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by Alex Davey
November 20, 2015
Photography by Mark Womersley
In this edition of Bikes of the Bunch, Alex Davey shares the bike that he commissioned Joe Cosgrove to build in 2014. He wanted a bike that would honour the craft, the materials, and the componentry.
Joe Cosgrove is well known for his frame painting — he paints all Llewellyn frames — yet he originally began his working career building frames in 1978, and has continued to do so over the years. His JOCO and Frezoni frames have a reputation for high quality, outstanding ride, and now are prized frames to own.
I got to know Joe over a few years as he painted some frames of mine from the ’80s (Colnago, Bianchi, and Zullo). His workshop is adorned with tributes to anything Campagnolo, Merckx in his ’68 Faema team, a few discrete pictures of him racing in the ‘60s and ‘70s, not to mention frame- and wheel-building jigs, an oxy torch, and MIG and TIG welders. There are spray booths, a sanding section, decal and paint swatches randomly positioned, and a CAD computer. And exotic frames in all states of repair, restoration and paint application.
There are also four complete Frezoni bicycles that Joe has built for himself over the last 35 years: steel, aluminium, composite aluminium/carbon and carbon.
The seed was planted the first time I saw it all: here is something that I wanted to be part of. But it wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that I wondered out loud if there was a possibility of him building me a frame. Three years later, and after many, many conversations ending with, “One day I would really like you to build me that steel racing frame”, it happened.
I had been over to Italy on holiday in 2013 and had met Tiziano Zullo to get measured up for a Zullo frame build. I sent Joe the frame measurements and we started talking and emailing. Joe decided on Reynolds 953 stainless steel, a true state of the art modern high performance steel, and a lugged frame — a slight weight penalty, but ultimately stronger and potentially more durable.
It was my decision to choose the Reynolds 953 steel fork rather than a carbon equivalent. I wanted this frameset to be purely steel, and therefore unequivocally experience this medium in its purity.
Joe re-configured Zullo’s blueprint as a compact frame with dimensions assimilated from my 2013 XL Wilier Zero7 race bike. It was always going to be to be built with a Campagnolo gruppo but the release of the prototype/limited edition Super Record RS redefined the project as something that would highlight the new groupset and serve as an example of what could be built in steel in the year 2014.
I gave Joe complete freedom to design the paint scheme. I felt it was important that this bike was his signature: his paint, his design, and his tribute to Campagnolo that was the culmination of his building expertise and experience to the year 2014. This is how I define his 953 RS Frezoni.
I ended up choosing Fizik components while trying to find a seatpost to fit the odd 30.6mm diameter. Darryl McCulloch (who builds the Llewellyn frames) had conscripted Fizik to build a batch of 30.6mm carbon seattubes to fit his EOS frames, and was generous enough to donate one towards my 953 Frezoni build.
The bike is everything I hoped it would be. It climbs superbly, with the power transfer not far removed from my carbon Zero7. I remember riding Joe’s own smaller 953 Frezoni (with Campagnolo 80th Anniversary gruppo) before the project began, and was blown away by how smooth yet how powerful it felt. That is the overwhelming impression I get when I ride my 953 Frezoni.
I have not descended in anger yet, but the little that I have done was confidence-inspiring. It was easy to put the bike into a tight attitude whilst cornering, and it just seemed to pull me out the other side with seemingly no other inputs. The forks give a touch more feedback than my CAAD10 (carbon fork), yet the bike is a touch more stable; maybe the steering geometry is slightly more relaxed.
You can just sit in and push out turbine-like pedal strokes whilst climbing with an amazingly silent ride. There is absolutely no noise. I really feel it is the steel that gives most of this ride quality, even more so than the other steel lugged frames that I regularly ride (Columbus, Reynolds & Dedacciai Uno Zero), let alone carbon frames.
To sum up, it is definitely the best bike I have ever ridden, and will have pride of place amongst my other wonderful racing/training bikes in the stable. I call it my Aston Martin DB9!
I can’t thank Joe Cosgrove enough for what he has produced for me. Thanks also to the legendary Jesse Geisler at Bike Bar for a perfectionist’s bike build, my cycling buddy Mark Womersley (Duke Design) for the images, and Xavier Fitzgerald at DeGrandi Cycle and Sport for his help sourcing the Campagnolo components.