Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Mario Confente, Part IV

The following article appeared in WORTH (a publication of Sandow Media which reports on issues related to comprehensive wealth management) in March, 2005; written by Brendan Quirk.

"Few photographs exist of Mario Confente. Those that do are in black and white and coarse throughout. Viewed together they offer a blurry, unstaged portrayal of a man attending to the mundane details of his life’s work. They serve as proof positive that labor is at the root of all art, and that, as an artist, Confente toiled in relative obscurity.

Confente was a master builder of bicycle frames. The backbone of a bicycle is its frame, upon which wheels and all other components are mounted. Nothing is more vital in determining the ride quality of a bike—its smoothness or stiffness, its springiness or rigidity. Bicycle frame making is a craft equaled perhaps only by the handmade production of musical instruments or firearms in the way in which aesthetic detail directly impacts the performance of what is, in essence, a functional object.

Confente trained under the legendary Faliero Masi in their native Italy during the early 1970s. Today Masi remains a patriarch of the modern road-racing frame and has the distinction of being the personal frame builder of the greatest bicycle racer in the history of the sport, Belgium’s Eddy Merckx. Confente showed such skill at the torch that Masi chose him to head his new American facility in Carlsbad, Calif., in 1973. Confente built Masi frames there for a few short years before the American operation slowed down. He then seized the opportunity to fulfill his lifelong dream of building frames with the Confente marque, and opened his own workshop in Los Angeles.

Confente made his public debut at the 1977 New York City International Bike Show, where his frames stopped cycling purists in their tracks. His bikes represented a masterful combination of two schools of obsession: the Italian fixation with style and artifice, and the puritanical American mania for manufacturing processes and structural integrity. Confente historian Russell Howe interviewed America’s premier frame builders for the Classic Rendezvous website ( about that now legendary show, and their impressions are remarkably consistent.

Mario made beautiful stuff, and he pushed the American builders beyond a look that we all had, which was kind of simple, plain lines,” said Tom Kellogg of Spectrum Cycles in Breinigsville, Pa. “He forced us to class up our act.”

“After seeing Confente’s bikes at the New York show,” said Ben Serotta, a frame builder in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., “it was clear that he raised the standard.”

The effort required in producing such gorgeous frames was evident in their price. While a custom frame made by Kellogg, Serotta or one of the other American elite in 1977 cost less than $200, a custom Confente ran $400.

Two years after the New York show, Confente died of heart failure. He had built 135 frames: 124 for road racing, 11 for track racing. In the 25 years since, the unparalleled craftsmanship of his frames have become intertwined with the immutable laws of supply and demand. No other brand of bike has seen such a precipitous increase in value. A $400 Confente frame in 1977 required an additional $400 to equip with components. If pristine, this $800 complete bicycle commanded $3,000 to $4,000 in the late 1990s. As recently as 2003, Confentes sold for well over $6,000.

Given this consistent and dramatic climb in value, would it be wise for the investment-savvy cyclist to hunt down a Confente? The fact that there is no such thing as a clearly defined vintage bicycle marketplace complicates the answer. Rather, vintage bicycle cognoscenti have a few favorite gathering points, the best-loved being the Classic Rendezvous website. But Classic Rendezvous is hardly commercial; it is a not-for-profit site maintained, it states, “to encourage those interested in enjoying and preserving vintage lightweight racing-style bicycles of the period from the early 20th century until 1983.” Its goals are to identify makers, present pictures of fine bicycles and information about the marques and their history, offer information about resources and offer “camaraderie among the buffs.”

But commerce follows close behind. Classic Rendezvous has both an email list and a classified section to provide the closest thing to a solid marketplace for vintage bikes that an enthusiast can find. One collector, Douglas Brooks of Rochester, N.Y., lovingly describes it as the kind of place where you see “devotion usually reserved for religious zealots and neurotic dieters.”

The passion of Classic Rendezvous devotees, though, cannot obscure the fact that the vintage bike market is by all accounts both small and thin—a truly esoteric cul-de-sac of a marginalized sport. Buying a bike in hopes that it will appreciate is inherently risky, in light of the size of the market. If, like millions of Americans, an enthusiast has caught the bug by watching Lance Armstrong win six consecutive Tours de France since 1999, and is determined to purchase a bicycle as an investment, a few absolutes apply.

To begin with, the buyer must invest in a proven marque. Beyond Confente, the other solid bet is the French cyclotouriste bikes of Rene Herse. What Confente has become for collectors of road-racing bikes, Herse’s bikes of the 1950s and ’60s are for the touring crowd. While Confente made frames alone, Herse took a holistic approach to bicycle manufacturing; he crafted proprietary lights, fenders, stems, bars and drivetrain components. Each bike was a comprehensive solution for getting riders from point A to B in a comfortable, elegant and completely self-sufficient fashion.

