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Sarto 18K. Exotic, beautiful and rather impractical?

Sarto 18K frame
James Spender
14 May 2015

18 carat gold inlays and crocodile skin for handlebar tape. That'll be the Sarto 18K

Sarto might not be a brand you’ve heard of, but chances are you’ve seen one without realising it. Based in Venice, the Italian artisan has been quietly making frames for other brands since 1950, including for some notable – and current – UK outfits. That was until 2010, when founder Antonio Sarto and his son Enrico decided it was high time they bit the bullet and started producing frames bearing the Sarto name (which incidentally means ‘tailor’). Since then, Sarto bicycles have developed a cult following in the US and the Far East, picking up accolades wherever they’ve been pedalled.

Yet until now there’s been no Sarto so arresting as the 18K. And, indeed, none so expensive. ‘Each Sarto 18K costs £18,000,’ says Sarto’s marketing manager Karim Kalaf. ‘And there’ll only ever be 25 made. This one here is number one.’ But don’t be fooled into thinking the ‘18K’ name pertains to the pricetag. Rather, it’s because the lettering, head badge, chainstay signatures, saddle rivets and fork details are all 18-carat gold. Oh yes, and then of course there’s the crocodile trim.‘The handlebar grips, chainstay protector and saddle are all made from crocodile leather – that’s pretty expensive stuff too,’ adds Kalaf with a chuckle. Yet the Sarto 18K is far from an all-mouth-no-chinos kind of bike. It comes from proper stock. Old money.

Elegant engineering

Sarto 18K gold

‘Antonio is now 83, but he still comes to the factory every day, although Enrico now manages the business,’ Kalaf continues. ‘Over the years Antonio has worked with every material in the bike industry: first steel, then titanium, aluminium and, since early 2000, carbon fibre. He’s made frames for a number of professionals – rebadged of course – including [multiple Vuelta and Giro winner] Tony Rominger and Eddy Merckx, although I’m not allowed to say when in their careers they rode Sarto frames.’

While it’s unlikely that you’ll see any pro on an 18K this season (although ex-pro David Millar has been doing a fine job of collecting expensive bikes recently – David, see the web address below), the Sarto Seta frame on which the 18K is based has got some serious credentials. In the much-revered German bicycle magazine Tour (famed for its objective, laboratory-style testing – think Cyclist written by a robot), the Seta triumphed in a custom framebuilders’ group test that included Parlee, Scappa, Calfee, Cyfac, Argonaut and Festka.

Sarto 18K crocodile

‘The 18K is essentially an evolution of the Seta, with modified top tube and seatstays, so it’s as stiff as the Seta but even more comfortable. We use tube-to-tube, hand-wrapped construction. Otherwise that tube cluster would be impossible to make from a mould.’ It’s certainly highly impressive, intricate craftsmanship. The thin seatstays blend seamlessly and symmetrically with the top tube and seat tube to create something that looks as though it has been hewn from a solid block of carbon fibre by an expert sculptor.

‘It’s the sort of thing that you could never achieve in China or Taiwan, where everything is moulded. That’s one of the reasons we’ve kept everything in Italy. Maybe that’s meant we’ve compromised on volume, but it means we can keep a close watch to make sure every frame is perfect.’ Perfect indeed, yet, somewhat perplexingly, the 18K didn’t win the competition it was intended for.

Show stopper

Sarto 18K saddle

The catalyst for the 18K project was NAHBS, the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. ‘We built the 18K for NAHBS, to enter in the Best Campagnolo-Equipped Bike Award,’ says Kalaf. ‘In fact, we built two – this one and a McLaren Formula One-inspired Lampo [Sarto’s aero-road frame]. We were pretty much convinced that if either of the bikes was to win, it would have to be the 18K, but funnily enough it was the Lampo.’

Might the 18K have been just a little over-embellished for the judges? Who’s to say, but it does probably have a few flourishes too many to be a real consumer choice. For one, it weighs around 9kg thanks to the gold, and that’s with the super-light Campagnolo Bora Ultra wheels, Super Record EPS groupset and Enve finishing kit. But it hardly matters. The 18K is an incredible piece of engineering, dressed in the most lavish way – a real homage to the love of the bicycle, as much for the road as the art gallery. And if you like the sound of it but feel it’s going to be hard to justify £18,000 to the other half, you can always go and buy a Seta – a comparative snip at £3,800 for the frameset, and just 700g in weight.

For further details about Sarto, including where to buy, visit Impact Cycle Trading at

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