If you’re lucky enough to visit the Legend factory, like me, your first feeling when parking outside and seeing the front door won’t be excitement, it will be fear!
Jumping out of Ali’s car, desperate to get to the door, I was confronted by a massive, barking Alsatian. I stopped in my tracks, stood rigid with fear – until Ali shouted to the dog and the vicious barking turned to a soft friendly whimper. I’d just met my first Bertoletti family member. ‘Argo’ (not named after the Oscar winning film but after the gas that Marco uses to weld his titanium frames) turns out to be Marco’s pet dog, who also doubles up as a decent guard dog. A wise move, as there have been a few break-ins in the area. As Ali stroked the fussing Argo, I looked up and saw Marco walking towards me with his outstretched hand. I was finally meeting the ‘Legend’.
I’d originally arranged to visit Marco and Legend in mid-April. With the help of Peter and Ali at Legend UK I had a great weekend visit in place. But the best laid plans and all that. I came down with a re-occurring sinus infection, which meant I had to keep cancelling and re-arranging my visit. I didn’t want to feel ill on my dream trip. I wanted to take every minute of it in, suck up the experience and really remember it, not walk around half asleep and wishing I was in bed.
It took many weeks to finally shake the infection off, so I re-arranged the visit. Problem was I couldn’t coincide it when Giuseppe from Velo Solutions was at the factory. So my fitting for the frame had to be undertaken in London. I’m going to write about this in another post, but suffice to say the experience was superb. Giuseppe is a real expert and guru – he fitted me to my existing bike, which now rides and handles a lot better, but more importantly, he drew up the plans for my HT9.5. These were whisked off to Marco, for him to add his magic and draw up the final bike design.
So a couple of weeks ago, I finally climbed the steps onto a Jet2 737 bound for Bergamo.
As part of their ‘concierge’ service, Legend UK had arranged two night’s stay for me in Casa Clelia, a lovely agriturismo a short drive from the airport. A renovated farm, full of charm and boasting a great restaurant, nestled at the foot of the quaintly named Mount Song, it was a perfect place to stay. I’m sure most people arriving late at night would find getting to sleep easy in one of their cosy rooms – but I was like a child at Christmas Eve – excited about what lay ahead the next day.
Next morning my lack of sleep couldn’t diminish my enthusiasm. I was stood outside the hotel 10 mins early, waiting for Ali to pick me up and take me to Presezzo, a short drive away.
15 minutes later, once my legs had stopped shaking after my introduction to Argo, I finally met Marco and entered the hallowed halls of Legend. What strikes you about Marco is his presence – he has a star quality about him, looking like he’s just stepped out of a Fellini film. And he’s obviously a decent rider – tall, tanned and sinewy. I was in awe of him. I don’t know if it was deliberate, but his choice of brand name was perfect, it does feel like you’re in the presence of a living ‘Legend’.
The front door opens up into the first of four main areas of the factory – the preparation area. This is where the frames are built up into finished bikes. What strikes you is how clean this area is – it’s more like a medical laboratory than an engineering factory. Marco is a stickler for tidiness, but it’s not a bad trait to have. If he obsesses about dirt then it’s reassuring – surely he’ll be obsessive about the details on his frames. And so it turns out.
I started to take in more of my surrounding’s as Ali translated Marco’s quickfire Italian. A Legend titanium MTB was hung up in a stand, halfway through being built. Just behind me was a rack full of jewel like Legend frames, waiting to be either packed and posted to their lucky owners or clamped to the stand and have all manner of cycling exotica bolted to them.
To the left of this work area is Marco’s office. Quite a few big names in the pro peloton, past and present have sat in here, but Marco can’t say who. I’d like to think they were in awe of him as well. As we had a quick peek in here, Marco’s wife Antonella introduced herself. A smiley, bubbly woman (who looks very similar to Carol Vorderman), she helps Marco with the admin side of the business. Antonella is also handy with the coffee, and kept them flowing during the long day. Not that I needed any additional ‘stimulants’.
