The Dardo scandium alloy main frame and carbon fibre rear end road bicycle, serial #3281, from the house of Casati, Italian family bicycle fabricators, looks fast standing still in its diablo red and pearl white livery. Produced by brothers Luca and Massimo, it’s far from just a mere bicycle, these are works of art emerging from 100 years of family tradition.
As confirmed by Rudi from Cicli Casati, this frame is one of only 150 Dardo frames ever produced in this way, it is a true exquisite and rare find in the world.
The very first custom road bike I ventured forward gleefully with, and by custom I mean from scrawls on paper and more than just a new set of wheels and individually selected components, was fabricated by another pair of Italian brothers, Gianni and Fabio Bonetti, who have produced bikes not since 1920, but some fifty years younger, beginning their operation in 1970. Located around 50 kilometres from Venice and some 240 kilometres from brothers Luca and Massimo, funnily enough when the Bonetti bike was commissioned via email with the assistance of long-standing Italo-Australian Cycling Club Secretary, Gino, it was in fact a Dedacciai scandium frame and carbon fibre rear, just the same as this Ferrari-fast Casati Dardo. So even though I’m valiantly trying to track down my first Bonetti (please let me know here if you see it), in a way my lucid dreams of that first Italian escapade are being willingly stolen away by the Dardo.
Casati Bicycles are not ones to produce thousand upon thousand of bicycles every year, in fact even if you spent the next three hours googling “Casati Dardo”, it’d be impressive to find more than a couple of these original frames in existence, never mind finding a beautifully finished one in diablo red and pearl white one like this, by none other than famed bicycle painter, Carlo Dossena.
Cicli Casati, The History
Cicli Casati commenced in 1920, founded by Pietro Casati, before he raced as a professional cyclist in the years 1921 to 1923, and 1925. No doubt being a professional cyclist then bares little resemblance to the world tour teams that exist today, and professionally cycling would mean for him to also professionally be working in tandem too. Born in 1891, his team racing career commenced at almost 30 years of age, whilst his business was established alongside. His best performance, winning the Tour of Lombardy in 1921 would have aided his profile immensely, and led to an appearance in the 1923 Tour de France.
A third generation operation now, it remains one of the strong family-owned bicycle fabrication houses in Italy, maintaining the essence of the traditional craft and producing only limited numbers of steel, aluminium and carbon frames each year, and by small numbers, the meaning is around five per day, or a total of 1200-ish per year.
In this way, Pietro’s grandsons Luca and Massimo lay claim to ensuring the attention to detail is in their hands, that the workmanship is exquisite and without compromise, and that the (he)art of their frames carries the spirit intended, classic design and innovation that remains true to the very roots of family, quality first, quantity a very distant second (see the workshop tour video at the bottom of this post). 90% of their production is in fact custom for each frame order, tuning the geometry, sizing and design of paint finish for each order. Is this not the epitome of passion, every bike turned out of the workshop made by their own hands, in a time-honoured tradition? Even with the advancements of materials and popularity of carbon fibre, the workshop still produces around half of its production in metal frames.
Now, with this in mind then, imagine for a moment that you’re a third generation artisan bicycle builder, known for honing your craft over 100 years of Italian family tradition, you’re deeply focused on your latest custom frame builds, particularly following the devastation of a world health pandemic, and then some pesky Australian starts writing to you to ask a ridiculous amount of enquiries about one of their hallmark scandium frames from years ago. Hmm, yes, your hunch is probably right, they are much busier honing their latest beauties than wishing to attend to wildly enthusiastic emails from this passionate cyclist 16,000 kilometres away!
Segue for a moment if you please, as the former custom Bonetti comes into view. Before 2009 I’d never owned an Italian bicycle, despite bunch rides and road races swarming with Colnago’s and their Ace of Clubs logos, unmistakeable celeste finished Bianchi bikes and swoopy Pinarellos, so it was kind of an outrageous thing to be sourcing a custom frame from little known Bonetti near Venice. Pointedly however, and little known to me now why, but I chose scandium tubing for the build. This, despite having ridden LOOK 281 and 381 carbon frames, a couple of Orbea Orca, and Specialized S-Works Tarmac and Roubaix bikes.