Collectors must also purchase a bike that is as close as possible to its mint original condition. As Brooks says of Japanese Herse fanatics, “There is no price they won’t pay for a perfect French bike, which may send my children to college.” Michael Kone echoed this sentiment in an article in the Vintage Bicycle Racing Newsletter: “Because the original proprietary bits are nearly impossible to find, missing parts can severely impact value. Theoretically, really mint examples in small sizes with all the right bits may have values much greater than $4,000 . . . .”

Among the details required to manufacture an exceptional steel frame, bicycle aficionados pay attention to two above all others: the ornateness of a frame’s lug work, and the quality of the brazing that mates the steel tubing to the lugs. Think of a lug as a socket into which the builder inserts various tubes of the frame in order to make the bike whole. What distinguishes a lug from a socket is that a socket is a bland interface with no cosmetic virtue, while each lug—a bike sports five or six separate lugs—is a minisculpture. Gorgeously detailed tendrils of steel snake from the body of the lug and encircle the ends of a bike’s various tubes. A frame builder uses brazing heat and molten metal to marry each tube to the lug itself. The more intricate the lug, the more difficult the brazing process.

Some collectors treat their bicycles as objets d’art. But Confente owner David Novoselsky of Chicago suggests that there are fundamental differences between bicycles and traditional aesthetic collectibles. He also sports a fine coin collection, of which he admits, “The thrill of the chase gave me more pleasure than the collection itself. But riding my bikes is the best part of collecting them.” Brooks is of the same school of thought. “Some, like me,” he says, “won’t keep any bike that isn’t his size and isn’t meant to be ridden. It is true that I rarely take out the four-speed Cyclo rear derailleur 650B Rene Herse, but it does ride perfectly, and it’s my size.”

The majority of bicycle collectors are, first and foremost, cyclists. Not unlike the crisis of an oenophile, the bicycle collector is forever tempted to savor his object of desire. Bicycles are designed as functional art, and nothing would be more natural on a warm spring day than to take a spin on a mint Confente or Herse. For the investment-minded collector, however, it is best to put aside function. Bikes with obvious signs of use might not dissuade a buyer with plans to ride the bike, but, as Kone writes, “If it isn’t of interest to a hard-core collector, then it may only be worth a fraction of what the really desirable ones fetch.”

The best possible solution for the financially motivated bicycle connoisseur is to locate a mint Confente or Herse and delight in it as pure art—make it a treat for the eyes, rather than the quadriceps."

Photo: accompanied article

UNICEF Inspired Gift: a Bicycle for $34.06

My friend April, who authors the excellent, sent this important item along:
UNICEF Inspired Gift: a Bicycle for $34.06. Your purchase will provide a bicycle to help health workers reach vulnerable children in remote communities. Having access to a bicycle for a health worker or midwife can help increase the health standards of children in remote villages and communities in developing countries. A small price, $34.06, to pay for such an important gift!

A Fabulous Italian Home in ........
 Austin, Texas!
The home of Lance Armstrong. Perthaps having lived in Lake Como influenced his requirements, you think? Wow.
Armstrong will be racing in the Giro d'Italia for the first time this year hoping to add a pink jersey to his collection of yellow jerseys.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

NJ: A Long Ride for a Blueberry Muffin

Monday, December 29th: Beautiful day, 40sF, with lots of sunshine; it was a good idea to push off riding yesterday to today. My ride took me through the towns of Long Valley, Middle Valley, Califon, High Bridge, Glen Gardner, and Woodglen.

In High Bridge I ventured onto Buffalo Hollow Road (now paved) which gave me a nice surprise in the way of a view of Spruce Run Reservoir glinting in the sun. The reservoir covers 1,290 acres with 15 miles of shoreline for recreation; it's the third largest reservoir in the state after the Round Valley and Wanaque reservoirs.

After that my goal was to get to the Woodglen General Store for a fresh blueberry muffin. The new owner, Ed, just spent the last two months re-doing the interior. He is cyclist friendly, even apologizing for not having a bike rack outside (being painted).

NJ: December 28th Heat Blast

Sunday, December 28th: The temperature hit a record of 60F (15.5C) damp, cloudy day. The heat blast quickly melted most of the snow which made the roads a real mess. The next day's forecast was for much cooler temperatures but with bright sunshine so I passed on riding today. I just didn't feel like spending a lot of time cleaning my bike AGAIN. Anyway, there were cars to wash salt off of.

