*Castelnuovo del Garda/Verona, Italy*
On the shores of Lake Garda, close to Verona, Tiziano Zullo has been building road bikes since forty years. Zullo frames have been ridden in the Tour der France, the Giro, World Championships – he is an integral part of the long history of Italian craftsmanship in bicycle building. Not resting on his laurels, Zullo was able to translate his heritage into the modern framebuilding era and contributes to the advancement of his craft.
The steel frame is made of Zullo’s proprietary Dedacciai Eom 16.5 tubes which combine stiffness, agility and light weight. Zullo called this frame Inqubo (nightmare) because the development of this frame – combining all these seemingly contradicting elements into one frame – turned out to be extremely cumbersome.
What inspired you to build? What does the craft and the material you are using mean to you? Is it a job, a passion, an attitude?
I’ve started frame building in spring 1973. Back then I had stopped racing and worked as a caretaker in a small hospital but soon realized that I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. As a racer I often had to ride bicycles that were in a poor condition because the teams in the Verona area couldn’t afford new bikes for the athletes. Many riders shared the same bike, and we were constantly adapting them. So I started to make some frames after work and during the weekends, tinkering around, practicing to weld and exploring different materials. I had only a garage and the basement of my mother’s house, she had to be very patient with all the noise I made. Most important for me was the fact that I created something, this was very rewarding and so I bought the first proper tools for the job. When Columbus finally agreed to sell me tubes (the very first ones being mod.Zeta), I was very proud. Since then things have changed a lot. Now I have all machinery, tools and equipment – I’m sure I could make a frame with my eyes closed.
Working with the Dutch pro team TVM was one of the most important periods of my career. The seven years’ experience was more than a school for me, I’ve learned so much being around the riders in the great races. It’s not just a rider on a bicycle, his character influences the kind of frame I build for him. This period changed my idea of framebuilding a lot.
I’ve always tested different materials and tried everything from steel to aluminium, carbon, and now also titanium. My heart beats for steel, it’s the material that I love most to work with, that gives me the freedom to manifest my creativity and you know….you never forget your first love!
How do you make a bike? What’s important to you in the process and what is it that sets you apart from other builders?
In all these years of framebuilding I have learned that the main thing is to plan the frame very carefully. The geometry of a bike is so important, I would say it is the most important thing. After this you can choose the materials and the rest, but it is crucial to design the frame geometry very accurately.
I respect every framebuilder, you can’t do this job if you don’t love the bicycle. Everyone puts all his skill, experiences and love for what he does into the production. I’m a romantic when it comes to my job, I don’t know if this sets me apart from other builders…I sincerely hope not. I am always happy to help new builders finding their way into this world and often they stay some time in my workshop. Then they can watch me work and I can help them with the welding, cutting and filing. At the beginning I often see that they are afraid to use the materials and the tools, they work with fear. I stay in touch with them and often they call me with questions.
What does the Rapha Continental mean to you and to the bike you’ve built for us?
The Rapha Continental represents a way of cycling that belongs to me since many years. I love to go out on my own or with friends, for me it is important to follow my own rhythm, to perceive the nature around me, the seasonal change and to discover unknown territory.
The frame I’ve built for the Rapha Continental is made of Dedacciai Eom 16.5 tubes that are manufactured to my very own specifications. I love this tube set that I’ve designed together with my Japanese collaborator, Maso. We worked out every detail of this frame, starting form the idea that we have many tall and sometimes heavy clients, our purpose was to build a very strong and stiff frame that is at the same time comfortable. Personally I think that the design of this frame is extremely beautiful, it is truly Italian craft, coming from the tradition with a modern handling and response.
Tell us about your favourite bike ride.
In winter I ride around Lake Garda, it is quiet, no tourists and the roads are in good condition. In summer this is impossible so I take the cycling route to Affi in the north. The route follows the river Adige between Vipiteno and Verona, about 250 km overall. There is another nice one form Peschiera del Garda leading south to Mantova. There are plenty of options in the area, I was born in the mountains north of Verona, there around my village Grezzana I know every road and every trail.
In our journey to explore the Hidden Europe, where do you think we should go and ride and why?
In my area I would recommend the hills of Lessinia, about 20km north of Verona. I call it the undiscovered area as there is no traffic and only very few cyclists. Only since a few years some teams go there to train.
What would you do, if you weren’t building bikes?
Well, I can’t imagine my life without this work. I only can say that in these times I’d love to be a framebuilder in Portland. Years ago I was exhibiting there at NAHBS and I enjoyed the scene there so much.
For more information visit: www.zullo-bike.com