And the reason the Bonetti holds such favour is because scandium has the unique ride quality of being very light and stiff like aluminium, however not quite as harsh and brutal, without sacrificing the agility and panther like handling as you claw the road. It feels very direct in power transfer, the responsiveness to legs levering pedals is immediate, the sense of command for each muscle fibre to drive the bike forward is as certain as the dart driving into the corkboard. And so, to the Dardo, “The Dart”, and the spawning of a dream build project in the Mornington Peninsula’s Italian quartiere, formed by the similarly oversized and scalloped tubing.
The Dardo Project
You know the feeling, it always, always happens with a glint and sparkle in the eye. It’s that beautiful moment within when hope meets potential. You drive by the run-down weatherboard, paint peeling, weeds like triffids, and instead see glossy white picket fence, Sistine chapel styled stained-glass feature front door and the scent of fresh rich espresso veins seeping through the membranes of sunrise light shards in the crisp early morning from under the hug of a hand-picked goose-down doona.
That is precisely the Casati Dardo 56cm Serial #3281 road bike.
Just like the poor beat-up weatherboard, projects like these call for extreme measures. Measures you never accounted for whilst sipping your espresso with your dearly beloved as you catch the glimmer of the reds, greens and blue-tinged hues of the stained-glass slowly pushing across the french-polished parquetry floor as the Earth rotates. None that you’ll remember after the fact either. Extreme procurement exercises like driving 300 kilometres to obtain a single part that you just have to have and know, yes know, as your spouse does too, that it’s “just perfect”, and nothing else will do. Except probably 10 other nearly as good as parts 250 kilometres closer. But the six hours driving was worth it, the proof is in the unveiling.
Hours, no, days spent scouring the internet for that bargain that you really think is going to pay off big time. But doesn’t. And ends up falling into the “maybe next project” pile. Which will eventually end up in the room designed for all those things that we’ll do “one day”. Another 300 kilometre drive coming up.
The Dardo might be all about precision, strategy and direct power, but it’s also a bold looking machine. Beautifully balanced by famed bicycle painter Carlo Dossena’s subtle pearl white finish that radiates in the sunlight. It has an elegance, becoming more apparent as the shaping of the custom Dedacciai drawn tubes is given away as the light changes throughout the day.
It’s important to respect the original design cues and find a way to complement, rather than overpower or disempower the presence of a frame produced by two men fastidiously and dutifully at work.
The Deda Elementi Campione carbon fibre handlebar exudes that classic round bend of the drops, with the confidence inspiring large diameter bar for rigidity and control. Featherweight at only 189 grams, only eclipsed by the numbers of the price when it was first released, 360 Pounds Sterling (GBP). That’s right, $660 Australian Dollars! Wrapped with white cotton bar tape, the hands and fingers rest atop the bar easily as the shift and brake cables are hidden in their double moulded groove underneath.
The trapezoid shape of the Deda Superzero stem connects the cockpit to the frame, aerodynamically piercing the wind in the direction of the target. Finishing the adornments, the Deda Supercarbon RS carbon fibre seat post props the Fizik Arione saddle.
Transferring all the power of quadriceps fuelled by creatine and ATP, the ever stylish Campagnolo Shamal Ultra wheelset wrapped with Schwalbe One 25mm tyres will make light work of any contestants misguided in their desire to outclass a century of Italian artisan design rolling effortlessly down the road.
A large Italian heart full of raging passion requires equally stout and flamboyant Italian limbs to ensure the unruly energy is directed to flourish and prance to be noticed, and this is achieved through the Campagnolo Chorus Carbon 11-speed groupset. The darting nature of this raw Monza stallion called for standard 175mm carbon Chorus crankset with 53/39 rings mated to 11-27 cassette for ultimate speed, whether you’re dominating the ripple-strips on the esses at Carnegie-Caulfield criterium races at Sandown raceway or at full flight over the final rise at Alpe-du-Ricketts with your eyes firmly fixed on the arms on the dial of the Black Rock Clocktower before they tick over to signal the hours of eight and minutes of thirty early on Saturday morning.
And now, to where this project all started, the frame. Casati knows style, this is no more evident than by the 90th anniversary edition of their commemorative steel bicycle, the Linea Oro released 10 years ago that has the forks, frame lugs and chain stays gleaming in 24 carat gold.
