Golden Oldie from April 2000:
With the recent death of legendary frame builder Faliero Masi I thought the group might be interested in the following interview that appears on the Torelli site. Bill McGann (Simonian) is owner of Torelli (aka "Chairman Bill")...
Chairman Bill talks to Faliero Masi
In the Fall of 1991, I sat down with Faliero Masi at the Milan Bicycle show. Cicli Masi of California was planning the "Barcelona Commemorative" frameset and needed to know exactly what Olympic games had riders earning gold medals on Masi frames. The post-1972 games were no problem, as they had all seen California Masi frames ridden to gold medals. Those were known. The earlier history needed to be nailed down.
I took this as an opportunity to learn more about the great man's history. I wanted to know more about his relationships with some of the great riders, and also about his work as team mechanic. In the days before the huge dollar expenses of a pro team, a mechanic such as Faliero Masi would not only service the bikes on a tour, he would build them. This gave him a magnificent opportunity to observe every aspect of bicycle design, construction, and use from the raw tube to the end of the race.
My wife Carol and I met with Masi, along with Antonio and Mauro Mondonico. Mauro Mondonico served as translator, my own Italian being hopeless for the task. At the time, Mauro's English was not as fluent as it is now. The responses Masi gave us were short, clipped, and precise. We could not take down his responses literally. The conversation is reconstructed from our notes and I believe, accurately captures the essence of Masi's responses. Unfortunately, time was short, and the translating process was cumbersome and time consuming.
Antonio Mondonico & Faliero Masi at the Milan Bicycle Show
Masi walked to the show grounds from his house dressed impeccably in a houndstooth sportcoat and sportshirt buttoned at the top button, but no tie. His handshake was dry, solid and firm. He brought with him an early issue of "Winning" magazine that carried an interview of him. He thought it would give me help. He also brought a copy of a letter to him from Fausto Coppi.
Chairman Bill: Signor Masi, when did you build your first frame? Faliero Masi: I was 16 years old. I went to school, came home and built frames. I learned by doing.
CB: When you first started building frames, we know that you thought that the bicycle as it then existed needed much improvement. What were the specific areas of cycle design that you set about to change? FM: Everything. There needed to be different tubing for racing bikes.
CB: Who was the first champion to win a major race on a Masi? FM: Magni, around 1924.
CB: When did you open the bike shop under the Vigorelli? FM: 1952. And in 1942, I built frames for Learco Guerra. (This referred to the previous question)
CB: What Olympic games had riders winning medals on a Masi? FM: Melbourne, Rome, Munich. (Note, Montreal Los Angeles, and Seoul were sites for wins on Cicli Masi frames from California).
CB: What events? FM: I am 83 years old. It is hard for me to remember all these details. Maybe the magazines can help you on this.
CB: What Tours de France were won on Masi frames? FM: Bahamontes, Nencini, Riviere.
CB: What great Classics were won on Masi? FM: I can't remember them. There are so many. The KAS team rode Masi frames for 11 years. I built for Faema and Peugeot. In 1946 I built the Raleighs.
CB What professional world championships were won on Masi? FM: Adorni, Merckx, Van Looy. For 7 years I was Van Looy's builder.
CB: Are there any other world hour record besides Coppi's that have been won on a Masi? FM: Timoner. He was world champion 6 times and won the world hour record. (Note, this was for motor-pace racing).
CB: There is a famous picture of Coppi holding you after he won the World Hour Record. Do you have a copy of this picture? FM: I don't have any of the old pictures any more. You might check with La Gazzetta Dello Sport.
CB: We know of some of the great riders for whom you have provided cycles: Merckx, Coppi, Anquetil, Simpson, Maspes, Adorni, Harris. Are there any other great champions that rode Masi we should know about. FM: I built frames for Maspes for 6 years. I built for Panbianco for the Giro in 1964. I was the director sportif that year. Also Bobet.
CB: The Italian art tradition is one of technology and techniques passed on from teacher to student over a long apprenticeship. Donatello to Bertoldo to Michelangelo, for example. Who did you learn from? FM No one. I had to start from scratch.
