Italian Renaissance

Scatto Italiano is breathing new life into Italy’s bicycle industry—by bringing back time-honored techniques

Ralph Lauren’s Spring 2016 Purple Label campaign is rich in old-world Italian imagery, but nothing gets at the heart of la dolce vita like the picture of Andrew Lauren, in an impeccably tailored brown pinstriped suit, riding a bicycle through Milan. Its frame is painted a deep shade of sapphire, with rich cream-colored accents, and its handlebars appear to be hewn not from steel or titanium, but from a single, elegantly curved piece of walnut. For designers Giuseppe Gurrado and Pietro Nicola Coletta, the bike is more than a prop. It’s their attempt to resurrect an Italian national tradition.

From the Giro d’Italia race that annually snakes its way across the peninsula to Vittorio De Sica’s indelible 1948 film The Bicycle Thief, velo-culture is ingrained in Italy like nowhere else. But more than anything, the country holds the crown for bicycle manufacturing. As recently as the mid-’90s, roughly half of the cycles used in the Tour de France were made in Italy. Today, as the country’s top bicycle brands increasingly outsource production to cheaper regions to the east, that number has decreased considerably.

It’s a challenge for an industry that is core to the Italian identity, but an opportunity for Scatto Italiano, the niche bicycle brand founded in 2012 by Gurrado and Coletta. Childhood friends from the town of Puglia, the duo are both 31 and obsessed with simplicity—though a “simple” bicycle requires nonetheless hours of careful forethought and customization. “With a new car nowadays, you expect to be able to configure exactly what product you want and with what specifications. We saw that the same approach did not exist for high-end cycles,” Gurrado recounts from the Scatto Italiano workshop in Milan’s ever-evolving, postindustrial Ripamonti neighborhood.

To create their beautiful two-wheelers, Gurrado and Coletta tap the world’s best craftsmen for each component, from the seasoned frame-makers at Vetta in Padua to woodworkers near Lake Como. The end result is a tailor-made service where the cyclist’s needs are paramount. The bicycles are based around three basic models (fixed gear, single speed, and coaster brake), and Scatto can guide clients on creating more than 2,500 configurations, choosing between various sizes, colors, saddles, and rims. With so many options, it might be easy to lose sight of that simple, beautifully functioning product, but Gurrado is keen to emphasize that above component selection, a connection needs to be made to the cyclist. He calls this a “philosophical, and physical, relationship.”
Scatto Italiano founders Giuseppe Gurrado (left) and Pietro Nicola Coletta help keep a national industry alive
In the 1960s, a bicycle was a substantial purchase. People would consider quality first and cost second.

At the Vetta workshop in Padua, Antonio Taverna, a third-generation frame-maker, echoes this link between the physical and the mechanical. “I could never communicate with clients or potential clients if I didn’t ride myself,” says the 70-something craftsman amid a backdrop of metal tinkering and welding sparks. “You have to know how people move, and how they use their bikes; if I have a bigger belly than you, we’re not going to need the same frame.”

Taverna’s grandfather was the director of a local prison, where he started a frame-making workshop to teach skills and keep inmates busy. In 1947 he founded Vetta, which by the 1980s was producing frames for many in the canon of Italian bicycle brands, including Bianchi, Pinarello and Colnago. In those years, Vetta was at the heart of a mega-cluster of some 47 frame-makers in the Veneto region. Little wonder, then, that Scatto Italiano chose Padua as the crucible of production; the padovani “eat bikes for lunch,” says Gurrado back at headquarters in Milan. Times have changed, but Taverna’s workshop, which employs just four, is the quintessential micro-industrial Italian bottega, where frames are welded by hand and sturdy old tools line the walls next to dated calendars and magazine clippings.

With a frame from Vetta’s workshop, Scatto Italiano sets itself a high bar for all essential bike components to match. Its search for handlebars that would meet the company’s exacting standards brought it to lakeside Como, where Cerchio Ghisallo has been masterfully working wood since the 1940s (today the firm’s offerings also include bicycle rims, fenders, and brake pads). Handlebars from Cerchio Ghisallo are made using only American walnut, chosen for its unrivaled strength and tendency not to splinter, and can withstand the most brutal of impacts, absorbing more shock than metal bars—up to 1,031 pounds of pressure, according to the company. The aesthetic appeal of a fine wood-grain piece, shaved and shaped for a cyclist’s hands, is just a bonus.
Italian craftsmen with generations of experience shape the frame and handlebars of each bike

The paintwork on a Scatto Italiano bicycle receives the same attention to detail. After customers choose from a selection of historically inspired colors (look elsewhere for screaming logos and neon hues), the painters at the Verniciatura Emmeci workshop, located outside of Padua, go to work. These men are master technicians in their own right: Every frame is hand painted using hair brushes, not sprays, giving a natural, painterly imperfection unique to the cycles. Before it leaves the shop, each bike is finished off with a subtle Italian Tricolore—a tiny testament to national pride.

As he takes a break from the workshop floor, Taverna considers the industry that was. “Imagine, in the 1960s, when there were less cars, a good bike might cost six monthly salaries!” he recalls without a trace of lament. “A bicycle was a substantial purchase. People would consider quality first and cost second.” Scatto Italiano, with its 21st-century customization techniques grounded in traditional craftsmanship, is doing its part to bring that attitude back into vogue—without compromise. “High-end production has stayed the same,” says a determined Taverna. “We are using the same techniques. The skills and the quality have not changed a bit.”
  • A closer look at the detailed work on every Scatto Italiano bicycle
  • A closer look at the detailed work on every Scatto Italiano bicycle
  • A closer look at the detailed work on every Scatto Italiano bicycle
  • A closer look at the detailed work on every Scatto Italiano bicycle
  • A closer look at the detailed work on every Scatto Italiano bicycle
  • A closer look at the detailed work on every Scatto Italiano bicycle
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DAVID PLAISANT is an architecture and culture writer and regular contributor to Monocle. He specializes in Italian design and manufacturing stories. He currently lives in London.
  • Photograph courtesy of Ralph Lauren Corporation
  • All other photographs courtesy of Scatto Italiano