My memories of Mondonico date back to the early 1990s. It was likely in Road Bike Action where I learned about Mondonico and the shop’s use of the pinned and lugged building method instead of the lugged method that had become favored by modern builders because it was less labor intensive. Although I list sources towards the end, a lot of the history here is from BikeRaceInfo.com, which is the website of the former owner of Torelli Imports– the only U.S. distributor I can remember for Mondonico.
Starting in 1929 with Giuseppe Mondonico and younger brother Angelo, the Mondonicos built lugged steel continuously until 2006. The first Mondonico shop opened in 1929, with Giuseppe building frames and Angelo performing repairs. Bikes were then a major form of transportation in Italy, especially in the small villages. With the global depression, most of the shop’s business turned to repairs, but the shop survived World War II. Afterwards, Angelo turned to other work, while Giuseppe continued running the shop. After the war, the Mondonicos opened a coffee shop next to the bike shop; the connection between cycling and coffee goes back a long time after all.
The shop closed after Giuseppe died at the end of 1973 and Antonio moved on to build frames at others’ shops, including Gianni Motta’s in 1976 and 1977 and then Ernesto Colnago’s until 1979. The Colnago connection dated back to Ernesto’s racing days as he once rode for a team based out of the Mondonico shop. Antonio moonlighted as a team mechanic due to his love of cycling and served as the mechanic of a young Sean Kelly.
In 1979 Antonio left Colnago and opened his own shop. In 1984 Antonio and Paolo Guerciotti partnered to build frames under both names. Although the venture was successful, building as many as 2000 frames a year, Antonio decided to return to artisanal frame building in the back of his house in 1989.
Mondonico frames have won classics and made the podiums of the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia while ridden by Claudio Chiappucci. The accolades went to the brand that paid for marketing rights. It is less of an issue now that most pros are riding molded carbon frames, but it was much more so when the biggest discernible difference was the paint job since everyone was riding bikes with round tubes. For example, Andy Hampsten’s “Huffy” on which he won the 1988 Giro was built by John Slwata whose brand is Land Shark. The rest of the team bikes were built by Serotta. There are a lot of examples of this and there is even the term “builder of trust” to describe a builder who made bikes for professionals that were then painted to match whatever the team bike was. Among the most well-known examples of such a builder is Dario Pegoretti, who was known for great bikes but more so his personality.
Antonio and Mauro worked together in their small shop, focusing building the best bikes they possibly could. Although Mondonico used carbon for some rear triangles, the shop always built steel. At that time, the market was shifting away from steel to lighter and oftentimes less expensive aluminum and carbon fiber frames. Even titanium frames were taking away from the market for steel, though they did not offer a cost advantage over steel.
In around early February 2004, Antonio and Mauro advised Torelli that it was their last major distributor and they would close their due to declining orders caused by the market shift to carbon and the dollar’s depreciation, which led to significantly price increases for the U.S. Market. Although Mondonico was building Mondonico bikes, at least some of the bikes sold as Torellis were also built at the Mondonico shop. In September of 2005 Antonio and Mauro made a last trip to the U.S. to take orders. Antonio retired and Mauro stayed in the bike business, now working for Colnago.
As noted above, Mondonico was known for its pinned and lugged construction method. The pins feel like nails inside the tubing. This “pinning” process holds the tubes together while the lugs are brazed, after the tubes have been cut and mitred to a perfect match. The pin inside the tube looks like a tack. Outside of the lug, the builder cuts the pin is cut and grinds it down flush with the metal. Steel frames are usually brazed by hand with the tubes held in place with a jig and the builder heating the joints with an oxy-acetylene torch. It is the same sort of torch used for welding, but is used differently in brazing because since the base metal is not melted.
Many frames were originally brazed over an open hearth instead of a torch, which limited the use of frame building jigs. In these days, the frame joints had to be pinned or tack-brazed in place before the frame could be to the hearth where it could be exposed to the heat one joint at a time. where one joint after another would be exposed to the heat of the hearth flames. This method has fallen out of favor now with the more effective torch method. By the 1970s, very few builders still used it. Mondonico continued to use the pinned method even with torches and jigs, which was considered useful for building.
This particular specimen is a 70th anniversary model. To me, the Mondonico has a soul that cannot be found in the mass-produced bikes. For those who appreciate bikes as works of art rather than tools, there are fortunately a lot of options among the many great small builders working today. To me, this Mondonico is special because it is not only a beautiful frameset, but a connection back into cycling history from a family shop.
You can still get your hands on a bike built at the Mondonico shop, but you will have to look a bit. Although there’s always eBay and classified ads, South Salem Cycleworks has several Mondonicos as some Torellis, some or all of which may have been built at the Mondonico shop.
If you are reading this and note any errors or other information I should know, please drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources and additional reading:
Below are some photos.