A trip to Walthamstow to check out Racer Rosa, a friendly Anglo-Italian bike builder.
Off the busy High Street in Walthamstow, East London, lies a quiet mews of industrial and office units. Nestled in the corner, near the busy Grove CafeÃŒï†, is a tiny bike idyll.
Racer Rosa first caught my attention about 18 months ago. Not unusually for a mind- numbingly dull job, I spent a few hours one afternoon browsing the internet and came across the Guardian’s ‘Green Living’ blog with a header that boasted The bicycle manufacturer that aims to be greener than the rest. I became engrossed in this website and the "Racer Rosa Way". I was particularly absorbed in the bikes that Diego had built up. Looking at bikes is great.
Nick from Vulpine and I arrived to be greeted by an avuncular Diego. Tall, bespectacled, exuding quiet friendliness and Italian charm. He hails from Padua in the Veneto region of Italy, thusly greeting us with coffee and cakes as we stepped inside.
Diego Lombardi *CLICK IMAGE TO VIEW FLICKR SET*
The studio showcases Racer Rosa’s work: complete bikes, hand built wheels, with Lombardi Blue bright against the white painted brick walls and pale wooden flooring. Everything in the room pays homage to the history of bicycles and their manufacture. Every corner, desk and shelving unit reveals a classic piece of Italian beauty. Cinelli, Campagnolo, Miche…Nick was in his element as he hoped around the studio, clicking away.
With a certain nostalgia for when Merckx dominated the professional cycling calendar we listened attentively to what made Diego tick and what Racer Rosa was all about. A small business borne out of passion.
What struck me the most was Diego’s contentment and genuine pleasure in his business – sustainable success in these times of austerity. Custom built bicycles or refurbishments. We joked about the Lombardi Blue and I suggested that Racer Rosa were taking literally what Henry Ford was famous for never saying about the Model T…In fact Racer Rosa offers a comprehensive range of colours, but because the Lombardi blue is so striking that is what most customers choose.
Something to clear up are the assertions made in the Guardian Blog. Diego said that although Racer Rosa has a keen eye on their environmental footprint and ethical sourcing they never made the claim that they were attempting to be "The Greenest". As a responsible company they do all they can to to reduce their environmental impact. For instance reusing resources and componentry where possible.
IThe Racer Rosa way is one of robust quality one-offs. Products designed to last, with a respectful bow towards tradition. When you step into the studio you can feel that.
Diego’s Grandfather, Pietro.
Each of the new frames are made to measure and built to the customer’s exact specification. They’re hand built by master frame builders Antonio and Ferruccio Taverna. A highly respected Italian cycling family with over 60 years of experience, using Columbus steel tubing welded with silver fillet brazing, now a rarity.
The Racer Rosa name? Is it coincidence that there is only a difference of 1 syllable from the Pixies album ‘Surfer Rosa’? Diego produced an original vinyl copy of Doolittle with a well worn cover and his love of the band is obvious.
A parallel can be drawn between Steve Albini’s production of Surfer Rosa and Racer Rosa. The way in which Albini captured the true essence of The Pixies and what Diego is doing with Racer Rosa. Drawing out the very things that keeps the passion of cycling alive. Being a big fan of both Albini and cycling, I really appreciate that.
After chatting away about bikes, cycling, music and a smidgen of politics it was time for Nick and I to leave. I’d love to meet Diego again soon, such a shame that his studio is in Walthamstow!