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by Matt Wikstrom
March 23, 2016
Photography by Matt Wikstrom
Legend is a bespoke framebuilding company that was founded by Marco Bertoletti in 2009. While the company doesn’t have a long history, Bertoletti does: his framebuilding experience goes back nearly 40 years and includes a variety of esteemed brands as well as numerous professional riders. In this review, Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom spends some time aboard Il Re, one of Legend’s premium titanium offerings.
Marco Bertoletti started building bespoke frames in 1989. It’s a pursuit that seems quintessentially Italian, and in Marco’s case, the stereotype holds true. He spent 20 years working with a variety of European brands and “ghost-building” for various professional riders before deciding to hang out his own shingle in 2009.
There is no such thing as a stock frame in Legend’s workshop. Every frame is built for a reason, built to satisfy the specific needs of each customer. To this end, Marco works with every frame material — steel, aluminium, carbon and titanium — acknowledging that one material cannot serve the needs of every rider.
Marco’s factory is located in Presezzo, less than 10km west of Bergamo in the Lombardy region of Italy. He is proud to say that every Legend frame is made in Italy, even though that has come to mean different things in recent years. Legend has an open-factory policy so potential customers can witness the work, have a fitting, and discuss their needs with Marco.
Bertoletti’s approach to bike-fitting is simple and intuitive, formed by years of practice. He can tell a lot from watching a person on their bike and will make adjustments on the fly until he is happy with their form. For those customers that can’t travel to Presezzo, he can carry out the same process with video footage.
Legend’s current catalogue comprises over a dozen frames: there are four titanium models, seven carbon, four steel, and one aluminium. As mentioned above, all are made to measure, and there are a variety of options and finishes for each one.
Il Re is one of Bertoletti’s premium titanium frames. It’s an all-titanium affair (Legend adds one or more carbon tubes to its other high-end Ti bikes) that takes its name from the Italian for “the king”. According to Legend, Il Re is known for its “outstanding handling, with perfect stability and rigidity” and is purpose-built for long rides. For this review, I recently spent a few weeks riding Il Re thanks to Legend and one of its Australian retailers, Cycling Projects.
Legend uses Grade 9 titanium tubing to build Il Re, a common choice for framebuilders that contains 3.0% aluminium and 2.5% vanadium. By contrast, Grade 5 titanium (6% aluminium and 4% vanadium), which is harder and stronger but more difficult to weld, is employed for the bottom bracket shell and the dropouts.
I’ve detailed some of the special considerations for titanium frame construction previously. There is typically a much smaller margin for error when preparing the tubes for welding. Oxygen contamination is also a major concern since titanium oxides are extremely brittle and will weaken any welded joint.
To this end, Legend employs a special chamber — a plastic bubble envelops the workbench — that is filled with high-grade argon gas for welding the frames. The welder works at a distance using gloves that are sealed in the bubble, but it produces a weld that is strong enough to be “smooth finished”.
The smooth-finished welds are a distinctive touch, and the final product appears much like a fillet-brazed steel frame. There are no beads to admire like other brands: one tube flows effortlessly into the next with impossibly smooth and consistent transitions, as if the bike was poured from molten metal.
Il Re is built around a tapered headtube (1.125-inch upper bearing, 1.5-inch lower bearing), BSA threaded bottom bracket, and Legend’s LG dropouts with carbon fibre inserts. The frame is provided with internal cable routing that is compatible with both electronic and mechanic groupsets.
Il Re is a completely custom bike so Legend does not offer any stock frame sizes to choose from. Instead, buyers work closely with their local dealer and/or Marco to finalise the geometry of the frame. Legend is also happy to use the recommendations of an independent bike-fitter.
Deciding on the final fit of the bike is a crucial part of the ordering process. As mentioned above, some buyers choose to travel to Legend’s factory to have their fit assessed by Marco directly. Felice Santoro at Cycling Projects in Sydney, Australia believes Marco’s input is invaluable, so sends videos of his customers and leaves the final CAD design in Marco’s hands.
Customers are free to elect their preferred bottom bracket height, chainstay length, stem length and steering trail while Legend decides on the tubing and butting profiles according to the customer’s desires. There are also a number of optional extras related to choices for the headtube (standard or machined), forks (3T, Deda), bottom bracket (BSA, BB30, or BSA TUN), and dropouts (LG or LG2).
The Il Re frameset supplied for review featured a standard headtube, 3T Funda forks, LG dropouts, and Legend’s TUN bottom bracket. The latter is BSA threaded, but is shaped like a wine barrel to provide extra room for internally routed cables or wires.
Customisation of Il Re extends to the finish, where there is a choice of different colours for the laser-etched logos on the frame and paint for the fork. The range of options can be explored by registering to use Legend’s online configurator.
