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There are few names in cycling that guarantee those longing ooohs and aaaahs like the sight of a Pinarello. The bikes have that look, that certain quality that exudes—for lack of a better term and a word you’ll never hear a guy like Fausto Pinarello say—awesome. I can’t explain it. I can’t tell you why, but I know that whenever I see a Dogma, I want to touch it—I want to ride it. Again, I have no earthly idea why, but I’m drawn to the bikes, the name. I’m not the only one. Pinarello has managed to do something so simple, yet all encompassing—make a name that, by its very utterance, makes you want to check your bank account to see if maybe an extra large sum of money just happened to fall into it, so you could, you know, buy a new bike.
Words & images: Jered Gruber
We had the chance to spend a few hours with the man behind the magical brand, Fausto Pinarello. Our chat journeyed far and wide; here’s everything we could manage to fit within the pages of the magazine. We started with age. I turned 30 that day. Fausto crossed the 50 mark in 2012.
“Fifty is better than forty. The forties were terrible. Thirty to forty is OK, but then forty is, ‘Oh, shit! It’s forty. Everything is changing.’ There is pain everywhere. The halfway point is forty though—then you start to go down. You’re OK. You feel good and want to do more, but you have to remind yourself, you’re not twenty anymore. You need to recover more. Maybe it’s because I started working when I was seventeen, but forty was significant. Fifty? No big deal. I had a big party. It was great.”
You’ve been working with the company for 32 years? I was seventeen, and it was time to work. I was in the paint shop. It was five kilometers from here. I worked with three other guys. I decided that I wanted to paint frames. It was good because the color, the paint is the bike’s clothing. The paint is important.
My time painting helped me have a different point of view for the colors and the look of the bike. I am Italian. I always say that I’m luckier than all the other people in the world because I’m Italian. We have that gusto. I’m sure that the Italian people just have something different than the rest of the people in the world. I don’t know. How do you say gusto in English?
I was at the paint shop for five or six years. During that time, we moved from the original paint shop to this area. It was a small company at the time, but every month we hired more. After a year, we had around ten people.
From Monday to Thursday, I worked nine hours a day, and then on Friday, four hours. From eight o’clock to six o’clock, of which, I think I spent five hours in the paint shop. I think we had the only paint shop like it in the world. No one had one like that. I’m not totally sure if it’s true or not, but I think so. I came to find that painting was a passion of mine, and I decided to continue—fifteen or twenty years. It’s easier to have an outside factory do the painting, but I like it, so we continue to do it to this day. That’s why we have seventy people here.
I think my first bicycle show was when I was nineteen years old. It was in Zürich. I took the van, and went to Milan and got the booth. We made a show. We took it down, we went to Milano. I was in the paint shop at the time. I spoke a little English and a little French.
My father worked with me until I was 27 years old or so, but he was getting old. When he retired, everything rolled over to me. I was in charge.
I’m sure that wasn’t, and still isn’t, easy … Some days, I want to be finished with all of this and sell everything. Sometimes, I swear I’ll do it, but I can’t. I would never, but sometimes … cazzo! If you want to grow and stay on the podium of the best bikes in the world, it’s a struggle.
You need to look at everything. If you want to be smaller—I don’t want to say the names of some Italian brands—you don’t need to look around. Fortunately, I’m not like them. They are content, and they are good. The real trouble comes if you want more. Qui si contenta gode. He who wants too much is never satisfied, but he who is satisfied with less can be.
I don’t know why it is so, but there were so many brands that were stronger than ours when we started: Bianchi, Colnago, De Rosa, and so many more. De Rosa was the supplier of my father. When I was seven years old, my father would put me in the small van at six o’clock in the morning, and then we would drive to Milano, to De Rosa. We bought frames, and then came back. We painted the frames and made the brand Pinarello. It was almost 45 years ago. I can’t imagine being the supplier to one of my competitors. There are many companies that do it though.
It sounds like you didn’t spend much time in school. I was not a student. I was not born to go to school. I was born in the piazza, the downtown, with my friends. My brother was the top dog and was in school until he was 25 years old. It was different then though, because he was ten years younger than I was.
My friends were not bandits or bad people, but they were not students. We grew up outside, working, playing, learning. When you grow up on the road, you grow faster. You feel that life is different. You see the good life. When you grow up in the box like my brother, you evolve differently and see the world in a different way. My brother was good, he was perfect. My life has had many colors. In the end, the way I grew up made me more aggressive, less satisfied, always wanting more.
It was different for my sister as well, also because she is a woman. She works at the shop downtown with my sister-in-law.
Do they like working in the shop? It’s a family business. What can they do? Luckily, she likes it.
I have four girls in my family: a wife, two daughters, and a one kilo poodle. She is the only one who listens to me. The only one. She sleeps with me.
Would you say that you approach cycling in a unique way? My mentality has always been different. The big Italian brands haven’t changed much in thirty years. Bianchi, I can understand, they sold the company—now it’s Swedish. Colnago has no son, only one daughter. He was a nephew. I think it’s time to leave it to someone. De Rosa has three sons—they are flat. They have good cars and a good brand if you want to stay the course.
