Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Framebuilders Questionnaire: Zanconato Bikes

This week on the Frame builder's Questionnaire is Mike Zanconato of Zanconato Custom Cycles. Mike makes bikes that look classic and race inspired. Check it out.

Q. How'd you first get interested in bicycles in general?

A. I started cycling my freshman year of high school as a way to train for alpine ski racing. My ski coach was a cat 3 on the road and he started taking me out. He let me borrow his old Colnago and I bought a mountain bike. I started mountain bike racing that summer and did my first cross race that fall. It was the BCA Cyclocross at Pittsfield State Forest in Pittsfield, MA.

Q. At what point did you begin building bikes?

A. I built my first two framesets during the summer of 98. The first one was never painted and never assembled into a bike. The second one was a cross frame that I primed and raced that fall. I built two more in January of 1999 during the winter break of my senior year at UMass. They were both road frames for me and my wife-to-be. That spring, I also built some bikes for my
UMass teammates.

Q. What were some of the challenges you faced when you first started out building bikes for people?

A. Establishing credibility is the hardest thing for a new builder to do. People don't know you, so they don't know what you are capable of. And knowing the nuts and bolts of how to build a frame is a lot different than knowing how to properly design a frame. I studied everything I could find on the subject and talked with quite a few veterans. Getting your name out
there as someone who knows how to properly design a bike is the hardest task for a new builder. You have to prove yourself to some tough critics who really know how a bicycle should ride.

Q. How is your approach to build a cyclocross bike different than say in building a mountain or road bike?

A. The approach to designing a cyclocross bike is not too different from designing a road racing bike. The cross races have gotten so fast that most racers feel strongest in a position that is very close to their road position. The bars may be 5-10 mm higher and 5 mm closer, but usually
nothing more than that. Compared to a road frameset, the cross framesets will have a slightly longer front-center and chainstay length. I try to keep the BB height as close to a road bike as possible. I don't like the way a bike with a high BB rides. If a rider comes from a region where the courses have a lot of off-camber, we may raise it up a bit.

Q. Whats your favorite bike that you own or have owned? What made it special?

A. I wrote a little piece on my blog about a Carrera that I owned in college. It has inspired a lot of my design ideas. The bike just looked "right" and it rode very, very nice. I always felt confident on it. The geometry was very well balanced. Unfortunately, I had to sell it to finance
my first frame building fixtures. But, I will always remember that bike.

Q. Do you race cyclocross?

A. Cyclocross is my favorite cycling discipline! Last year, my wife and I did 19 cross races. This year, we have 21 on the calendar. I also do about 12 mountain bikes races in the spring and summer.

Q. In your opinion, why are custom steel cyclocross bikes still so popular?

A. I think there are a number of reasons why tailored steel cross bikes are still a preferred tool for cross racing. There are the functional reasons, such as proper frame design yielding a great riding race bike, the contact points being exactly where they need to be, and the braze-ons being in the appropriate places. There are the aesthetic reasons, such as choosing from a number of different lug and paint options. And, there is still some nostalgia attached to the lugged steel bicycle. Most of my customers come to me with function being the primary need, but aesthetics are important to most of them too. I prefer my bikes to look clean and understated from a
distance, without too many loud flourishes. But when you get a closer look, you start to find some details and touches that make it unique. I think people appreciate the thought that goes into the smaller and finer points.

Q. Whats your current wait time for a custom cyclocross frame?

A. It's best to call. Being a one man shop, lead time can swing drastically depending on the time of year. For some reason, I tend to get orders in batches. So I may have a 10 week lead time, but then I will get a bunch of orders within a couple of weeks and the lead time stretches out to 6 months. And then it is quiet for awhile, which is fine because I can focus on the orders that are on the books. I guess this is a long-winded answer. The short answer is it varies throughout the year. Give me a call to get the most current lead time.

Q. Is there anything else you think readers would want to know about your approach to bikes, cycling and building frames?

A. For me, cycling is about the people and the experiences. Most of my closest friends have been met through cycling. Logging lots of miles with people means you spend a lot of time with them. Not just on the bikes, but driving to and from events, the post-ride feasts, the club meetings,
pre-race warm-ups and so on. You really get to know people. Yeah, I'm a gear-head too. But I want my bikes to be reliable so that I don't have to miss a ride and miss time with my pals. So reliability is key. But I also take the miles themselves seriously. I want a tool that is not only
reliable, but is highly functional and efficient. Bicycles are tools to me. My approach to frame building is to build the best tool for the job for each customer. Now, part of being the "best tool for the job" for a particular customer might be that it has got to be Bittersweet Pearl with Cortez Blue Pearl panels. But whatever it takes to get that person out on the bike is all that matters. And that paint job was pretty freakin' hot too.

Thanks, Jeremy!

Mike Zanconato
Zanconato Custom Cycles

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