Dario Pegoretti, a fingertip away from God

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Italian frame builder Dario Pegoretti passed away yesterday at the age of 62. Pegoretti was perhaps best known professionally for the intricate paint jobs that decorated his framesets, but those who recall him more intimately remember the passing of a warm, kind, and truly inspirational figure who was far more than just a painter or frame builder.

Below is a tribute to Pegoretti, written by his friend and business acquaintance, Joshua Poertner of Silca. CyclingTips wishes to offer its condolences to Pegoretti’s family and friends. A true legend was lost yesterday.

Of all the people I’ve worked with in this beautiful sport, Dario Pegoretti is the one I am most often asked about. He was an artist and artisan of the highest order, but he was also intelligent and insightful, technically brilliant, and continually reinventing himself. Chatting with Dario in his studio late in the day over a glass of wine could be a bit like walking the streets of Verona: winding, twisting, delightful, and full of beauty and surprises.  

I first talked with Dario over the phone in 2014. He had sent me a Facebook message following the launch of our Ultimate pump congratulating me for resurrecting Silca and for doing something “unique and beautiful” that “poked the industry in the eye.” He had a long and fraught relationship with the cycling industry, oscillating between love and hate. It was an industry that had both embraced and rejected him over his career, and coming back from cancer, he penned a letter to the industry that he painted on a bicycle.

“You really need to reinvent yourself soon,” it said. “Some of the work is very repetitive and unimaginative. Sorry, guys. I am totally confident that you can do even better if you try.”

He hand wrote it using his famous micro-brush-strokes in black paint on a bright pink background splashed with yellow and black details reminiscent of caution or crime scene tape.  

He understood the value of supporting young art and talent in the industry, and ours is one of so many stories of the great master sending a note, or an email, or later a Facebook message to young builders. Imagine being a young builder and having Dario show up and praise your work on Facebook. It was delightful and inspirational. He understood that this was part of the power he had and he used it well.  

He had a bit of a reputation for being the quintessential Italian artist — difficult, late, unpredictable — but what was rarely told was that he was also a solid businessman. I was caught off-guard in one of our first sit-down discussions when I asked him about his sales in Italy.

“My shtick doesn’t work here so well,” he told me nonchalantly. “And besides, the Italians are currently obsessed with plastic bikes.”

The irony of Dario’s “shtick,” of course, isn’t that he was pretending to be an amazing artist, but that he was pretending not to be a brilliant business and technical mind. He helped me understand the demise of the original Silca brand in Italy over lunch, explaining that, “Italy was the original low cost ‘offshore’ labor platform for cycling.” He went on to explain how the exchange rate on the lira had given Italy a large export advantage, allowing brands like Colnago, Cinelli, Silca, and others to spread globally, only to experience massive inflation when Italy moved to the euro, which dramatically hurt the ability to export and price competitively.  

This was the Dario that most people never knew. 

He could deliver a dissertation on the economics of trade, the history of Hi-Fi, the intricacies of Miles Davis or Etta James, architecture, woodworking, cycling, the benefits and limitations of curvature smoothing functions in CAD software, etc.. A few hours spent with him could be the equivalent of a three-credit-hour course at a university. 

On my last trip, we discussed his work with a professor in Rome on recreating a sponge painting technique described in ancient Roman documents, how they identified the particular type of sea sponge and then figured out how to grind and mix the paints from natural pigments and how he had worked this technique into his art. He then showed me the work he was doing with gas sublimating inks and everything he was doing to make custom paint bases that he could sublimate onto. He mentioned that America’s most powerful exports were our ideals and our worldview, and that would we should worry about who fills that gap if we create barriers to trade. Then, after a few seconds pause listening to the loud freeform jazz playing in the shop he said, “It’s a good time for Nirvana,” promptly adjusting the shop music to fit his mood.

My favorite line from Dario was him talking about the constant reinvention, learning, and growth from an interview I did with him last year. It feels more prescient than ever this morning.

“You have told me that perfection is not possible,” I said to him. “Is this what gives you the freedom to reinvent and experiment?”

“I experiment because everything interests me,” he replied. “There is just too much to learn, but I think about perfection in everything I do; it is always in my mind. I think about Michelangelo (painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel). If you spend a lifetime at the bench and you give everything, maybe before you die you can be a fingertip away from perfection — a fingertip away from touching God. We can try, no?”

Master, teacher, poet, philosopher, artist. 

RIP Friend


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