PART TWO of the interview with Frank Boifava from Carrera Pro Cycling.
THAT SHIMANO GUY
IN SWITZERLAND A SHIMANO REP APPEARS OUT OF NOWHERE, IT’S THE MIDDLE OF THE 1980’S IN A EUROPE WHERE TEAM MECHANICS SPEAK CAMPAGNOLO ONLY
You became an unwitting accomplice to a stalker from Shimano, when everyone was still using Campagnolo.
The first time I saw this Japanese guy was in Switzerland. We were at a race and I was working on a bicycle changing a cable, I'd thrown the cable on the ground, you do that to keep the workflow going a bit quicker and later pick it up. There's this Japanese guy and he asks me if he can have the cable, and I thought “who the heck is this guy” and I said “yeah keep the cable”, then he starts taking pictures. Then he starts picking up anything we'd thrown away and putting it in a bag. I thought “what’s this guy doing, he's a weirdo” so I started talking with him and found out that he was the top guy at Shimano who headed their groupset development team.
When Campagnolo came to visit you, they looked like a bunch of scientists, there would be a guy holding a part in his hands and another guy who was the engineer who wouldn't get his hands dirty, the labourer and the engineer. So we didn't know what Shimano was, it was like what the hell is Shimano, then I was amazed by this Japanese guy because he followed us at all of the races for the rest of that season, picking up all the bits.
The following season Shimano started sponsoring Moser, GIS. They came up with the first groupset with index, up until then we'd used friction. The system was not working, I remember Moser sprinting one day and losing the sprint because something wasn't working, Mr Colombo, the Italian Shimano importer was at that race. At the time Shimano in Italy was founded by three partners and two had to leave because they were going broke they didn't have enough money to survive. It took Shimano a year to make the index system work but afterwards they had delivered a perfect groupset, so since then Campagnolo have been chasing.
So it was a very tough gig for Shimano to get a toe hold, but then they got it right.
They did it right. Then in the same period mountain bikes were starting to take off worldwide. Gary Fischer had thought about this groupset with multiple gears for mountain bikes and he went to Campagnolo to ask them to help develop it and they showed him the door. So Fischer went to Shimano and that was where the mountain bike groupset was born, as a high production proposition. Shimano began producing them and they started selling in the millions.
By the early nineties Adamo Modolo's beautiful brakes were a casualty of the new Shimano groupset success too.
First of all Shimano got into the market by developing their MTB groupset and that's where they made their money, they developed this great groupset for road racing which they're still improving to this day. Right now, mechanically the Shimano groupset is at a very high level. But the thing that sticks in my mind was this head engineer from Shimano.
Was he following other mechanics from other teams?
Well every time I turned around he was there he followed me around for about six months. That was a big change from Shimano and then the whole sport began to change with the Americans coming in.
The foreign influence combined with technological innovation was inevitable, Europe was still the venue but there were new foreign players changing the game.
There's still a lot to do, progress will never stop, many times you see things regress instead of going forward, but it's part of the process of improving. We shifted over to Shimano too, it was a great groupset I think about three years after I met this engineer we started using Shimano. Then on the Alp de Huez one year this really big Japanese guy comes along. Shimano was owned by three brothers. He bowed and introduced himself as one of the owners then started asking some questions about the groupset, we gave him some feedback and then he took out this little box. You know those old school tools we used for the brake flats, a 13 and a 14, he gave me a set of these as a present, they were gold plated.
So you went from using all Campagnolo and moved over to Shimano.
The approach from the Japanese technicians was very different, simple, very grounded. Coming from Campagnolo where everything was a big scene, they thought they had the monopoly. I think Campagnolo always had higher quality material, the aluminium for example. Mechanically, today, I don't think you can beat Shimano.
These days there's huge emphasis on each new year's model groupsets, selling in the mass market means this years model is current and last years model is already old. Was this the same in the mid eighties say when Corsa Record or eventually Dura Ace was introduced?