From here we walked through to the main factory area. Yet again spotlessly clean, the area looked much bigger than the photos I’d seen on the website and brochure. Now despite Marco and Legend’s reputation for building frames out of modern ‘exotic’ materials, what was happening over to the right of the factory was ‘old school’. Next to the state-of-the-art computerised jig (one of only two in the world), Giovanni, Marco’s brother-in-law (Legend is a traditional Italian family business) was brazing an old Columbus steel tubed frame. Such is Marco’s reputation, riders from all over Italy send him their frames to be repaired (there were a few other damaged frames in various materials waiting next in line on a rack to have the Legend treatment). This particular steel frame was having a new seat tube – and it was heartening to see that these old skills and techniques haven’t died. They may have been superseded by new manufacturing techniques, but these skills have had a resurgence, with the new wave of modern steel tubes and the riders out there who are going back to steel. There was something mesmerising about the white flame and the sound of the gas but I had to peel my eyes away from watching Giovanni and concentrate on one of the other ‘stars’ of the Legend show – the computerised jig.
Each Legend frame is hand made, so when the frame design is finalised the tubes are selected (depending on the model, these could be custom drawn carbon tubes) to match the riders weight and riding style. These are then mitred using computerised mitre saws, and assembled on the computer controlled jig. There was a titanium frame already sat in there, and the accuracy of the cut mitres was unbelievable. They were butted up perfectly, a very minute even gap between each join. A tolerance of 0.5mm I was told. Once everything is finally in place, the tubes are tack welded or glued.
As I was ordering a carbon HT9.5, I was particularly interested in seeing how ‘my’ frame was going to be made. Having this insight, and meeting the people who handle and make the frame is something special. Mass produced frames have their merits and ride very well, but in my opinion, knowing the provenance of your frame and knowing the passion and skill that’s gone into it adds an extra quality, almost a spirituality and ‘life’ to the frame. And as the frame is the heart of a bike, then I know mine will have a good ‘heart’.
As there wasn’t a carbon frame in a jig or mitring machine, I had to use my imagination when Marco explained the process. The process starts where I started, getting fitted and having a frame spec worked up with the fitter. This is the blueprint – this is then emailed to Marco, where he interprets the frame against the riders’ weight, riding style, intended use etc and tweaks the design if needs be. Then depending on your requirements, Marco selects the right carbon tubes to match. However the higher you go up the carbon range, the more scope Marco has to really fine tune these tubes. He works with a local carbon specialist, who together produce these tubes, altering the weave frequency, direction and structure, so that internally a tube for a 80kg rouleur will be very different to the tube for a featherweight mountain goat. My HT9.5 even has the rear triangle custom made using these techniques, which offers even more fine tuning of the ride characteristics. Meaning I should end up with a near perfect ride. Once these tubes arrive, they’re mitred and then assembled on the jig, where they’re bonded. The frame is then ready for the other ‘star’ of the Legend factory. The autoclave.
Legend’s aero grade autoclave is essentially a high-tech oven. The carbon frames are put in their own ‘oven bag’ and then attached to pipes inside the autoclave. The exact details of what happens next is a closely guarded secret – Marco won’t tell. He’s spent many hours perfecting what goes on in here, so he’s not going to give away that hard earned knowledge away freely. What happens in here really does make a Legend different to other carbon frames. Essentially though, the autoclave bakes the frame to a particular temperature and pressure which forces the excess resin out of the carbon, meaning more of the important material is left in the frame. By all accounts, when the frame comes out after this intense curing, it resembles a spotty teenager, the excess resin having risen to the surface resulting in white pistules! These are then cleaned off and the frame is ready for the next part of the process. So following a gesticulating Marco, we walked to the far corner of the factory and climbed some stairs into a small room to meet another Legend craftsman.
This immaculate area is home to Said. He is the ‘carbon wrapper’. Said possesses the dexterity to be able to hand wrap carbon sheets around the various frame joints, that add an extra dimension to the ride qualities. This enables Legend carbon frames to be built with some element of customisation. Said was in the middle of wrapping a head tube joint, and the speed and accuracy was phenomenal. Much like a tailor, he pre-cuts the sheets to various patterns and then wraps, and wraps and wraps. Quite a few sheets go into the tube to tube joints, so many that I fear Said may have extended time off sometime in the future due to RSI.
Back down the stairs, underneath Said’s lair, is another immaculate room. This one has a massive tube hanging from the centre of the ceiling and it’s there to suck up dust and debris. Because this is a room where some serious Legend elbow grease is used. This is the finishing room, where all the frame joints are hand finished. So whether it’s carbon, titanium, aluminium or steel, each joint is cleaned up and sanded to achieve that famous smooth finish. Having seen these various processes and the man hours each of these take, I started to realise why Legend frame’s command the prices they do.