My mentality is different. When you look back at the progression of materials—we started with steel, then went to aluminum, and finally, carbon fiber. It was obvious at a certain point that steel wasn’t the future, same with aluminum. Sometimes, you have to look at what happens outside of your factory. Outside, the words are written plainly.
I am never satisfied. I don’t want to say I want to be the winner every time, but I don’t want to lose. I want to stay up there amongst the best brands. I always say that I’m lucky, because I grew up on the road, outside.
I don’t have a computer. I have two engineers that sit in front of computers everyday. For some things you have to spoon-feed them. They are growing and improving now, but you have to be there each day to indicate which direction to go.
You think, ‘But they are engineers!’ After twenty years of school though, they don’t know what has been happening in the real world. You need to lead them. Outside is the life, and the life is your job.
When I think about my most important competitors now, like Mike Sinyard, Canyon, or Cube, I know that they are the most aggressive now. That also has to do with the background of their owners. Take Mike Sinyard, for instance. He came up a lot like I did. I met Mike Sinyard for the first time at a show in Long Beach in 1982. Sinyard had the biggest booth with the mountain bike clincher. I remember that day. He was there. He was on the road, learning, experiencing, growing. He’s bigger than me now, but I’m OK with that. I’m not satisfied, but I’m happy.
The Italian cycling industry, Italy in general, seems to be run by family-owned businesses. The Italian northeast has long been the richest part of Italy. That was at least the
case until five or six years ago. We have some problems now though. Then again, everyone has some problems now.
The problem now is that there is no change in the companies in the northeast. The change in generations is the problem. I always told my father that he was the luckiest man in Treviso, in the world, because he had me to take over Pinarello. This seems to be rare though. Maybe five percent of companies have someone to take over for them. The story is often the same: the son goes to school, to the UK or the U.S., but who will take the place of the father in the family business? The change in generation is not easy. This is a very big problem.
All these companies—Specialized, Trek, Cervelo, Focus, SCOTT, Merida, Cannondale—they are public companies. They are traded. It’s different for me. If I need one-million euros, I have to call my bank. If they need one-million euros, it’s there. It’s different. If they want a team, they put more money in. It’s public money.
At this level, I’m the smallest of the big companies. I want to stay here, and I’ll fight to do that. They are rich, they are big, and from the outside they don’t appear to have major financial problems. When they go to their suppliers, they can say, ‘I have Cannondale, Diamondback, etc.’ They can better name a price because they’re guaranteeing the supplier a lot of work. If it’s me with Pinarello though, it’s a small job, so the price is higher. This is normal. This is business.
How do you stay within sight of someone like Mike Sinyard? We survive. Mike Sinyard leaves me alone. I’m very small. He doesn’t bother with me. He can survive with me in the same shop. At the high-end shops, there are Pinarellos, fi’zi:k, Garmin all alongside Specialized. You cannot find a big shop with Giant, Trek, and Specialized together. I can survive in the same shop because we are small.
I think it’s good to stay small—on the high-end. I am not able to be like Specialized. Then again, I don’t want to. They started with accessories, then mountain bikes, then road bikes. I am all about road bikes. We started like that.
They have a lot of money and a lot of power, especially when it comes to marketing. It’s easy. How many teams are in the WorldTour? Nineteen. I think there are fourteen different bikes. Pinarello sponsors two of those teams, Movistar and Sky. I can say 100% that Pinarello is recognized as high-end.
There is this idea that if you sponsor a ProTour team with a bike, then you have a good bike. I’ve seen ProTour bikes in the past where I said, ‘Oh, you can’t buy this bike, it’s not good.’ They replied, ‘But it’s very light!’
And? Weight isn’t everything. We need to fight this part of the equation. We need to make the best product, but also we need to work with the mentality of the consumer to explain why this bike is different than the others. The consumer will look at bikes and consider our bike the same as another because they are both raced at the ProTour level. It’s not the same though, and it’s a challenge to explain that.
How do you make a better bike? It’s my job. The drivability and handling of the bike are extremely important to me. We have the best geometry for handling. We have many years of experience with this, and it’s something I am proud of. With every new bike we start with fixed points that we will not change. When it comes to handling and drivability, the teams don’t want us to change anything. They recognize that the handling is great. We say we want to change the frame, and they always say, ‘Don’t change the drivability!’
I had big problems last year with Specialized trying to get Sky and Merida trying to get Movistar. I put more money on the table for the teams, but I put a lot less money than them. I won though. Everyone tried to get Team Sky—Cannondale, Trek, Specialized, because they made a big offer. It is the best team in the world whether they win or not. They might not be the most approachable team, but they are without question the best. In terms of feedback, they’ve been the best at providing us that since Miguel Indurain. He was amazing, especially because he was such a big guy. It is not easy to make a big bike. It’s easy to make a 50 or 51. But a 59 for a man who weighs around 80 kilograms producing I don’t know how many watts? That’s another thing entirely.