That was related to the sponsors contract but only for commercial reasons. So at the end of the year you were getting rid of your spare parts and the bicycles so that you start the next season with new equipment.
How much feedback did you give to sponsors like Campagnolo on product innovation and suggesting improvements?
That's part of the contract, so when they sponsor you it was just expected that we gave feedback on equipment. The usage of equipment that you had back then on a professional team was very high. Originally the same bike used for training was used for racing, later the percentage of usage of equipment dropped, once riders started using three or four bikes. The riders were now training on one bike and racing on another, so it wasn't the same usage. When you have new equipment to test it's very important to use that part a lot to see what's happening in the time frame, it's not only if it's working well today but if it's still functioning well in three months time. That's where Carrera team came in with feedback and were consulted a lot. I think that's died off a bit now because riders have four bikes, so it's 50,000km divided by the number of bikes they have, so nowhere near as much usage for each one. So you actually get more usage from elite amateurs than what you get with professionals. The big change in technology in the professional scene was when Shimano came along. Before that everybody was using Gipiemme or Campagnolo. The Italians thought they were holding the market, they were like gods.
CARRERA BRAND BICYCLES
After initially racing on Bataglin bicycles you started building your own Carrera brand bicycles.
The owner of Carrera Jeans, they were a clothing manufacturer back then, they had a private helicopter and their own plane, they had Carrera, Fiorucci, and the Vagbond brand, it was a huge company. Imerio Tacchella was a brilliant guy a business person like nobody else, he said I want an official bicycle team and I want the bicycles with the same name, I want my own shoes my own glasses, everything Carrera. That's exactly what we did, we started with the Carrera bicycles. Unfortunately after a few years he had a business collapse, Imerio was the only one to believe to keep the manufacturing in Italy. Bennetton and all the other Italian brands went to Russia and other countries to make their clothing. He kept manufacturing in Italy and that was a mistake, he had a business downturn to let go of the bicycle factory. So he left the Carrera bicycle manufacturing to the other three partners, there was myself Davide Boifava and Luciano Bracchi. We were partners at the beginning and after Imerio stepped out of the business. The three of us formed the partnership which still exists today, based in Calcinato, Brescia where we began, now known as Carrera Podium.
After Carrera we had other teams, Davide managed other teams while Luciano and myself were taking care of the bicycle production. Davide never had a lot to do with production. We always owned the same warehouse, we bought this 4,500 square meter warehouse in Calcianato and it was there that we had the professional team headquarters and the bicycle factory together. So we were sponsoring the team through the management of Davide Boifava, we had Riso Scotti and Mercatone the last year with Pantani and Visconti with no Basso. It was quite interesting as a setup, despite the fact that we weren’t a huge multi-national, yet we still covered a professional team on the commercial side without huge investments.
Other Teams after Carrera
1997–1998 Asics-CGA 1999–2000 Riso Scotti/Amica Chips 2001–2002 Tacconi Sport-Vini Caldirola 2003 Mercatone Uno-Scanavino 2004 Barloworld 2005–2006 Androni Giocattoli-3C Casalinghi 2007 Team L.P.R.
The starting point was the jeans company which sponsored us, in the beginning we were a professional team only, then a sponsored team and finally owners of a bicycle factory. If you think about it back in those days there were only black knicks, then Carrera introduced the jeans look knicks and we sold millions of them. Imerio designed those jeans knicks, he was quite brilliant. He showed a lot of courage during that period when things started going downhill, and to top it off his eleven year old daughter was kidnapped then found about thirty days later, Imerio was loved by the team.
Who were the principal frame builders, did you employ north Italian artisans?
Us! There was Luciano who was one of the Carrera team mechanics and one of the partners of Carrera. So Luciano learnt how to build frames and became the principal frame builder at Carrera, we then hired others who worked under Luciano. Practically because I was the only English speaking member of the team I became the guy who took over the commercial side of Carrera bicycles, so I was in charge of sales and purchasing.
