Interview: Martina DeRosa of Bixxis
Renowed Italian frame builder Doriano DeRosa split from the family bicycle business in 2015 to continue the artisan tradition of handbuilt custom frames. For his daughter, Martina, this presented both opportunity and challenge.
PS: Where did you grow up?
MD: I was born and raised in Desio, just north of Milan. I went to school there and did lots of recreational activities during my childhood. In my high school years I was most interested in science and technology, because I always liked to combine theoretical knowledge with the practical side of things. Later I went to Milan to studied design at university, but I have always maintained strong ties to the place where I grew up.
PS: What were your interests as a child?
MD: To say that sports have always played a big part in my family life may sound trite, but there it is! I always played sports as a girl and over the years I have done many disciplines: from gymnastics to tennis, from swimming to volleyball. But perhaps the team sports were my favourite, working with others to achieve a common goal, perhaps for this reason for about three years I focused on playing football.
PS: Did you spend time in de Rosa workshops?
MD: Yes, I would often go to the workshop to watch my father work and to help him any way I could, perhaps in technical drawing. That has been part of my training and has always fascinated me. His work and his meticulous approach has always sparked my curiosity; he has always pushed me to expand my knowledge and learn about new things to understand them better.
PS: When did you decide to get involved with the family business?
MD: My family has always been very close, and although my degree is in interior design with a major in the field of lighting, making things myself is something I have always liked and been interested in. So when the opportunity arose, it was quite natural for me to join Doriano in the BIXXIS project. It is an ambitious challenge, and at first a little intimidating, but actually now I feel very motivated and optimistic. My father and I form a solid team that shares the same values. Starting this business together has brought us closer than anything else I think we could have done as family members.
PS: What does Bixxis mean to you as a bicycle brand and more generally as a project in which you are involved?
MD: Bixxis is a very ambitious project in which I want to focus all my energy. I want to keep the tradition alive, with all the learning and history that we have behind us, but mixing in innovative aspects related to design and technology, this is not at all easy. But then that's the reason I roll up my sleeves every morning!
Also, for me Bixxis is much more than just a bicycle company: it is a place that sums up what Doriano and I, first of all as people, deeply believe. The Bixxis philosophy is that work produces sweat. What is made with the hands is the result of commitment, so our bicycles express the passion and care we have for what we do and they reflect the way we are.
PS: Has Bixxis inherited workshop space and equipment from the De Rosa Cycles company?
MD: No. Bixxis is an independent reality, and as such has started from scratch with its own resources. It is an uphill path, but we are ready and willing for this challenge. Everything involved with the Bixxis brand has its own identity and specific, unique, core values, and this is why we build every day, putting in all that we have, and we will continue to do so.
PS: What were the influences on you surrounding the formation of Bixxis, and to where do you look for inspiration now?
MD: Bixxis was born from the need to recover the flavor of true craftsmanship in the production of racing bicycles. Gradually, in our opinion, this flavour is being lost to something more bland, not so rich. The guiding philosophy of Bixxis rests on essential values: The taste for things well made, the preservation of tradition, and curiosity for innovation. We combine all this with the feedback we receive from our cycling community, most of whom are racing as professionals and amateurs.
As time passes, companies are pushed to make more standardized products, a choice that often diminishes the value to individuals whose needs are unique. Sadly, this is a fact not only in cycling manufacture. But Bixxis rails against this trend and we create unique products that are not standardized. We sacrifice volume in preference for customization and quality. Just as tailor sews a dress for the particular fit and exact uses of the person who will wear it, we wish for cyclists to have such a feeling when riding a Bixxis.
PS: What are the special qualities about Bixxis that you would draw our attention to?
MD: Bixxis aims to create bikes that fully meet the needs of those using them. Starting with anthropometric measures is essential for us to build a custom frame that guarantees the maximum comfort during the performance of the activity. Our choice of materials is important: we prefer steel and titanium for their high mechanical properties, as well as for the familiarity Doriano has in working with them. Also, these have withstood the test of time, the popularity of these materials goes beyond fashion. The Bixxis bicycles follow a production process that is entirely handcrafted, something that few can ensure nowadays. Each frame is made one hundred percent by the hand of my father Doriano in our laboratory in Seregno, not far from Milan. Each step of the production is checked in control stages to ensure that every detail is always verified. Bixxis is also distinguished by having a proprietary set of steel tubes made by Columbus, and in titanium by Reynolds. Other features include:
- Integrated steering set in CNC
- Dropouts designed by me and my father, made from billet by CNC machining
- X-Stays, designed to give added strength to the frame and reduce energy loss while pedaling.
PS: How many people are in the company now?
MD: Currently Bixxis is just my father and myself, we support each other in the various tasks: both office administration and practical work in the laboratory. However, as soon as possible we would like to expand our staff with a small team of people with the right kind of passion.
PS: What is your role, and what has it been, starting from the very beginning?
MD: I am co-founder of Bixxis and its administrative head. My duties at the moment are very flexible and are spread across administration, communications, sales and customer relations, and then I do a small part of the frame production work, in particular the geometric designs and finishing.
PS: What is the long-term vision for Bixxis?
MD: Bixxis will require a lot of patience. We are aware that our growth will have to be gradual force, being now just two in the laboratory. But of course we are working every day to make Bixxis grow and expand its market. Although we are only two, in the Sacramento (California) area our work seems to be appreciated!
PS: Explain how the deposit system works, which we can see on your website. Does Bixxis specify some standard components for the bicycle and the customer will choose the rest?
MD: On our website we offer the possibility to make a deposit and commence the order for the frame kit, and for two different configurations of complete bicycles. These configurations are suggested and will suit some of the customers, but usually the component configuration is custom like the frame. There are no standard for the products provided by Bixxis and each customer may choose the specifications they most want.
PS: Can you see a revival of the handmade custom bicycles industry in Italy, as we are seeing in other countries, such the USA and United Kingdom for example?
MD: Today in Italy most of the market comprises standardized bicycles. But, albeit in very small numbers for the moment, there is a growing movement of small craft bike builders here. There is now a clear division between quality and quantity, and only few people can understand this difference, but fortunately the number of custom bicycle enthusiasts is growing. Fortunately for us being able to build tailor-made frames means that people are able to appreciate it even more, and we hope that here too functions by pushing to revive craft custom-made bike as it does elsewhere. The big growth started in the USA, England was close behind, and now we are seeing it more and more across Europe. We hope this continues, because Bixxis wants to grow!
PS: Is Italy seeing more women becoming involved with the manufacture of bicycles, or would you describe yourself as exceptional in this respect?
MD: It very rare, but there are some women working in the Italian bicycle industry. This disproportion between women and men means that women employed in the environment of cycling, especially in the production of bicycles are considered to be exceptions. But I personally believe that in addition to the obvious need to be in step with our present times, being female could even be an advantage: Some women, particularly in the U.S., have spent time making bicycles and show great professionalism and skill even in the most technical and practical areas, where rhetorical thinkers would consider men only.
PS: How do you feel being a woman in this industry, where most of the customers are men and most of the companies are composed of men. Do you ever feel some resistance from men, as if you should not be in the room, or in a position of great responsibility?
MD: Certainly for a woman it is not easy to enter the world of cycling. Although I am an adult, I still have much to learn because of my age and lack of experience in the industry. Until now I have had the good fortune to meet and work with very helpful people, so I am very satisfied because I have not met particular resistance. I hope it continues like this, because after all, regardless of being a woman, I think that working in a serene environment is crucial and definitely more enjoyable for everyone.
All photographs courtesy of Bixxis.