The Campagnolo Ghibli has been a set of wheels that have carried many athletes to historic wins. Meet the man affectionately known as ‘San Franco della Ghibli’ who builds these labour intensive works of art.
You can read the full story of the Ghibli wheel and about Franco Rigolon, in Rouleur issue 50. Here are some excerpts from the beautifully written piece:
Franco Rigolon’s job involves making just one thing, and it’s not something he can make very quickly. Franco is a wheel-builder, the sole person in charge — the only one with the know how — of one of the company’s most enduring products: the Ghibli wheel.
Franco Rigolon is a local —a Vicentino— who came to Campagnolo a decade ago to take over Ghibli production. Although the materials have gotten more advanced and his methods have been personalised and fine- tuned over the years, he’s still doing it in almost exactly the same way. The intricacies are myriad and it’s immediately apparent that the tactility of Franco’s work would make it impossible to mass produce by machine, even if there was huge demand for a wheel that costs more than most bikes. The Ghibli requires that special blend of exactitude and liberty that man remains unmatched at. There’s an astonishing amount of accuracy involved, but getting it right means being intensely aware of each wheel’s minute differences. Only a highly-skilled free hand can coax it to perfection. It’s more jazz than electronica.
“I’m doing this work ten years,” says Franco, peering out over his red-rimmed glasses. “Before that I was a goldsmith.” Now he makes rings of a different kind, but this bling is probably more expensive.
“I was a modellista, I made the models. Then when the business died out, they closed the workshop. I was 50, I needed to work. I came here because I heard they were looking for someone with my skills. It’s similar enough, really: it’s precision work, manual, with a lot of responsibility. I couldn’t have stayed at home, I have to be doing something.
“When I started, it took time. There’s so many parts to it. I can’t just tell you to do this and this, you need experience. It took a few months to deliver my first wheel, the one I could really say: ‘This is mine, I made it from start to finish’. And now, ten years have passed.
“I’ve never been a fan of cycling, though. Really, I’ve no interest. My interest is in the manual side of the work, using my hands, creating something. I’ve always liked that. But of bicycles, I don’t understand anything. This interests me because it’s precise, you have to understand the measurements, know when not to heat something too much. I don’t just push a button, start the machine and then say I’ve made a wheel. I need to construct it. It could drive someone else crazy. There’s a thousand steps to it. And it’s still impossible to make this with a machine. There’s no alternative.”
“Sometimes,” he smiles, “I sign the inside of the wheels. And on the valve cover [a plastic adhesive patch that covers up access to the tyre valve when not in use] I used to write ‘Buona fortuna’.
“In my time, I suppose I’ve made an average of 20 a month. So, do the math. Now I do a little less, because I’m making the new carbon road wheel [the Bora Ultra TT], but it’s still a lot.”