Sunday, March 23, 2014

Emiliano Freschi

In November of 1981 I  had just arrived in Milano, Italy as a tourist. But I was not going to the typical tourist attractions. I was interested in bicycle culture and history. My first stop was Detto Pietro Olmo, a great bike shop near the main train station.  My second destination was the shop of Faliero Masi, located in the Vigorelli Velodrome. On my list were visits to Campagnolo and Cinelli.

I grew up in California and during the bike boom it was hard to find bikes, they were selling so fast. All my friends had Schwinn Varsity ten-speeds and I wanted one too. For my 14th birthday, my parents were getting me a ten-speed to ride to high school. But we went to every Schwinn shop in the San Francisco Bay area and there were none available. So we looked at other shops and I came across a Peugeot UO8. It was exotically foreign. White with black trim and the Peugeot Lyon on the head badge, it was much lighter than the Schwinn varsity and I was very surprised. I loved that bike and rode it all over the hills of Los Gatos.

One day, on a typical loop ride in the hills south of San Jose, I meet another rider. He was a gentleman who rode a Peugeot also but his was 25 years old and I was very impressed with its perfect condition. He lived near my neighborhood and I visited a few times and he told me about track racing in the area during the 1940s.

One day I visited him and found he had a new bike. He had been riding the Peugeot and a pedal axle broke. He crashed and destroyed the Peugeot and broke a few bones. He replaced the Peugeot with a Masi. It was a strange red-orange-coral color with yellow trim. The way he acted I could tell this was something very special. I did not quite understand why, but it was clear this was different than the Peugeot. He had ordered it through a local bike shop but it was built just for him. That experience was the seed for me being on the trolley headed for the Vigorelli Velodrome a decade later.

As we passed the Plaza Gramsci, I noticed a bike shop and jumped off the trolley. It was the shop of Emiliano Freschi. He had a wide variety of bikes for every use. But he also had a nice wall of racing frames hanging on the wall. Even though I could not speak Italian he worked with me to look at frames that might be my size. I found a beautiful frame for $200 in that bright red-orange that grace so many Italian frames. But I still wanted to see about a Masi. I caught the next trolley and landed near the velodrome. I walked around the perimeter of the track until I found the shop. There was no sign indicating it was the Masi shop. Faliero was up in a loft checking on inventory and made his way down to check on me. I looked around the walls of the shop with pictures of famous riders, awards, and other memorabilia crowding every square inch. It was a small work room with two assembly stands and frames hanging from the hooks. There was an adjoining room with frame building equipment.

Faliero greeted me and I asked, the best I could, about the price of a frame. He told me it would be $450 and it would take a month to build me one. I had neither a month or $450. What an opportunity lost. Faliero went back up into the loft and retrieved a Masi cycling cap and gave it to me.

I returned to Plaza Gramsci to the shop of Emiliano Freschi and bought my red Freschi.

A couple of years later I was wanting to get a touring bike. I knew Freschi was one of the few Italian builders who would actually build a non-racing frames. So  I got a group of fellow students at the University of Alaska interested in ordering new bikes from Freschi and then touring Italy and Greece after picking them up.

We put together the order with mostly pictures illustrating what we wanted and measurements. We called the Freschi shop long distance to find the price the bikes would cost us. I asked for a language assistance operator but the US long-distance operator decided she did not need language assistance. She dialed the number and someone in the shop answered "pronto", which means "hello." She told the person that she had a long-distance overseas call for Emilano Freschi . The person did not understand a word of what she said. I heard him call out in italian "there is an American on the phone." He came back to the phone and said "pronto" again. She misinterpreted this to mean "hurry" and she replied "yes, pronto." Everyone in the room was howling with laughter because I had connected my phone to my stereo so we could all hear the conversation. I asked the operator if I could try since she was getting frustrated. So I asked in Italian the price of a frame and bike. I got the answer and then told the operator thanks anyway but I think we will  have to try again later.

We ended up ordering three complete bikes and 4 more frames to be shipped back to the university for fellow students. We arrived in Milano in mid-December, during our Christmas break. The first stop was Detto Pietro Olmo, where we bought Ofmega Mistral groupos for the people not touring with us. The shop shipped them back to Alaska. Next, we caught the trolley to Freschi's shop but we were a couple of days early and he was not quite finished assembling the bikes.

We volunteered to help and he reluctantly accepted, closely supervising us. My wife, Barbara, had not pre-ordered a frame because she wanted to see what might be available on-site. She looked at the Freschi frames on the wall and saw a couple of possibilities but she also wanted to look elsewhere. Her story of her frame purchase is on the first page of this blog.

Signore Freschi seems to have been an innovator to me.

His bottom bracket cable guides were unique.

He created many uncommon designs, including a twin seat-tube frame and funny bikes. His frames were imported into the US in the 1980s by Bikecology, a southern California mail order shop.

In this ad they claim that he was the head builder for Pogliaghi before opening his own shop. There is some debate on the internet whether this is true or not. All I can say is that early Pogliaghi have a classic seat cluster treatment and during the time that Freschi, if true, was manager of Pogliaghi they started doing fastback stays which are found on almost all of the frames Freschi produced in his shop.

Also, if you compare the decals on both, the down tube flags are identical on both brands and they have similar wreaths on the head tube.

Francesco reschi explains the export documentation to me.

Francesco Freschi and his son Emiliano were very friendly and helpful and it was a pleasure to do business with them. We left Milano a couple days later, negotiating our way through the busy urban traffic, making our way to the countryside and then cycling toward the port city of Brindisi in the south on our way to Greece.

I wish I could have spoken Italian and been able to ask Signore Freschi about his history in the bike business. I hope he is not forgotten.

Here is a very nice set of images courtesy of Michi and Sibyl Jeuch of Switzerland.

This bike was for sale on Ebay at the time of writing this blog entry.

Note that Greg Softley at CycloMondo has replacement decals now for Freschi for your restoration.


Darin said...

That was a good Sunday morning read, as was Barbara's. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the article. I am reading it in 2016 in Transylvania, Romania, looking for the history of this beautiful bicycle Freschi. I post this so you know that the hours spent researching and writing are not lost, they have passed to others information and amazement in front of these beautiful machines.