There was just one last ‘Legend star’ to be introduced to before we headed out for lunch. Walking across the factory, I was led to the ‘bubble’. A large circular metal table, with a plastic opaque covering. Inside, encased in a jig was a titanium frame. This is the special chamber where Marco welds his famous ‘smooth’ frames. Legend can achieve their smooth joints because this ‘bubble’ provides the right atmosphere to produce very strong, almost contaminant free welds. So knowing they’re the strongest they can be, means they can go into the sanding room for copious amounts of Legend elbow grease applying. Unfortunately I couldn’t see the master in action – Marco only uses the ‘bubble’ when he’s actually building frames, the gases needed for the correct chamber atmosphere are bloody expensive, so a quick little demo is out of the question!
That old saying ‘time flies by when you’re having fun’ was very true this day. The morning had gone, and it was time to down tools and head out for lunch. Despite the cliches about Italians, this scenario is unusual for Marco. Usually he gets into work very early, which affords him the time to head out for a couple of hours at lunchtime for a ride into the hills surrounding Presezzo. It’s on these rides that Marco tests out his latest ideas and creations, which goes to prove that Legend do go the extra mile in making their frames.
Now don’t ask me where we had lunch! On the drive down to the centre of Presezzo I was too busy thinking about the afternoon session, where I’d sit down with Marco and Ali and discuss ‘my’ frame. I was still unsure what colour to go for, but Ali said not to worry, we could use the new Legend online configurator to visualise some of my ideas. So I sat through a typical multi course Italian lunch trying not to think about colourways but in the end not taking in much of my surroundings!
Three hours later I’d finally made my mind up about which colour to go for on my HT9.5. This marathon session held in the upstairs Legend Showroom was fantastic. Surrounded by frames, bikes and accessories, we first discussed my frame ‘blueprint’ drawn up by Velo Solutions a few weeks earlier. It’s at this stage that your riding preferences, riding style and weight are taken into account, so that Marco can design the tubes and lay up to make the ride perfect for you. Up until now, I’d wanted an HT9.5, but after seeing the top of the range 10.5 in the showroom, and hearing the description of it’s ride qualities, I was beginning to change my mind, and started to figure out how to find the extra cash for one.
This impulsive dream came crashing though when Marco mentioned that the 10.5 could only be built for riders weighing less than 75kg. Being 4kg more than this at fighting weight meant this upgrade was out of the question. Being more ‘Cancellara’ like myself, Marco explained that the 9.5 was a better choice for my anyway. Perfect for a ‘rouleur’, he would build it nice and stiff for me to put the power down. I also wanted good handling and stability for the many long descents on my Alpine trips. Ali said that all Legend frames ride this way anyway – so it’s taken as a given! And being a svelte sub 1kg frame, it should help me up the climbs as well.
So frame spec sorted, it was now onto the agonising paint choice. The showroom has a full range of painted tubes so you can see the actual colours in the flesh, and see how they work in differing lights. Problem is you need a good imagination to be able to visualise how these will work on a frame. This is where the new Legend online paint configurator really helps. It had only just been finished, so I was one of the first to have a go. Up to this point, I’d lusted after the ‘celeste’ gloss colour that seems to be used on most 9.5s. However, Legend have a range of ‘tint’ colours as well. This gives the effect of the visible carbon weave having been ‘washed’ with a translucent colour – in effect instead of black carbon, you can have dark blue, or gold or silver carbon fibre etc. I’d seen a photo of a dark blue tinted matt finished frame previously, and thought this looked superb.
So what to do? In the end, after quite a bit of changing, I arrived at a compromise which I think looks stunning. Dark blue tinted frame, but with painted celeste inner fork and rear triangle. I was going to plump for white graphics, but Ali advised that the silver looks less harsh against darker colours, and adds a certain depth to the scheme. I then opted for the model name in celeste and also the wing motif on the forks. All finished in matt with my name on the top tube.
After nearly blowing the bank thinking about upgrading to the HT10.5, I did spend some extra money though. Legend have started offering personalised finishing kit, which means you can have seat posts, stems, handlebars etc painted with matching or complimentary colours to tie in with your frame. Needing a new seatpost anyway I went for a Deda Superzero. This will be painted with a celeste Legend logo and given a matt finish to match my frame. Should finish the build off really nicely.
It had been a long day, and now it had finished the tiredness hit me. Getting back to the Hotel, I had a long nap before dinner. It was the best sleep I’d have for a while, because now I’m having sleepless nights waiting for my frame to arrive! By all accounts I don’t have long to wait…