In the meantime my friend Ms. S, above, wasn't being deterred by the crappy roads. She was out getting the miles and climbing in. Ms. S is relatively new to cycling but has a big motor. Strong. She breezed through the Route 519 century and in her first triathlon this year she came in 2nd in her age group (with the bike pictured no less).

2009 Resolutions

I hope your holidays have been wonderful.

I took time off from riding up until Christmas and then as weather permitted got two rides in before New Year's eve.

Cycling wise my 2009 goals include:
-continue riding outdoors through much as possible but I'm not going to be insane about it,
-get over my fear of riding rollers, currently still holding onto a rail with one hand,
-ride the trainer, or the rollers, on those miserable winter days,
-be ready to ride a century on the Flatlands Tour, May 2nd; the operative word is FLAT
-join RUSA ( and try some randonneuring events and see what that's all about ("randonneuring is long-distance unsupported endurance cycling. This style of riding is non-competitive in nature, and self-sufficiency is paramount. When riders participate in randonneuring events, they are part of a long tradition that goes back to the beginning of the sport of cycling in France and Italy. Friendly camaraderie, not competition, is the hallmark of randonneuring."),
-build up the Jamie Swan frame once it's back from painting by Tom Kellogg,
-collect the final Campagnolo Record 10 components so I can finish the Cipollini Cannondale,
-have fun!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

Season's Greetings from the Confente Family

The Confente family sent their season's greetings along with some new images of Mario Confente. The last image I had taken a photo of but this is much better; Mario Confente is in the center with Jim Cunningham of Cyclart to the right. The cyclist on the left is well known but his name escapes me at the moment.
Note: two emails have been sent to me after posting the above regarding the rider on the left as follows:
1. "Looks like it might be Jonathan "Jacques" or "Jock" Boyer?"
2. "The rider is well known with good reason-he was the first American to ride the Tour de France-Jock Boyer. However, the bike here isn't a Confente-it's a Lejeune. Mario was interested in the bike's geometry." submitted by George Hollenberg MD, of
Wikipedia has the following, as of December 24, 2008, about Jonathan "Jacques" or "Jock" Boyer:
"Jonathan "Jacques" or "Jock" Boyer (October 8, 1955, Utah, USA) was a professional bicycle racer who, in 1981, was the first American to participate in the Tour de France. Boyer grew up in Monterey, California and was a member of the Velo Club Monterey there.
Boyer raced as an amateur in Europe from 1973, after joining the ACBB club in the Parisian suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt. The club frequently provided riders for the Peugeot professional team, which had had English-speaking riders since the Briton, Tom Simpson, led it in the 1960s. Boyer, however, turned professional in 1977 for the smaller Lejeune-BP team, sponsored by a Parisian cycle company and an international oil giant. He first competed in the Tour in 1981, when the organiser, Félix Lévitan, encouraged him to wear not his team jersey but a Stars and Stripes design which suggested that he was the American national champion. Many have said that Lévitan, who looked after the financial aspects of the race while his colleague Jacques Goddet managed the sporting side, saw Boyer as a way to attract further American interest and money. Boyer rode the Tour de France five times and finished 12th in 1983........"

Search within my blog for Confente for other entries about Mario Confente.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

NJ: Snow and Ice

December 20th & 21st: Snow and ice. Roads a mess, and they will stay that way until it warms up. With some good fortune wel'll have some warm days with strong sun and this stuff will melt. If not, it can remain messy for a long time.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Campagnolo 50th Anniversary Group For Sale

Just yesterday I was blogging about Campagnolo's Super Record gruppo introduced for their 75th anniversay priced at $3,200. In 1983 Campagnolo also released a special gruppo for their 50th anniversay. It was much more beautiful, in my opinion, and complete than the current offering. The 50th anniversary gruppo was beautifully engraved, had gold accents, and came with its own presentation case. Gruppo 00002 was presented to Pope John Paul II. There were approximately 15,000 of these anniversary gruppos made. From time to time a complete set comes on the market as is the case here. Being sold by a friend he purchased the gruppo in 1983 when they first came out. Through the years he resisted the temptation to mount it on a frame; it has remained tucked safely away in the back of a closet ever since he acquired it. The parts have never even been removed from the case (the tape holding them in is still there).
He also still has all of the original paperwork for the gruppo, and the envelope it came in, the numbered card, cables, and the Campagnolo seal that came on the case.

It strikes me as a much better value at $4,000, especially for a low serial number of 397. My friend can be contacted at wbnash AT msn DOT com for more details.

