I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to build custom bikes since 1995. Back then, when it was a hobby, I enjoyed hanging out in the bike shop and having a look around at the latest components and bikes. One thing that I was drawn to was the mechanics area where there seemed to be a lot going on. Stuff I didn’t understand much about.
I realized that this was the heart of the store and I didn’t know just to what extent until I moved to Italy back in 1997. Then, when entering my first Italian bike shop, I was blown away. It wasn’t just the heart of the store, it was the kitchen. I remember my first trip to Arezzo on the train ( I didn’t have my Italian drivers’ license yet) with a paycheck in tow. I was going to see if I could get my hands on one of those cool jerseys that I had seen so many times while out on the road. I walked into the store expecting to find a sales clerk or someone who would show me around the “boutique” as they do in the clothing stores. Not here.
After 5-6 minutes of looking around, I inched closer to the back corridor where I could hear 4 or 5 guys shooting the shit about something (my Italian wasn’t so good to be able to pick up the dialect at that point). They were all enthralled in laughter at one of the guys recount of an event that involved the mayor, or something like that. Since nobody replied to my “anybody here?” plea, I decided to peak my head into the room. When I was discovered, I was literally pulled into the warehouse style room where the real action was taking place. Alvaro, the head mechanic (and I think possibly the only one), was sitting in the middle of a group of guys building up a road wheel. All of them had a slice of bread in hand soaked in Alvaro’s newly pressed olive oil. Alvaro and the three other guys were laughing hysterically at the story being told by a carabiniere (Italian military police) who had stopped in for a chat while on the beat. This place was heaven.
Back to modern times. In 2007, I had a request for my first BB30 frame. At that time, I had only heard of the spec., but I knew nothing of how to build it. I heard of a shop nearby called Leonardi Racing, owned by a lauded mechanic Michele Leonardi. Knowing that this could be a chance to gain some insight into this type of build, as well as making a new business contact, I gave him a ring. After a few minutes of cordial chat, Michele invited me to the shop to take a look at the drawings and some details that he considered important to understand. Michele is not an email kind of guy. He’s hands-on.
Upon my arrival at the shop, I found a very different kind of environment compared to my previous shop experience. Here, it was espresso that was driving the work. And lots of it. I don’t want to take a guess at how many Leonardi consumes during a work day, but by judging from his output, I’d say it is quite a few.
Michele is known for his mechanical capabilities, especially when it comes to suspension systems. The walls are lined with suspension forks (mostly Headshok systems) from all over Europe. He’s the go-to guy for maintenance and assistance and is an industry icon. Hi is also the lead wrench for the Cannondale MTB racing team and provides assistance to top professionals. I found all this out after a number of months and having the opportunity to collaborate on a few projects with him. We took an r&d trip to Eurobike the year after and it was like a boxer making his way to the ring. It took him about 30 minutes just to make it to the bike pavilion as he was constantly being pulled aside by someone wanting to inquire about this or that. He’s a fountain of knowledge and is a networking madman with sought-after skills.
Michele has made his mark in the industry not by selling bikes, but by his high-tech approach to servicing his customers. At a time when most bike shops in Italy are contemplating closure, Michele is investing in more equipment and resources to provide unparalleled service to passing cyclists and shop owners from around the globe. He’s doesn’t limit himself when bike sales slow. That’s when he sees an opportunity to develop a better suspension fork or re-engineer an existing product to exceed standards. I’ve seen first-hand, administrators of some of the largest bike manufacturers in the world, asking Michele for advice on how to make their products better. He is requested at engineering meetings around the world for advice and suggestions on how to make products better. There is no “down time” at Leondardi Racing. If there is, it’s just long enough to slug another shot of espresso and jot down another idea.
Well, that’s enough raving about Michele’s work. It’s just awesome how successful one guy can be in a sector that is filled with negativity about the economy. It’s enough to make you think that when times may be bad, there is a way to achieve success if you work at it. Well, enough chit-chat, I’ll post some pictures to give you an idea of the environment. You can see more of what Leo is up to at www.leonardiracing.it