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Me and my bike: Italian framebuilder Marco Bertoletti

James Spender
27 Feb 2017

The Italian artisan kicks off a new series where the builders behind the bikes show us their favourite creations. Meet the Legend Il '58

Tanned, lithe and informally dressed in sweater and skinny jeans, Marco Bertoletti could easily be mistaken for a retired pro racer. Certainly there’s nothing about him that hints at his age. Except the bike he’s brought with him. 

‘This is the Il ’58,’ says Bertoletti, positively beaming as he rocks back on his heels to better appraise the bicycle in front of him.

‘The 58 refers to my age. I was born on 8th May 1958, and in 2016 I was 58, and I presented this bike on the 8th May. In that sense I’m lucky I wasn’t born in 1991, because that would be a long time to wait and I might not make it!’

Bertoletti has been building frames since 1989 and, while he only struck up the ‘Legend by Bertoletti’ marque in 2009, he’s no stranger to celebrating the odd special occasion with a fancy bike.

A year or so ago we were lucky enough to test the Venticinquesimo, a £12,000 carbon-tubed, titanium-lugged bike built to mark Bertoletti’s 25th year in the bike-building business. 

‘I have two other bikes, the Venti and a carbon HT, but the Il ’58 is my favourite. It’s made from my favourite material – titanium – and it is the epitome of what I think a bike should look like.

‘I am a classicist when it comes to frame shapes. All these space age-looking bikes might be perfectly engineered, but when fashions change they will look tired. This classic aesthetic can always be appreciated over time.’

Between the lines

As simple as the Il ’58 appears, it’s actually a highly nuanced bicycle. Neat aesthetic touches abound, such as the carbon fibre in-laid dropouts and engraved bottom bracket, but it’s arguably the tubeset that has seen the most refinement. 

For a titanium bike the tubes are noticeably skinny, and a cursory look over the smooth welds – the product of 14 laborious hours spent with a hand-file and emery paper – shows the tube ends taper in interesting places.

‘The diameter of many of the tubes decreases as you go from the front to the rear of the frame,’ says Bertoletti. ‘For example, the top tube tapers from 34.9mm at the head tube to 31.8mm at the seat tube. They’re also double-butted – 0.5mm wall thickness in the middle and 0.75mm at the ends.’

Bertoletti sources the tubes from Reynolds in the UK. As per virtually all titanium frames, those tubes are 3/2.5 (grade 9), however the dropouts and bottom bracket have been machined from 6/4 titanium (grade 5).

The head tube is oversized as per current trends towards stiffness, but interestingly the bottom bracket is a very standard British threaded.

‘We make the bottom bracket in Italy, and it is threaded because it is just better to have threads, it is simple as that. The other bottom brackets are 90% marketing and 10% problems!’ 

Professional ethics

Bertoletti explains that he always works to three parameters: ‘rigidity, stability and, if possible, the highest degree of comfort’. With the Il ’58, however, light weight has been added to the mix.

‘The first new model bike I make is made to measure for me, so I can test it. This is that bike. It’s the lightest frame I have ever made in titanium at 1,192g [size approximately 54cm]. In the early days Merlin made titanium even lighter, but they lacked the Il ’58’s stability.’

There is a caveat here, though – Bertoletti stipulates a rider weight limit of 80kg, and that frame weight is dependent on the speccing of Sram’s eTap wireless groupset.

‘I couldn’t achieve the same weight with internal cables because you need drillings in the tubes, which I couldn’t do on tubes this narrow without compromising the structure,’ Bertoletti explains.

‘This is why I have chosen Sram eTap, which for me is now number one. I have Campagnolo Super Record EPS on the Venti, and Dura-Ace Di2 on the HT, but Sram is the best now.’

That’s not something you’d expect to hear an Italian say, but as with the skinny tubes, rider weight limit and bottom bracket, there’s a pragmatism and straightforward honesty to Bertoletti’s approach.

He is a man who has built race bikes for Marco Pantani and Claudio Chiappucci but, unless you have similar capabilities, the bike he’ll build you won’t be based on trends or fantasy.

‘It is always a question of ethics. I don’t want to sell you just anything – I want the best bike for you. I won’t advise an aero frame if I can see you’re in need of a comfortable bike, or a super-light frame because you’re heavy but want to go up hills faster.’

That’s not to say that the Il ’58 can’t be built for Campagnolo EPS (or Shimano Di2 or mechanical groupsets), and if you’re on the wrong side of 80kg the Il ’58 tube diameters could be changed to suit.

But the bike will be much heavier, and anyway, who would want to undermine the Il ’58’s classically skinny aesthetic, and that undoubted climbing panache?

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