Photos: are of the actual gruppo being sold

Friday, December 19, 2008

Campagnolo Super Record: the Prices!

Campagnolo "Super Record" has been re-introduced, for Campagnolo's 75th anniversary, after an absence of more than 20 years . As in the past it is once again the top of the line. And, so is the pricing which is really astonishing. A gruppo, minus hubs, headset and seatpost, is approximately $3,200.00.

The individual component prices are yet more staggering. Take the carbon crankset. Price $999 EXCLUDING the external cups which are sold separately.
Shifters, $625 (those slots are nice though):

The new cassettes are very expensive, especially considering that they are a mix of steel (5 cogs) and Ti (6 cogs). Price $470.

We should be grateful that Campagnolo hasn't announced the Super Record bottle cage as the now downstream Record is already priced at $160. When they get around to it maybe it will be $200?

Campagnolo was nice enough to send the best of Season's Greetings to everyone. Much appreciated, now please do something about these incredible prices.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

NJ: "Avoid Being Deceased"

Thursday, December 18th: Back in Verona, Italy, I had asked a friend of mine, who was approaching 90, "What's your secret to longevity?" His answer was, "Avoid being deceased."

That's probably the best reason I can come up with for riding this year through Winter. That and not losing fitness in order to arrive in good form for those early Spring centuries. Once I wrap my brain around getting out the door, riding is actually quite enjoyable. In particular I like the serenity.

There is a big snow storm moving in tomorrow morning which is going to be followed by more snow two days after that. That will make a real mess of the roads due to the use of salt and cinders.

Photos: a Christmas display in front of a home in Califon, farming machinery indicating that Middle Valley was settled in 1738, the Lamington General Store

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Italian Tifosi Vote on Hardest Stage of 2009 Giro

Italian cycling fans (tifosi) were asked in a ballot, "Which will be the hardest stage in the 2009 Giro del Centenario?" 8,500 cyclists voted as follows:

1. 10th stage from Cuneo to Pinerolo, 21.4% of the votes

2. 5th stage from San Martino di Castrozza to Alpe di Siusi, 18.1%

3. 19th stage from Avellino to Vesuvio, 17.5%

4. 16th stage from Pergola to Monte Petrano, 17.4%

5. 17th stage from Chieti to Blockhaus, 13.4%

6. 12th stage, time trial of Cinque Terre, 12.3%

Photos: profiles of the 10th stage, voted the most difficult


Monday, December 15, 2008

Italians at 2009 North American Handmade Bicycle Show

The premier bike show dedicated to custom bikes is the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS). This year it was held in Portland, in 2009 it will be held in Indianapolis, Indiana from February 27 to March 1st. The website for more information is:

Last year Dario Pegoretti and Tiziano Zullo were exhibiting from Italy. Tiziano Zullo has, of today, registered for the 2009, and 5th edition, of the show.

ZULLO is less know so here is some history of the ZULLO brand (taken from his website

Tiziano Zullo was born in 1952 at Stallavena, a small village close to Verona in the North of Italy. His family came from “Zulli”, a little mountain village. Tiziano started racing at the age of fourteen. He road raced in the summer, and spent the winters racing cyclo-cross. He raced for about ten years in both regional and national races. In the early seventies, Tiziano came into contact with the world of frame building through the Italian artisans that were renowned for their skills. Soon, he too was building frames.

The very start was spent on a steep learning curve. Though many had offered a helping hand, very few delivered on their promise. Slowly but surely he grew his small business. Eventually he would supply frames to some better known Italian companies. As well as supplying these other companies, he also sold frames within his local area under his trademark ‘Zullo’. From about this time, ‘Zullo’ frames were supplied to amateur teams in Verona. From 1978 he was able to export his brand to countries like Germany, France, the USA and Australia.

In 1985 he crossed paths with top Dutch professional team TVM. This would lead to Zullo being the frame supplier of the team from 1986 until 1992. The team was well known for such top professionals as Phil Anderson, Dimitri Konychev, Jesper Skibby and Scott Sunderland.

The TVM team utilised the best of frame technology available at the time. Using everything from Columbus SL, SLX, MAX and MS on road, time trial, track and even cross bikes. Zullo frames would be ridden on the roads of Milan San Remo, the Northern Classics and the Tours De France, Giro d’Italia, La Vuelta and World Championships.

In 1994, Zullo would move into the production of tig-welded aluminium frames. Eventually this would lead to the production of combined aluminium/carbon frames. In 2003, Zullo was able to offer made-to-measure full carbon frames. Nowadays, Tiziano Zullo is still involved in the production of some, mainly steel frames. Alongside this, he is still responsible for all the frame graphics and some of the frame painting."

