Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Max Lelli Partners with Sarto Workshops and FRM

For 2011 Max Lelli has partnered with Sarto and FRM to create an entirely new line of bicycle frames based on the concept of made to measure, the option to customize down to the tube level, and Made in Italy. Seven new models are offered.

The new direction of Max Lelli bikes is explained like this:

"Since Italy was the birthplace of modern cycling, the home of the best frame (and component) manufacturers for decades, and arguably still the country with the most passion for the sport, a “Made in Italy” bicycle is held to – and generally meets – a high standard of quality in design, workmanship, and aesthetics. There are still a few bicycle manufacturers out there, icons from the eras of Binda, Bartali, Gimondi, Coppi, Argentin, Bugno, Chiapucci, Moser, Battaglin, and Fondriest, claiming to produce made-in-Italy frames. However, it seems that lately their factories may have moved. What, haven’t you heard of Provincia di Guangdong in Italia? It’s a little far from Veneto, but hey - the Italian tricolore flag painted on the frame must mean it’s the real thing,…certo?

For a while it seemed that Chinese monocoque manufacturing was going to take over the industry completely. Frames produced this way had the advantage of being relatively inexpensive, readily produced in great numbers, and of fairly good overall quality. Max Lelli made frames at a Chinese factory; they were (and are) very good frames, with great ride quality and responsive handling.

But there are limitations to monocoque, and there are limitations to large-scale manufacturing. The first has to do with customizability: essentially, there is none. Once a mold is made, it cannot be altered. For a given frame design, four or perhaps five different size molds are made, and that is the limit of size options for that frame. The second limitation has to do with quality control. That pretty, woven top layer on the monocoque frame doesn’t represent the somewhat chaotic reality of the carbon fiber matrix inside of the hollow frame; inside the frame, carbon fibers suspended in resin are jumbled every which way. When the bladder is inflated inside the frame to compress the fibers and resin into a semblance of even wall thickness, any wrinkles in the bladder or other irregularities in the forces on the wet resin matrix can create weak spots in the frame. Since the frame is made in one or at most two pieces, it is impossible to see any potential weaknesses inside the frame.

For these reasons, Max Lelli Bicycles made the decision to stop manufacturing our frame designs using monocoque molds, and instead switch to a method involving hand-wrapping the junctions between individually-crafted carbon fiber tubes. This method inherently offers a much greater degree of control over the quality since every part of the process is overseen by the frame builder. Instead of pouring resin into a mold and hoping that everything comes out okay (incrociando le dita, or crossing the fingers, as we would say in Italy), the tubes are made from the inside out so that the placement of each fiber is known – in fact planned – and nothing is left to chance. This is accomplished by wrapping individual carbon fiber threads around a mandrel to make the tubes. Then the tubes are cut, aligned together, and the joints are wrapped by hand with more fiber. Each step of the process is completely under the eye of the builder, and completely controlled. No guessing, no surprises, and no mistakes. That’s why we are confident in offering a lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects for each Made In Italy Max Lelli frame.

Customization: How To Make an Old Idea Really New
The handcrafted tube-to-tube method of frame construction used for Max Lelli frames in Sarto’s workshop not only allows infinite customizability in terms of the types and lengths of tubes used and the angles at which they’re joined (i.e. frame size and geometry,) but the ability to strengthen the joints as necessary depending on the needs of the rider for which the frame is designed.

We freely admit that Max Lelli is not unique in offering customizable carbon frames; there are other companies that give the client the option of custom geometry and choose-you-own paint schemes. However, we have a new idea. (We know, new ideas in bicycle manufacture are about as rare as comfortable saddles after 100 miles, but please…hear us out!) Why not offer, in addition to a completely unique geometry, the option to choose the tubes used to construct the frame? There are many choices available, from ultra-light to ultra-stiff, from round (highest strength to weight) to aero. Some of these tubes have been judiciously matched in constructing our stable of five pre-designed Max Lellis (the Vipera, Superleggera, Ultraforte, Liger, and Piuma). However, there are tens or hundreds of possible different combinations of those tubes, any of which could result in an absolutely unique final product.

Do you have ideas about what would best suit your riding style? Why not collaborate with us to design the perfect frame for you, not only in terms of fit but also in terms of function? And let’s not forget style, too; naturally, there will be many paint options available to put the final, exceptional touch on your unique frame (which will have your name on it, of course).

Here is the bottom line, il morale della favola: the world is full of commodity products. Marketers and the companies they work for make billions convincing you – and millions of others – that these products are created with you in mind, to satisfy a unique need that you have. And yet, aren’t you singular and truly individual as a person, with experiences, thoughts, desires, and dreams that no one else shares? Then why should your bicycle be a commodity product that any Tom, Riccardo, or Hårøld can buy and ride? For the maximum in customization, for the maximum in personalization, for the maximum in truly unique style….make your next bicycle a Max Lelli."

For me it's interesting to see carbon frame manufacturing is showing additional movement towards returning to Italy. Whether these capabilities will expand to meet the quantity demands of the most famous brands remains to be seen. On the subject of Made in Italy the matter of "transformation" has been discussed here several times and it will also be interesting to see how this plays out in the future as well.

For more information visit

Photos: three of the seven new models

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  1. This is a great trend and I hope more cyclists take this route to getting a custom carbon bike to their specifications. Its what I want to do with my next bike - my first carbon frame - and its good to see manufactures taking on this philosophy. I wish Max Lelli great success with his business model and I will definitely check him out.

  2. I heard more about this trend at the recent Interbike show. It's wonderful to see frame making returning to Italy! The autoclaves to "cure" carbon fiber frames are not inexpensive but more and more Italian operations are getting them to bring back the artisanal work of frame building to the place where they know and love bicycles more than anywhere else. Viva Italia and genuine, Made-in-Italy bicycles!

  3. Great post!

    I'm interested in one of these Italian made carbon frames, but how much does one cost? Are they less than €2000?