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Bixxis may be a new brand name to many but the man behind these custom-built frames — Doriano De Rosa — has a deep history, both in the sport and as a framebuilder. After spending 40 years working for his father’s company, Doriano has started his own to “get back to basics”. In this review, Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom spent a few weeks riding the Prima, Bixxis’ first bespoke frame made from steel.
Doriano De Rosa started working for his father Ugo in 1975 at the age of 14. He served a lengthy apprenticeship, first training how to use a file for three years before taking up the torch to braze his first frame in 1977.
The De Rosa factory provided an ideal setting for Doriano’s development as a framebuilder. Professional riders would often visit the factory and they always had special requests and very particular needs. The experience was invaluable, not only for gaining a complete understanding of the intricacies of bicycle geometry, but also for interpreting the needs of each rider and translating them into a frameset.
By the end of the ‘80s, Doriano was well versed in lugged frame and fork construction. He was also becoming frustrated with the constraints that lugs imposed. There was no room for experimenting with different tube sizes when the lugs dictated the sizes that could be used. The lugs also added extra weight to the frame, which is why he was quick to appreciate the benefits of TIG welding.
By embracing the unconventional method, Doriano was able to use different combinations of tube sizes, which gave him a lot more freedom for creating each frame. He was also in a position to make use of the lighter oversized tubing that was being developed at the time.
There was a limit to how much weight could be shed when working with steel, hence Doriano’s interest in the new titanium alloys that started appearing in the early ‘90s. Having developed a fascination for metals, the new material was something of a revelation. He was also drawn to the challenge of learning how to work with titanium.
De Rosa’s Titanio frames enjoyed enormous success under team Gewiss-Ballan in 1994, and while there was more to the success of that team than just the bikes, Doriano’s devotion to mastering the material was paying dividends for the family brand.
With such a rich history of success and satisfaction working for De Rosa, why did Doriano decide to leave the company to start Bixxis in 2015? In short, the new era of carbon composites meant De Rosa was moving away from the methods and materials that Doriano treasured. I suspect that Doriano was also longing for a return to the smaller family business that he started working for in the ‘70s, since his daughter is his partner in the new business.
Bixxis takes its name from “Biciclette Italiane per il XXI Secolo”, which translates as “Italian bicycles for the twenty-first century”. While this may strike some as a bold assertion, I see Doriano’s refreshed purpose in the statement as he marks out a new phase in his career.
“I wanted to get back to basics,” says Doriano on the new company’s website. “I wanted to go on building bicycle frames guided by one simple idea. That’s where Bixxis comes from: true craftmanship as the only orientation to foster even more passion into sturdy – yet contemporary – bicycles built with the metals I love: steel and titanium.”
For this review, I spent a few weeks riding the Prima, Doriano’s first creation for Bixxis, thanks to the company’s Australian agent, Cycling Projects.
Before the ride
The Prima is a hand-built TIG-welded steel frame that is made to order by Doriano in his workshop in Seregno, Italy. As such, customers are provided with custom geometry and a choice of finishes, where the primary goal is to satisfy their needs.
At the heart of the frameset is an oversized steel tubeset that is custom made for Bixxis by Columbus. For those familiar with Columbus’ catalogue of tubesets, this tubeset is a modified version of Spirit, though Bixxis doesn’t go into much detail on where the differences lie.
One difference that the company is willing to share relates to the chainstays, which are larger and designed to add extra stiffness to the frame. Bixxis refers to the structure as its “X-Stays system”, whereby the chainstays are positioned as close to the pedals as is possible. In the current era of carbon composites, this strategy may not seem particularly novel, however it’s much more challenging to achieve for a welded steel frame.
Bixxis opt to CNC-machine their own steel dropouts for the Prima and the result is both elegant and functional. The semi-hood provides extra surface area for welding the stays, yet it doesn’t interfere with the skewer lever like some designs. Some may worry about the one-piece derailleur hanger, but a sacrificial hanger is not necessary on a steel bike. In the event of an accident, a steel hanger can always be bent back into place without fear of fracturing.
The Prima has a straight-gauge head tube with machined surfaces for an integrated headset. Bixxis has chosen Pergoretti’s Falz fork to finish off the frameset, a carbon fork that was specifically designed to complement steel frames. According to Pegoretti, the flat crown design is important for the compliance of the fork, while the legs offer enormous lateral stiffness.
The rest of the specifications for the frame are a mix of traditional and contemporary features. Of them all, the 70mm Italian-threaded bottom bracket is the most traditional compared to the slotted cable guides for the rear brake and derailleur cables. The 29.4mm seat post diameter is also far from traditional, and limits aftermarket choices, which is why a PMP titanium post is supplied with the frameset.
