Ugo De Rosa, master frame builder

by Ron Miriello

In the 1970s and 1980s, Italian steel bicycle frames were what American bike riders coveted. With their exotic names and elegant lugs and decals, riding the frames of a Cinelli, Colnago, Guerciotti, Tommasini, Pinarello or De Rosa, said you were a serious rider who knew the ways of the world. Maybe you couldn’t afford a Ferrari, but you could ride a fine handmade Italian work of art. Italian bicycles were a way of being Italian, while never leaving the streets of middle America.

In 1984, I toured Italy to visit framemakers and order a custom-made Italian bicycle. It was my reason to visit the workbenches of some of the great artigiani of Italy, at the height of their Italian steel-frame dominance. Ugo De Rosa was my choice, because he was less common in the USA and because I actually got to speak with him in person when I dialed his home phone in Milano. Before I knew it, I was in my bare feet, as Ugo himself took my measurements. While he was crawling on his hands and knees, I looked up at the wall behind his desk. Epic photos of cycling history – and he was in the middle all of them. Ugo De Rosa with DeVlaeminck, Moser, Gianni Motta, Eddy Merckx, and now, he was with… Ron Miriello! I was a child in his candy store, as Ugo called out my list of options, “Do you want a Triple T or Cinelli stem, SLX or SL tubing, chromed fork, panographed, do you want me to sign it?” Yes, yes, yes and yes!

Italy has taught me many life lessons. One lesson is to know when not to worry about the price of a true world-class experience. “I’ll ship it to you in San Diego with a bill attached”, said Ugo. No deposit, no invoice. These were the closing years of a different Italy, when a custom order might be done on a handshake, and payment made “once you receive my work.” I think Ugo was, in a small way, honored that I came from California to his house to ask for his best work. He was saying, “You’ve put your trust in me. I can put my trust in you.”

They say if you’re lucky, you only get married once. For thirty years, my De Rosa has been my only wife. I now have a “mistress”, a carbon fiber Cannondale Evo Red. But my De Rosa will forever be my one great love. And my time with Ugo De Rosa, a special memory of the Italy that was in 1984.

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