The Dardo reflects this same brilliance, under famed Carlo Dossena’s rich paintwork (evidenced by his trademark logo “Varnished by Dossena Carlo”; see the bottom of the post for extra links to his work), the 56cm Dedacciai scandium and carbon tubes weigh approximately 1450 grams. When it was initially released, the Dardo frame built up as a bike would begin at $7,500. This frame has lived tales that not even I can relay, but despite the chips, chain marks, and specks, the depth of the paintwork resists being sullied along with the value of true artisan hand craftsmanship.
And it is with an extra satisfied shimmer in the eyes that the vision for this exclusive road bike has materialised. The build itself is always entertaining with rampant internet searches that seem endless in the desire for that ideal part to fit and finish. More than that though, the unexpected learning through the process, of the history, of finding the characters and making contact with the real-life people who brought this incredible piece of family tradition into being, it inspires and evokes the connection within for the reason why we all dream, or have that reservoir of will to tap into, to keep innovating in the way that means something to our own selves. And so when you see your own interpretation of the wild triffids and can only sea tall sunflowers reaching up to the blue sky, whatever you do, Act!
Geometry and Technical Specifications
Seat-tube: 56cm (measured centre-centre)
Top-tube: 57cm (measured centre-centre)
Seat-tube angle: 73.3 degrees
Headset: 1″1/8-inch threadless
Bottom Bracket: Italian thread
Seatpost diameter: 27.2mm
Make it Yours?
Now that it’s complete, this esteemed exuberant Italian needs a new home, and is for sale. Please make contact here with your enquiry or visit the listing online.
|Frame||56cm Dedacciai SC61.10A Scandium Frame and Carbon Rear Stays Serial #3281|
|Fork||Carbon Fibre Fork 1″1/8 Steerer|
|Shifter/Levers||Campagnolo Chorus Carbon 11spd|
|Brake Calipers||Campagnolo Chorus 11spd Skeleton Alloy|
|Bar / Stem||Deda Elementi Campione Carbon Fibre 44cm Bar, Deda Superzero 110mm Alloy Stem|
|Bar Tape||White Cotton Bartape|
|Headset||Campagnolo Record No Threadset Headset|
|Crankset||Campagnolo Chorus Carbon 11spd Compact Crankset 175mm 53/39|
|Rear Derailleur||Campagnolo Chorus Carbon 11spd Rear Derailleur|
|Front Derailleur||Campagnolo Athena Steel Cage Front Derailleur|
|Wheelset||Campagnolo Shamal Ultra Dark Edition 700c Quick Release Wheelset|
|Tyres||Schwalbe One 700x25c Tyres|
|Seatpost||Deda Elementi Supercarbon Carbon Fibre RS 27.2mm Seat Pillar|
|Saddle||Fizik Arione Wing Flex Black and Red Saddle|
Shoot Location: Italico Restaurant, Sorrento VIC
What better backdrop for this rather sleek sharp-pointed steed than the family-run Italico Italian restaurant in historic Sorrento, overlooking the azure blue and emerald green waters of Port Phillip Bay on the southern Mornington Peninsula. Housed within the 1876 built limestone walls of the original Mornington Hotel (later the Koonya Hotel), built, owned and operated by the Clark family until 1952, nowadays the Italian flavours and welcoming hospitality runs richly through the menu of traditional pizzas, pastas and local favourite special dishes.
For me this clip captures beautifully the heritage, passion and artisan nature of the Casati bicycles produced to this day by master craftsmen’s hands.
Other Vintage Casati Bicycles From The Web
2010 90th Anniversary 25ct Gold Casati Linea Oro Steel Lugged Frame (Gold Lugs, Chainstays, Fork)
1992 Casati Ellisse MAX with Campagnolo Record Delta
1980s Casati Columbus SLX Steel Lugged Frame with Shimano 600
1990s Casati Monza Columbus Cromor Steel Lugged Frame with Campagnolo Groupset
Other Classic Bicycles varnished by Carlo Dossena
1980s Titan Columbus SL Steel Lugged Frame (Swiss), finished by Carlo Dossena (new, never built up)
Anselmo Steel Lugged Frame by Giovanni Losa, finished by Carlo Dossena. Campagnolo Groupset
More Factory Tours and Insights
Big Ring Racing Blog – Factory Tour 2010
Bici Life Blog – Factory Tour 2015
Casati Blog – Making of Dardo Carbon Frame
Thanks for visiting.