While some aspects of the Prima are steadfastly traditional, Doriano will build the frame with a horizontal or sloping top tube. However, for those that are considering Di2 or EPS, they will have to look elsewhere for a frameset because the Prima will not accommodate either. As for the tyres, clearance at the fork is generous, however the X-stays allow for little more than 27mm tyres.
As mentioned above, the choice of geometry and finish is left in the hands of the customer. Buyers are welcome to visit Doriano in the Bixxis factory in Italy, otherwise agents like Cycling Projects will work with the customer to collect the measurements and information that he needs to design the geometry of the frame.
The Prima frame sent for review was ~55cm size and weighed 1,827g with all fittings, while the fork weighed 403g with the crown race. Campagnolo’s Super Record RS groupset was used for the build for a final weight of 7.40kg with Bora Ultra 35 tubulars (without pedals or bidon cages). Swapping the Boras for a classic 32-spoke wheelset (Chorus nine-speed hubs from the late-‘90s and H Plus Son TB14 rims) upped the final weight to 8.40kg.
I had no issues when building up the Prima. The external cables simplified the process and every aspect of the frameset was finished to a high standard with clean threads that were ready to accept the bottom bracket cups and rear derailleur. The quality of the paint was equally high and it seemed to be resistant to chipping.
The final price of the Prima depends upon the options and the paint finish elected by the customer. For Australian buyers, prices start at AUD$4,000 (~US$3,000), which includes the Prima frame, Falz carbon fork, headset, PMP titanium seatpost, and a two-colour paint finish.
After the ride
The Prima was one of those bikes that I really didn’t need any time to get accustomed to. After the first hour, my awareness of the bike largely disappeared, such that it never got in my way. I was able to tackle any ride I wanted to and I’d always come back with a smile on my face.
All this from a frame that hadn’t been tailored to my fit, so I can only imagine how much better the Prima could have been if I’d had one custom built. For some riders, millimeter differences in the head tube and top tube lengths won’t have any effect on their comfort, but I will always notice it.
The frame is heavy in the current era of carbon composites, and by comparison, the Prima lacks the extra agility and responsiveness that has come to define contemporary carbon race bikes. Swapping between the Bora Ultra 35s and the 32-spoke wheels had the expected results, where the extra weight of the classic wheelset slowed the bike down, but the Prima never became tiresome.
For long rides in the hills, I opted for my regular low profile alloy wheelset, and it served as a pleasing middle ground for the two extremes. I had no trouble keeping the bike going with a steady tempo effort and overall, the Prima was well mannered, regardless of the terrain.
In fact, it was this serene and easygoing nature that came to define the Prima for me. The bike was ready to be pushed hard whenever I had the motivation, yet it was happy to wait when I wanted to cruise instead. Clearly, not the ideal bike for an aggressive rider chasing KOM honours, though I don’t think race-hardened strongmen will have any trouble piloting the Prima in their local races.
Indeed, the Prima was a sturdy bike with a measure of stiffness, but like every other aspect of the bike, it wasn’t a stand-out feature. Neither was the steering — which was as direct and precise as anybody could ever hope for — nor the comfort, which was welcoming without feeling wasteful. All of these traits blended together seamlessly to create a bike that doesn’t really excel in any regard, yet is superbly balanced.
I didn’t go through the process of placing an order with Bixxis, so I can’t comment on what it is like to work with Doriano to finalise the design of the frame. However, given the man’s history in the craft, I have no doubt about his skill or aptitude. That the current pricing for the Prima is exceptionally reasonable for a bespoke frameset from a master framebuilder only adds to the appeal of this bike.
By the end of the review period, I found myself thinking about the things I’d want if I were placing an order for myself. I’d keep the sloping top tube as a clear sign that the bike is a contemporary creation; so too, the carbon forks. In fact, my only deliberations would be on the geometry (low and fast or maybe a longer wheelbase), the finish (racing red, perhaps), and whether I could afford a trip to Italy to visit Doriano to place my order.
Final thoughts and summary
I have no quarrel with the direction that contemporary bicycle design is travelling. I admire the technology and the achievements that have been made in the last two decades, but sometimes I wonder if there’s a risk that we might lose sight of the essence of the activity. After all, few riders will ever be in a position where the marginal gains offered by the latest advances will make a difference to their enjoyment of the sport.
What I think will make a difference to the enjoyment of many riders is a custom-built frameset, where the gains in comfort and handling are arguably greater than a couple-dozen watts in a wind tunnel. So while a bike like the Prima may appear heavy and outdated compared to the market leaders, I think it still has a lot to offer riders in the 21st century.