From that beginning you obviously ramped up production not only building bicycles for the team but for the mass market as well.
We had three or four frame builders plus our own in house painting section. The Americans were the first to start building mountain bikes in aluminium and we were the first company to start building road bikes using aluminium.
So Carrera bicycles lives on today.
It still exists today, it's between Brescia and Verona. They still have a small production in carbon today. We lived through that period of building with steel and lugs then we went to steel and TIG and then steel TIG to aluminium, always making internally then from aluminium to carbon and now naturally as everybody knows you have to go to the Asian countries.
I heard that Dario Pegoretti had built for Carrera at one stage?
A lot of work is done inside the factories but we also outsourced, so we went to meet Luigino Milani who was the main builder for Pinarello. Milani was from Verona, he was interesting for us with the aim of increasing our production. Milani introduced me for the first time to Dario Pegorreti who was his son in law at the time. Milani said that he'd sent Dario to America to learn TIG welding, because no one in Italy was TIG welding. This was something new coming from the States. So Dario went to America to learn to TIG weld and he became one of the first TIG welders of bicycles in Italy. From there he went through the divorce with Milani's daughter, then set up his own frame building business in Pergine, at Lago di Caldonazzo, up in the mountains near Trento and he made a few frames for us too. Our roads crossed again because close by there was a place called San Patrignano. Now in San Patrignano, this location is where they recover people from drugs. It's a rehabilitation centre. It's very well known because it was created by Vincenzo Muccioli, now Muccioli was a person who had a very high success in recovering people from drug abuse, he had a simple system that involved a lot of work. We can always imagine people in a rehabilitation centre passing all day with a little hammer and screwdriver, but Muccioli went the opposite way. Everything that Muccioli instigated with his work groups had to be very involved and a high level, perfect. Dario became one of the teachers, so he was going up from his factory nearby and teaching this work group how to weld and how to make frames. So these people had to wake up at six in the morning and work all day. For any other outsourcing you might access, production is always related to time so you can loose quality. These people weren't getting directly paid so time wasn't an issue for them. We were actually paying for the frames, directly to San Patrignano and that money was used to keep the people there and to recover from their problems. There was never a precise time of delivery because if one of the workers had a problem they'd just down tools and have a group meeting. Here ten frames could be one week or fifteen days, but that meant the production quality was absolutely perfect.
[Editor's note: Colin O'Brien spoke to Dario Pegoretti's brother Gianni Pegoretti for a Rouleur article, Issue 43 December 2013. Track it down for a different perspective on San Patrignano.]
So that operation was overseen by Dario and there were commercially viable frames coming out.
It was very high level, it wasn't just bicycles there were different workgroups involved in different sectors, one of them was bicycles. They had a very high success in recovery. If the person stayed for a complete five years, you actually had a specialist job on your hands.
They obviously had a fully fitted out workshop for frame building.
Yes the machinery was the top level machinery you could lay your hands on at the time. They had highly qualified teachers like Dario and the support of the University of Trento to help with research and development. It was as hi-tech as you could find and decked out better than any other factory in Italy. It wasn't only a hammer and screwdriver.
Did they build many frames for other companies?
We were their largest customer, other companies did approach them, but the system worked very well for us because our other production was so much larger that it didn't matter if we had to to wait for that extra five or ten days. The funny thing was that we used to go there about once a week and whenever I'd go there I'd sometimes run into Dario. The way he behaves and the way he dresses, "I used to say hey you look worse than these guys", he's always been a character.
I know Dario used to say, "last night I woke up at two O'clock in the morning and I started welding." You'd go to his workshop and it's just littered with cigarette butts. He's a bit of a poet so he writes everything including designs - with a marker on the floors and the walls.
He's really an artist as well then.
He's worse than Van Gogh!
You see it in the artwork on his frames.
He always had that image, that's why I think he had that big success in California.