Photos: some of the Zullo frames available; the twin plate sloping crown is available with the INQUBO track frame; last bike is a replica of the 1991 TVM team bike
The current full list of exhibitors:
Ahearne Cycles,
Alternative Needs Transportation,
Baily Works, Inc,
Bicycle Forest,
Highway Two,
Caletti Cycles,Calfee Design,
Cane Creek Cycling Components,
Cantitoe Road,
CCP Ltd,
Cherubim by Shin-ichi Konno,
Cicli Polito,
Co-Motion Cycles, Inc
Coho Bicycles,
Courage Bicycles,
Crumpton Cycles,
Dean Titanium Bikes,
Della Santa Cycles,
DeSalvo Custom Cycles,
Dominguez Cycles,
Don Walker Cycles,
Ellis Cycles,
Engin Cycles,
Ergon USA,
Geekhouse Bicycles,
Ventana Mountain Bikes, USA,
Curt Goodrich Bicycles,
Groovy Cycle Works,
Hed Wheels,
Henry James Bicycles,
Hufnagel Cycles,
Hunter Cycles,
Igleheart Custom Frames,
Independent Fabrication,Keith Anderson Cycles,
Kelly Bedford Customs,
Kent Eriksen Cycles,
Chris King Precision Components,
Kirk Frameworks Company,
KirkLee Sports,M.A.P Bicycles, LLC,
Naked Bicycles and Design,
National Insurance Professionals Corp,
Nova Cycle Supply,
October Hand Made Bikes,
Paragon Machine Works,
Paul Component Engineering,
Peacock Groove Bicycles,
Sell Italia-ProNet,
Retrotec/Inglis Cycles,
Reynolds Technology,
Rich Adams Custom Fabrication,
Richard Sachs Cycles,
Screen Specialties,
Selle An-Atomica,
Shamrock Cycles,
Sheila Moon Athletic Apparel,
Snappy Caps,
Southwest Frameworks,
Spectrum Powder Works,
Strong Frames, Inc,
Sycip Design,TANGE,L.H. Thomson,
Tiemeyer Cycles, Inc,
True Fabrication,
True Temper,
The Vanilla Workshop,
Velocity USA,
Vicious Cycles,
Villain Cycle Works,
Waterford Precision Cycles,
White Brothers,
White Industries,
Yipsan Bicycles,
ZR Cycles,
Zullo Tiziano

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dario Pegoretti Experiments with Newvex Lugs

Pegoretti is building at least one frame with Richard Sachs' "Newvex Series" lugs. Sachs describes his Newvex lugs as "A modern re-working of the classic Nervex series of lugs." It will be interesting to see if this is a one-off or a future offering.

Photos, courtesy of Martin Appel, were taken during a recent visit to Pegoretti

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Offcial Presentation of the 2009 Giro d'Italia

The presentation of the Centenario (100th anniversary) of the 2009 Giro d'Italia was held in the beautiful La Fenice di Venezia theater today. Stage details (more Italian language practice):

Le tappe

sab 9 1a tappa Lido di Venezia (cronosquadre) 20,5 km

dom 10 2a tappa Jesolo-Trieste 156

lun 11 3a tappa Grado-Valdobbiadene 200

mar 12 4a tappa Padova-San Martino di Castrozza 165

mer 13 5a tappa San Martino di Castrozza-Alpe di Siusi 125

gio 14 6a tappa Bressanone-Mayrhofen 242

ven 15 7a tappa Innsbruck-Chiavenna 244

sab 16 8a tappa Morbegno-Bergamo 208

dom 17 9a tappa Milano-Milano 155

lun 18 riposomar 19 10a tappa Cuneo-Pinerolo 250

mer 20 11a tappa Torino-Arenzano 206

gio 21 12a tappa Sestri Levante-Riomaggiore (crono) 61

ven 22 13a tappa Lido di Camaiore-Firenze 150

sab 23 14a tappa Campi Bisenzio-Bologna San Luca 174

dom 24 15a tappa Forlì-Faenza 159

lun 25 16a tappa Pergola-Monte Petrano 237

mar 26 riposo

mer 27 17a tappa Chieti-BlockHaus 79

gio 28 18a tappa Sulmona-Benevento 181

ven 29 19a tappa Avellino-Napoli M.te Vesuvo 164

sab 30 20a tappa Napoli-Anagni 203

dom 31 21a tappa Roma (crono) 15,3

totale km 3.394,8