CB: How long was it before your frames were accepted? FM: They were an immediate success!
CB: Because of the huge dollars involved, it seems that it is rarely possible for a builder to be both supplier and mechanic to a professional team these days. Did these multiple jobs in racing contribute to the development of your racing bikes? FM: It is not possible today to be all things. Racing as a laboratory for innovation is probably over. Today, a builder can collaborate with one racer. Racers don't seem to care about this sort of thing today.
CB: Who was the most demanding racer? FM: Maspes was the most difficult. He was a meticulous racer. He even boiled his ball bearings in English oil.
CB: What do you think of non-steel bikes: Aluminum, carbon, titanium? FM: Most don't serve any purpose. They are no good. Most of this sort of innovation is to make money, not to make a better bike.
CB: We know that you collaborated with Tullio Campagnolo on the derailleur. You also invented the internally lugged frame. What other inventions were you involved in: FM: I made brakes for Campagnolo. Adorni won the championship with them. I have also invented a way to make wheels round. Four years ago I was on my way to Mavic when the head of Mavic died in a car accident. (Note: since then, Ambrosio has licensed Masi's rim balancing technique)
CB: What do you think of the components of today?: (This was asked before Campagnolo had come out with their modern "Ergopower Supergroups"). FM: The Nuovo Record and Super Record were the most functional and beautiful ever. Today's groups are "tanto fumo, no arrosto" (all smoke and no fire).
CB: There is a story that when you were a Director Sportif for one of the tours, you saw an opposing racer discard a food wrapper. You then ordered the follow car to stop so that you could see what the racer was eating in order to know how the rider was doing. This story is told to demonstrate your very careful approach to your work. FM: The food wrapper story is not true.
CB: With what racer did you enjoy the closest working relationship? FM: All of them.
The Bicycle of Grand Champions
The story of Masi bicycles is the longest and most glorious in the history of cycling. No name evokes the respect that Masi does from knowledgeable riders. This is because no firm the size of Masi has influenced cycling on a like scale.
The story of Masi starts a little after World War One. Young Faliero Masi at the age of sixteen started to build bicycle frames and to tinker with the rest of the bicycle. Something of his region, Florence, home of the Renaissance, must have been in him and his bikes. Almost immediately, his bikes were recognized for their excellence. He was that rarest of all artists, the successfully self-taught. By 1924, the great Magni was winning races on Masi-built frames.
Working with Race Teams
He continued to build the bikes that were acknowledged by the entire world as the finest. To improve his knowledge of how the bike and the athlete work together, he became the Italian National Team mechanic. In years past, the Tour de France teams were national teams instead of trade teams. He not only brazed the frames, he assembled them into bikes and worked the entire tour with the teams. The Masi reputation for meticulous detail extends to a story that Faliero denies but many in Italy swear is true. He is said to have stopped the follow car when a competing rider from another team discarded a food wrapper so that he might learn what his competitors were eating, and thereby gain an insight into their physical condition.
Masi has said that collaboration on this scale, a builder from a small art shop equipping a powerful Tour-winning team, is no longer possible because of the huge dollars now involved in modern professional cycling. The most that can happen is that a single rider may work with a builder.
In addition to working with the Italian national team, there was a steady procession of the finest riders in the world that came to Masi. These riders did not ride bikes that were branded "Masi". They ended up with the major team sponsor's name. Rik Van Looy's Masi said "Superia". Among the riders that Masi can recall are Bahomentes, Nancini, Riviere, Merckx, Fuentes (the great duels between Merckx and Fuentes were often with both riders on Masi bikes), Adorni, Coppi, Anquetil, Simpson, Maspes, Harris, Panbianco, and Bobet.
Faliero Masi built the World One Hour Record cycles of Bracke (1967) (weight 5960g), Riviere (1958) (weight 6850g), Riviere (1957)(weight 6450g) and Anquetil(1956)(7300g). The only bike in the history of the record lighter than these was Merckx's '72 hour bike at 5750g
Chuck Schmidt L.A.