It has been a few years since I obsessively and solely built vintage Italian race bikes. The overall composition, color palette, Campy finesse, and history of Italian bikes piqued my interest early on, and I spent the first 3 years of my bicycle fanaticism searching for and building fabled road models like this one. Mind you, this bike was a totally different configuration when I found it. The previous owner had it built as his commuter, outfitted with upright bars, some random mis-matched wheelset, and a Brooks sprung saddle. The shop I found it in hadn't done anything to restore the Masi to it's original road design, and part of me felt immediately responsible for the future of this bike, so I bought and rebuilt it in a way that I feel reflects the story of the legendary Gran Criterium line.
(A few notes about the bike: 8 spd. Dura Ace downtube shifters, 53/39 crank set, derailleurs, and bottom bracket. Original Campagnolo Record headset. Nitto Technomic stem and Noodle handlebars. Soma layback seatpost. Brooks B17 saddle and Fi:zi'k superlight tape.)
The more research I did about this particular Masi the more I realized it was less a testament to vintage Italian construction, but instead is an Italian inspired contribution to the blossoming American bicycle industry of the 80's. Welded in 1987 by Joe Starck in Carlsbad, CA, this Masi is one of the many Criterium frames made by an elite class of American cyclists that the Masi sought out to oversee production at their North American headquarters. Alongside prestigious US groups like Waterford, Trek, and Schwinn, these high end bicycles helped to cultivate the expectations we have today for quality local fabrication. It's got the same proportions, tubing, and character of an Italian purebreed, but was made by tenacious and unforgiving American perfectionists. As you can tell, I like this bike a lot.
If you want to learn more about the history of Masi bicycles, there is a huuuge amount of info out there on the web. We've also included Masi's personal recounting of the life of the company below:
MASI HISTORY: It's All About the Ride
It’s all about the ride. From the beginning of Masi’s birth and evolution, the Masi philosophy has always been about the way our bikes ride. Masi has never been about the latest fads or fashions in manufacturing, or even geography, but always about how the rider feels when riding the bike. Faliero Masi brought the storied brand to the US in the early 70’s, shunning the myth that a quality racing bicycle could only be built in Italy. Since that time, many of the most well-known brands in the Italian cycling world have followed the trail out of Italy that was blazed by Masi.
Faliero Masi was known as “The Tailor” because of the quality of his craftsmanship and his unbending belief in fitting the bike to the rider and the type of riding to be done. The top riders of the time would visit Masi to have their bikes made because of his reputation as the best. Mythical riders like Fausto Coppi, Luison Bobet, Felice Gimondi, Rick van Looy, Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx. These legends of the sport would pay to have Masi craft their frames and then have them painted and decaled as their official team bikes. Year after year. Because Faliero himself had been a professional racer in the early 1930’s, racing in monuments of the sport like the Giro d’Italia and Milan San Remo, he knew how important proper fit was and how a bike needed to compliment the rider. From the very beginning, the ride itself was always the most important feature of any bike that was adorned with the Masi name.
After coming to the US in the 70’s, the Masi legend continued to grow. Faliero always believed in the craftspeople building the bikes and the materials being used; it was always the “how” and not the “where” that mattered. Some of the biggest names in frame building worked in the Masi USA workshop - Confente, Eisentraut, Baylis, Moulton just to name a few. The shop was overseen and ultimately taken over by master builder Ted Kirkbride, whose guidance and experience working with the great master Faliero Masi helped to continue the legendary reputation of the Masi brand.
Years later, when Faliero returned to Italy in retirement, Ted and the skilled craftsmen of Masi USA went on to build on the rich history that has evolved into what Masi is today. Masi bicycles are still painstakingly crafted with the rider and ride both first and foremost in mind- not the latest manufacturing craze or with the sole purpose of being the lightest bike on the market. What good is light weight or exotic manufacturing if the bike does not ignite your passion to ride?
To this day, we design each Masi with the same principles as the great master builder Faliero Masi - it has to disappear underneath the rider and become an extension of the rider’s movements and power. Beyond that, each Masi is designed to speak to that part of your soul that says simply “I want to go for a ride today”. At Masi Bicycles, as it has been for the better part of 70 years, it’s all about the ride. It is this singular devotion to an esoteric principle that sets Masi apart. We don’t make bicycles for everybody, we make bicycles for you. Masi has evolved into much more than just a race brand, and is now a brand for every facet of your cycling lifestyle. It’s all about the ride, whatever that ride might be.
Thanks for checking in.