At 11:56 AM -0800 12/31/08, Tom Dalton wrote:
>personally, I'd rather hav
>e an excellent but unknown frame from a guy in some small Italian village a
>t a fraction of the price, although actually making a trip to Italy is usua
>lly the only way to obtain such a frame.
It's like artists - everybody tells you of the unknown guy who was as good as Picasso. But what is art anyhow? Important artists are those who changed the art world, rather than just paint pretty picture. If you are looking for influential designs, you have to rate Confente at the top of the list for North America. If you just want a well-riding bike, there probably are others that are as good. (And you can buy wallpaper to cover up the cracks in your walls, rather than hang a Picasso.)
However, even if you are only after function, there are differences, and most reputations are hard-earned and warranted.
I do not know that much about Italian bikes, but in France, it's clear that the names that are recognized are so for a reason. I know many collectors who try to find the small builder whose craft was even better than Herse or Singer, but so far, nobody has found them. There are some makers, like Charrel, Daudon, Maury or Narcisse, who made a few pretty spectacular bikes. Dujardin, Goeland, Pitard, Derche and all the others you find in "The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles" were good builders, too, and some of them turned out the occasional spectacular bike for a special customer or a special event. But when you take their work as a whole, the big ones are unequalled, and the order of Herse before Singer before Routens really is how it should be.
As so often, you get what you pay for. There may be some distortions in the marketplace at any date, because marketing plays an important role. But once products have endured for 50 years or more, they really have to stand on their merits, as the "I wanted one as a teenager" factor has subsided.
With Confente, it may be too soon to evaluate the bikes without thinking about their importance for the U.S. cycling scene. If Confente's bikes are still revered in 30 years, they will have stood the test of time.
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