The culture of Italian cycling is so foundational to our sport that it has reached mythological proportions. It’s as if Italian cycling always existed in nature—like calculus or musical scales—just waiting to be discovered by humanity. Italian cycling is racers and riders, bicycles and components, shoes and clothing, roads and mountains…. It’s hard to define but instantly recognizable.

Words & images: Ben Edwards

But Italian cycling, its heritage and design, its philosophy and ethos, are very much human creations. It began with men like Edoardo Bianchi, who founded his namesake brand in Milan in 1885, and Emilio Costamagna, the owner of La Gazzetta dello Sport, who bankrolled the first Milan–San Remo and first Giro d’Italia in the 1900s.

Ernesto Colnago and Fausto Pinarello are among the more important stewards of Italian cycling today and it’s no surprise that their bikes are the two most desired bikes on the planet. But there is another, a younger man, whose name will likely never be placed on a bicycle’s down tube, who has helped define the recent history of cycling in Italy and will continue to be a great influence on it from the shadows for many years to come.

Meet Jonny Moletta.

“I can say that I have two passions in my life; one is cycling and the other is design,” Moletta says. “Since I was a boy I was a cyclist. My bicycle was completely different than my teammates. I changed all the details every month. I changed the stripes, the saddle, the stickers…. My teammates would ask: ‘Did you get a new bicycle?’ ‘No!’ With just small details the look of my bicycle was new every month.”

Moletta grew up in the Veneto region of Italy, so when it came time for him to trade one passion for another, the decision was quite easy. The Veneto, east of Lake Garda, is home to much of the Italian cycling industry, and after studying design Moletta landed a job at Selle Italia, where he spent four years as the company’s chief designer. While Selle Italia is still one of his clients, Moletta saw a bigger opportunity with his own design firm, a firm he would name Jonny Mole after his childhood nickname.

Today Jonny Mole is an international design and marketing agency with offices in Cittadella, Italy, and Asia and 17 employees. It works with some of the biggest brands in Italian and global cycling—Specialized, KASK, Wilier-Triestina, Selle Italia, Giant, Shimano, Santini—as well as brands outside of cycling such as Lotto and Sportiva. The core of Jonny Mole is what Moletta calls the firm’s “pay-off,” a slogan you’ll recognize: “I Have a Dream.”

“I really connect with this phrase. It was very important for the world, and also for my company, my team. If you don’t have a dream you can’t do this job,” Moletta says. “For us, behind every project there is an important dream. I am the first dreamer of this team, but my entire team is made up of dreamers. This means the approach we have is not to just put drawings on paper, it is to discover the meaning behind a product, respecting the value and heritage of a company.”

When starting a new project, before any design work begins, it’s the discovery of this dream that Jonny Mole makes a priority. In many cases the brands themselves are unaware of the dream—the philosophy that makes a company different, one that can inspire its products and its customers.

“Every company has a philosophy, but very often they are too focused on making a great product or improving sales, forgetting the real value that they have,” Moletta says. “They don’t understand that that value is something they have to show to the market to sell. Our job, and it is the most difficult, is to build the brand’s philosophy; very often we discover it behind old projects or with experiences from years ago or even yesterday. This philosophy will be used to make the product. We discover graphic elements, lines we will put in the product and this philosophy will make the product unique. With these elements they can communicate this in the market. The most important thing is respecting it over time. If you change your philosophy year after year, the customer can’t recognize you and, most importantly, you can’t recognize who you are.”

It’s easy to dismiss the curves and swoops added by a designer, or the graphics and colors used to attract the eye at a bike shop, but the reality is those are the elements that speak to us on a subconscious level. While it’s grams and stiffness crowed about in the ad copy, it’s the designer that tugs at our heartstrings and gets us to open the wallet.

Moletta puts it this way: “This is an important topic, if we consider that high-level technology is available for every company; everyone can buy Campagnolo Super Record or Shimano Dura-Ace, high-quality carbon is available for everyone. Technology and innovation make the difference but, first, you sell a bicycle if it is ‘nice,’ if it is ‘cool’ and if the value of the brand is high. We can support our customers in these points, making a product ‘cool’ and ‘nice’ with the right positions of the logos, of the graphic elements, following trends, making trends. We are not followers—we are proudly a company that makes these trends. You can have the best product in the world but if your brand is anonymous, if the world does not know you have this product, it is not enough.”

The Dream Machine.

It’s hard to argue with that when the breadth of Jonny Mole’s design work is considered. It was Jonny Mole that got Wilier-Triestina back in touch with its storied history and, at the same time, designing the gorgeous and modern Cento 10 Air, one of our all-time-favorite bikes. For Selle Italia, Jonny Mole took the innovation the company is famous for and wrapped it in beautiful design. Recently, Jonny Mole took the brand’s “suspension link movement” concept and designed the beautiful SP-01 saddle around it.

In addition to the countless products his firm has designed, Moletta was able to put his signature on the 2011 Giro d’Italia leader’s jersey, the famed maglia rosa. “As a cyclist, a designer, with the deep passion I have for the sport, I was very, very proud to put my signature on such an important masterpiece.”

Five years ago, Jonny Mole also made waves with a concept bike Moletta called the Dream Machine. With its striking, somewhat alien lines, it would be easy to write the bike off as un-executable concept, but a deeper look shows just how prescient it was. It integrated electronics like GPS and internal junction boxes and batteries in a way brands are only now beginning to catch up to. It brought disc brakes to performance road when they were largely derided as unnecessary, and featured the now ubiquitous integrated cockpit. It was a concept that won the 2013 Taipei Cycle Design and Innovation award.

Despite the success of the Dream Machine concept, don’t expect Jonny Mole to start making bikes any time soon. “For sure I don’t want to be a bike maker, because it is too difficult, too much trouble! We want to be designers, as we are.”

As one of the foremost stewards of modern-day Italian cycling, Moletta and his company are not planning on resting on any laurels. While he feels some of the luster has worn from Italian cycling’s crown, he feels uniquely placed to help restore it and perhaps produce the next great Italian cycling masterpiece.

“The original soul of Italian cycling tradition is a little bit lost, even if Italians still have a deep and important reputation for cycling in terms of products and in terms of races,” Moletta says. “As Italian designers, we are lucky because we have heritage. We are born in a country where there is a high percentage of art and masterpieces; this is in our DNA. It is easier for us to understand the proportions that a masterpiece should have. Walking around our cities we feel this; for us, it’s natural.”

From issue 70. Buy it here.