The sponsorship war wasn’t all about money though. Many brands offered more money, but in the end we got support from the team. If you want to change something, you need to ask the riders, the mechanics, everyone. They didn’t break any frames, they loved how they rode, they were easy to work on. Everyone wanted to stay with Pinarello. This is very important to me.
So when I look at improving our bikes, I know I cannot change the ridability—I don’t want to. We have that dialed-in. I can create a different shape, of course. I can improve the aerodynamics, lower the weight, change the layup, but in the end the ridability has to remain constant.
We have fourteen different sizes. Not S or M. Fourteen different sizes. Maybe it’s a bit too much, but our bikes fit properly. They can be ridden by the shortest people, all the way up to the tallest. I know many things about geometry. I know many things about aerodynamics, but aerodynamics is a different world. I need to have someone outside to have the best aerodynamics—F1 engineers.
Of course, there’s the big topic of weight. We need to have one of the best suppliers, and I think we have that in Torayca. We need to try and have the lightest frame we can make safely. I want to sleep at night. I don’t want to have some kind of problem with that in the future. Right now, I think 850 is a good weight to sleep well with; otherwise, the handling suffers. They are together.
You need to have good handling, geometry, the best material, and the weight. Then it’s the look. It’s my job.
The look? I am Italian, of course it’s important to me. I try to make the best riding bike, but also the best looking bike. If you spend three or four thousand euros for a frame, it’s important.
When you are window shopping in Milano or Firenze, you stop to look at what catches your eye, you stop for what is appealing. If it’s not, you continue walking. First they see it—they’re drawn to it—then they ask ‘What is this?’ It has to look good.
The appearance of the bike is very important. While walking around recently, I found a pair of glasses in the window. I stopped because they were nice, and I bought them. A Pinarello is not a product you can buy for ten dollars, it is ten thousand, so I need my bikes to make people stop. I need something like a fashion product. It’s my job.
The most recent result? The 65.1. The 65.1 is an amazing bike. It’s completely different from the Dogma 2. It’s crazy how different it is. We made changes to the bottom bracket, the bearings, and some other things, and the end result is fantastic. I now have a Dogma 2 that I use as my muletto. The Donkey.
Pinarello isn’t much for budget-friendly options, is it? People always ask me why I don’t make more budget-minded bikes. Why? I don’t want to, and I’m not able to force myself to. Why? You have many others that make that kind of bike. Same with E-Bikes, and so on. It’s not my job. I don’t want this to come off bad, but it would be like a Porsche making a Fiat Panda. They can make it, but why? They would never make it. There are big companies that can do that—not us.
It’s not all about the WorldTour riders though. Exactly. Saturday I rode with my group for close to five hours in the rain. When we started, it was cloudy, but we said, ‘Let’s go.’ We made a phone call to Treviso to check on the weather, and they said it wasn’t raining. After thirty-five kilometers it started to rain. They asked if we should come back, but we decided that we were already wet, let’s keep going. It was good. There was a group of twenty-five people. It was a great day, despite the weather. I think I have the best group in the world. Our team numbers about 250. We race the granfondos and have a good time.
We have a few main rules: you need to wear the team jersey without logos, only Pinarello; you have to ride in a granfondo; we start together and finish together.
I am the president. Like Saturday, when it rains or snows people want to turn back, but if you say, ‘No, let’s go’ they will follow. Everyone follows me. It’s good. I like to ride my bike, I like to ride the granfondos. We are fast. It is very important, because the riders on my team are also consumers. I am the first tester, and I’m sure I’m the best tester of my product.
Ninety nine percent of my consumers are like me or my teammates. They are not like Bradley Wiggins. They feel like I do. The first reaction of people trying my bike is the most important. They are friends, they are riders, they are granfondisti, but they are still consumers. They are living in my world. They know many things about bikes, because they are living in a city where there is a company that makes the best bikes in the world—and the clincher, the handlebar, the stem. I feel like they feel. OK, we have a crash machine, and we give the bikes to some riders. What I give to the consumer is very important. They are looking for everything. They know that the product is good, so they look to the color and the shape, then the technical details. Like I said before, if you have a good product in the window, people will stop and buy it.
It’s different now. Ten or fifteen years ago, I was looking at the bikes of some of my competitors. The colors! They were terrible—brown, dull blue, just brutto. Again, I’m lucky that the paint shop was my first job. I also have a good wife. My wife dresses me. My wife picks out my clothes and shoes. My car is blue with black and grey interior. Brown seats. My wife has white seats. The cost is the same. You can choose, and the cost is the same, why not? The same goes for my bikes.
I always try to think about the bikes from as many different angles as possible. Why do this, and not do this? It is my strategy. It’s me. I can justify everything in my frame. I sleep very well. OK, maybe I think about financial problems, or that Specialized wants to sponsor Sky, or that my daughter is with her boyfriend, but not because the Dogma is not a good bike.
From Issue 21. Buy it here.
“The Ventoux never forgives weakness and extracts an unfair tribute... Read more →