USA, among other Italian cycling products, had already worked with Pegoretti on designing a line of Giordana frames, and in the early 1990s he encouraged Pegoretti to start building under his own name.
Pegoretti may have learned frame building with a traditional apprenticeship under a master builder, but his approach to the craft remained progressive (as long as it was a road frame) and he was a pioneer in the use of TIG welding. Building in steel, he worked mainly with the tubing manufacturers Excel, Dedacciai and Columbus.
Pegoretti taks with Giorgio Andretta of Gita Sporting Goods. Photo courtesy of Gita Sporting Goods
It is difficult to say what would have happened to Pegoretti without Gita’s US distributorship. As things worked out, he is one of only a handful of Italian frame builders that was able to stay in the business of making steel frames to order and so bridge the gap between the introduction of carbon fiber in the early 1990s and the custom steel renaissance a decade later. Even as late as 2008, Pegoretti remarked: “In Europe now, everybody wants to buy an American mass-produced carbon fiber bicycle.”
In the early years of working under his own name, he worked solo from a small studio in a farmyard close to Levico Terme in the province of Trento, roughly half way between the great bicycle manufacturing centers of Milano and Veneto.
Pegoretti had a considerable intellect and love of music and art, which attracted the attention of Milan-based mountain bike journalist Caroline Hamille, who introduced him to global-level cycling reporters, and an article about him appeared around 1995 in the trans-Atlantic publication, Cycle Sport, under the headline ‘The most famous frame builder you’ve never heard of.’
Pegoretti's Marcelo frame, from around 2007. Photo: Jessica Lifland
As Pegoretti’s own business grew beyond the scope of a sole operator, he took on an assistant, Pietro Pietricola. Others would come in the following years, growing the crew to five with the addition of his son Andrea in recent years.
Over the years, he moved the workshop a few times in a quest to find the right space. After leaving Levico Terme, was one in Caldonazzo, which had been designed originally as a paper warehouse. This was never quite right. Then around 2012 came a move to Roncegno/Marter and then finally back to Illasi.
This studio in Illasi was described as “neat, and more like a contemporary art-base than a machinery workshop,” by a former apprentice, the Hungarian frame builder Daniel Merenyi.
Pegoretti's Illasi workshop. Photo courtesy: Maglia Rosa Cycling
In the intervening years, Pegoretti overcame lymphoma, which was diagnosed in 2007, the year he received the President’s Choice Award at the North American Handbuilt Bicycle Show.
He reported at that 2007 show that he was selling around 200 frames a year in the USA alone, a desirable output for a small custom frame workshop. International sales, he said, were accounting for about 90 percent of his total.
A year later, at the 2008 NAHBS in Portland, he was named NAHBS Frame Builder of the Year. He was visited at that show by his most famous and biggest individual customer Robin Williams. Other stars known to have purchased Pegoretti frames include Michael Ward and the guitarist Ben Harper.
Robin Williams visited Dario at the 2008 NAHBS in Portland. Photo: Paul Skilbeck
When Pegoretti started painting his own frames in the late 1990s he was immediately able to exercise his artistic flair, and paid tribute over the years to a range of artists whose work he admired.
Yet the mechanical aspects of the frame were always uppermost in his mind and apart from developing his own designs, Pegoretti was a willing collaborator with leading frame builders in other parts of the world with the goal of making better products for all frame builders.
The desire to continually develop the craft led him to work with US frame builder Richard Sachs in 2003 to develop a tube set specially designed for lugged steel frames. Then in 2009, Pegoretti contacted Australian lug master, Darrell McCulloch, to collaborate on designing a new set of of lugs, which McCulloch named ‘Cadenzia’ after the wine consumed while they teased out the details of the project.
Seat lug from Llewellyn's Cadenzia set, which Pegoretti helped design. Photo courtesy: Llewellyn Custom Bicycles
McCulloch also reported that Pegoretti was not only of great assistance to other frame builders in the professional context, but also he would lend an empathetic ear in discussing personal turmoils encountered among the trials of life - perhaps the product of his own experience which confidants described as quite bumpy at times.
Often described as jovial, Pegoretti was a highly social person who enjoyed people. Indeed his workshop had something of the family atmosphere, and his relationship with his staff was far from formal. According to one of his apprentices, Daniel Merenyi, “Our summers were spent with much wine and less productivity.”
Indeed, those with a Protestant-leaning work ethic might have been unaccustomed to Pegoretti’s approach to the job. For example, McCulloch was mildly surprised when Dario pulled out a bottle of wine for their 10 a.m. meeting about lug design, and in his account of a four-day frame building workshop Pegoretti hosted in 2013 Andrew Denham of the UK’s Bicycle Academy wrote:
“The workshop was as much of a lesson in Italian culture as it was on frame building. The delicious food, fantastic weather and lots of coffee were great, but the slow starts, frequent and long breaks and even longer lunches made it impossible to get much done. Smoking and drinking coffee were the only parts of the schedule we could guarantee,” wrote Denham.
It would be far from true to say that Pegoretti was unproductive. His work was his life, and people who have worked with him speak of it as having been a privilege, and talk only of his passion and commitment. Denham himself noted that Pegoretti stayed behind after the scheduled finish of the workshop course to make sure the project got completed.
Pegoretti was the subject of numerous documentary films, he taught frame building through different channels, sometimes in the workshop setting and other times in the lecture format. Up to the time of his sudden death he was very active in the frame building world, and this profoundly generous man had so much more to give.
In the 2011 video d’acciaio, Pegoretti’s assistant Pietro is seen remonstrating with Dario about retirement. In the mind of Pietro, who knew him better than most, a retired Dario Pegoretti seemed unimaginable.
He lived large, he burned bright, and although he left suddenly the reverberations of his time here will be long felt and appreciated by many.
Dario Pegoretti is survived by his son, Andrea.
Nelson Frazier of Pegoretti's US importer, Gita Sporting Goods, recalls his years working with Dario
Darrell McCulloch of Llewellyn Custom Bicycles remembers Dario Pegoretti and recalls a surprise collaboration
Hungarian frame builder Daniel Merenyi gives an account of his four-year apprenticeship under Pegoretti
D'Acciaio - conversations in the Pegoretti workshop