Another option for the bike is Legend’s finishing kit that comprises a selection of titanium parts from Control tech (stem, handlebars, seatpost clamp, and top cap for the stem) and PMP (seatpost). The kit is designed to complement the raw finish of the frame and the final effect is stunning; a raw and industrial effect that is also exotic and opulent.
The Il Re frame weighs around 1,500g, depending on size. The frameset sent for review (54cm equivalent) was assembled with Campagnolo’s Super Record RS groupset, Astute saddle and Fulcrum Racing Carbon Quattro wheels for a final weight of 7.75kg with one cage but no pedals (or 7.01kg with Bora Ultra 35 wheels).
Pricing for the Il Re frameset starts at €4,664/AU$8,000 where the final amount depends on the options that are selected (e.g. the titanium finishing kit adds €750/AU$1,300). Il Re is supplied with a 10-year warranty and Legend aims to fulfil every order within eight weeks. For more information, visit Legend or get in touch with Cycling Projects or any one of Legend’s retailers.
From the outset, I should acknowledge that there is a measure of futility to reviewing a bespoke frameset when all of the bike’s attributes, including the geometry, are customised to suit the owner. In this instance, however, there was no lengthy dialogue and I didn’t review the final geometry. I simply provided my preferred top tube and stem length (545 and 120mm, respectively), and left the rest of the decisions up to Legend.
In retrospect, the potential for a mismatch was considerable. Indeed, it’s a point that unnerves many buyers. There is no opportunity for a test-ride to provide some reassurance, so any purchase requires a leap of faith. That’s a deal-breaker for some but there is one very satisfying flipside: a bike that has been purpose-fitted and –built to suit your every desire. As such, there’s no value in a bespoke frameset if you don’t know what you want.
With all of that in mind, I was quite stunned by how well the frameset fit me. I had to swap out the titanium post for a longer carbon model to achieve my desired saddle height while a slim spacer was all that was needed to set my preferred handlebar height.
The first thing that struck me about the bike was the highly refined ride quality. Il Re was immediately smooth and compliant, but I didn’t have to surrender my sense of the road. Some riders would rather block it out altogether but I believe the feedback is important, perhaps even critical, for controlling the bike. If nothing else, it’s a pleasure to feel the terrain, like feeling the sand between one’s toes at the beach.
I never suffered from road buzz or any sharp hits while riding Il Re. Indeed, I started going out of my way to find rough terrain, first to test the performance of the bike, and then to marvel at how well it worked. I could feel the terrain, trace it precisely with my progress — like a pen across a seismic chart — but I was never in danger of being knocked from my path. It was a paradox that I was still marvelling at a few weeks later.
Legend’s choice of titanium for Il Re goes a long to explaining the paradoxical nature of the bike. I’ve yet to find an adequate explanation for how the material manages this trick, but there is more to it than simply the behaviour of the material. For example, the Vamoots CR that I reviewed last year provided a firmer ride, and while it offered some of the same smoothness, it transferred more road buzz on rougher roads than Legend’s Il Re.
I discovered that Il Re had more tricks up its sleeve when I headed into the hills. Rising out of the saddle, the bike was immediately agile, recalling the qualities of lightweight carbon bikes like BH’s Ultralight EVO and Canyon’s Ultimate CF SLX. However, while the Il Re managed to match those bikes in terms of its nimbleness, the bike didn’t offer the same kind of responsiveness. For me, it was the first demonstration that agility and responsiveness are not directly connected.
In this case, I suspect that some of the agility of Il Re can be attributed to the compact frame design, which made the wheels seem a little smaller. Climbers will enjoy Il Re because of this, as will road racers. The bike doesn’t demand to be raced though: it is truly at home on the open road, and as promised above, really well suited to long rides.
After spending nearly a month on Il Re, I was not left wanting in any regard. The steering and handling was sure and precise while the geometry was almost perfectly suited to my fit. I could alter the mood of the bike by swapping the wheels — Campagnolo’s Bora Ultra 35 wheelset really revved the bike up — but the bike never demanded it. Indeed, there was at least one moment on every ride where I felt like praising the performance of the bike.
Marco Bertoletti has created in Legend a one-stop shop for any bike rider looking for a bespoke frameset. The range of options is immense and therefore best suited to buyers that have a clearly defined hit-list of needs. While some models will appeal to high-end shoppers with opulent tastes, Legend’s ultimate goal is to satisfy each customer with a bike that perfectly meets their needs.
Engaging a framebuilder is a highly personal experience, but in this instance my interaction with Legend (and Marco) was far too limited for me to comment upon. Nevertheless, any bespoke project is an indulgence and I expect most will enjoy the extra attention to detail and a strong sense of collaboration (with a master Italian craftsman, no less!). Judging by how well the sample Il Re performed, I’m confident that Legend will be able to meet (or even exceed) the expectations of any buyer.