Photo: Fondriest TF0 (Bill McGann photo)
Back-in-the-day many bike brands (including some of the largest non-Italian ones) had their steel bicycles manufactured in Italy. In those days, if you wanted quality work done by people with a passion for and understanding of bicycles, you found a contract builder in Italy to make frames with your brand name on them. Our friends at Torelli had their best bikes made by Antonio Mondonico, for example. These trusted builders also created made-to-measure bikes for a lot of pro riders, which were then painted to match the team sponsor's machines.
As steel was replaced with aluminum and then carbon, Italians were slow to take up the new materials and saw the contract builder business shift to Asia. Quality was good enough and the price was usually low, but I think something was lost along the way. Meanwhile, some of the same contract builders created bikes in carbon fiber for their pro customers
Now the pendulum seems to be swinging back, and not just for the old-school steel frames we know and love. The owners of the venerable MERLIN name have introduced their first carbon fiber frame, the Empire. This is NOT built in Asia, but in ITALY, just like the good old days!
The Fondriest TF0 bike shown above is also made by the same contract builder in Italy, as is their TF1 1.4.
And amazingly, the prices are not a lot higher. The top of the line carbon frame (made in Asia) sold by that big company whose name starts with S has an MSRP of $3750 while the Made-in-Italy Merlin is $4200 and the Fondriest is less than $5000. On top of this, we believe the Made-in-Italy frames can be made-to-measure, something it would take a last name like Boonen or Cavendish to get from the S folks.
We couldn't be happier with this news!