In cycling terms, the definition of “truly Italian” seems diluted as some of the leading brands have taken the steps to produce a portion (or the majority) of their products in other parts of the world. To be clear, these “foreign” products are generally, VERY good. The choice to go east with production is more about simple economics for big name brands and their big marketing and sponsorship budgets. Less expensive mass production is the only way to feed that beast.
But what of wanting something truly Italian? And further, something specifically tailored to you (after all, “SARTO” literally means “tailor” in Italian)? AND in the case that these big names are selling eastern made, mass produced, stock-size frame sets at $4-5-6,000+, what would the cost be for a fully custom, one off frame and fork that is made from scratch (raw materials to tubes to frame/fork to finishing) in Italy?
Let’s start at the beginning…
The 50’s were a bit of a golden age for Italian Cycling.
Of course there are older brands and for this era of cycling enthusiast, it’s almost as if the birth of Italian cycling happened around the time of Coppi and Bartalli, but in the 50’s, brands like Colnago and Pinarello and De Rosa started rolling, along with several others. It was a period where demand for bikes as transportation crossed over into sport and performance a bit more and this resulted in a good way to make a living in a region of Italy that spawned a who’s who of great brands.
It was in the 1950′s that Antonio (aged 14) and his brothers Mario and Giovanni started in cycling as production finishers and assemblers. They would pick up frames from Atala and Torpado (they rode their bikes to get them) and take them back and do filing and finish work.
They also had frame welding skills and started producing frames as well as providing the finishing and assembly for Atala, Torpado and a few others like Bottecchia, Basso and more. That continued into the 70’s when the company grew to its largest size, producing its own frames and building them to complete bikes. 40 people were rolling out 200 bicycles a day at the company’s peak.
After the oil shortage of the 70’s ended (along with the demand for those hundreds of frames), Sarto scaled back to a reasonable size building frames for other brands (you’ve seen their bikes winning grand tour stages and would recognize a few of the brands as premium “made in Italy” names). They also continued to build their own “Sarto” frames and remained a family affair with Antonio’s son Enrico and Enrico’s wife Chiara now at the company along with a dozen or so others.
Enrico (center) with the team that fab’d my new Energia.
The entire staff is a bit like family with the average time on the job for the craftsmen there at 15 years. The team’s members are virtually all cross trained in multiple areas of frame fabrication and they work as a team as new products, profiles and materials flow through the company.
Material changes in cycling over the past 50 years or so have seen many custom builders dig their heels in and refuse to change from whatever material they first learned. Not so at Sarto as their relationships building for other brands helped ensure that they stay current with the latest materials and methods and the new Energia is a great example.
Framing the story
While they certainly know their way around a torch and metal, Sarto’s Energia is carbon fiber built using tube to tube construction from shaped tube sets also made on site.
Sarto invested in an autoclave and began making their own tube sets to control both cost and product quality… But unlike many, they’ve developed a skill set that is allowing them to produce more aggressive shapes than many in the custom carbon game.
Every section of the Energia, including the seat and chain stays is fab’d in house using primarily Toray’s M46J series higher modulus unidirectional fiber as well as a couple of other materials that Sarto prefer not to mention.
Once the tube sets are molded, they’re cleaned and cut to suit the custom build and placed in a jig that holds the pieces in place according to the customer’s custom geometry requirements.
Once fit is assured, the tubes are bonded…
Most tube to tube construction is similar up to this point in the build process, but there are a few different methods to build up a joint once the tubes get tacked.
Some builders leave this layering or wrapping open to the eye, some actually take pride in using the carbon layering at the joints not only as a part of the structure but also as decoration in the case they’re fairly detailed on the layers and pattern. Sarto prefer not to share their method and instead, we’re just showing the carbon cover weave that’s laid over the carbon layers…
Once things are together, everything gets a detailed hand sanding and prep.
Then it’s off to get a base-clear coat and buffing ahead of whatever the final finish will bring…
In my case, it’s Sarto’s standard Energia paint scheme in a matte finish with conservative but unmistakably Italian details…
Sarto offer a few standard finishes as well as offering customer selected finishes.
One piece of kit that is nearly always purchased aftermarket by nearly all custom builders is the fork…
This is another area where Sarto remain in-house and I’m fairly thankful as their version of a disc-ready unit is simply the nicest I had seen at the time of this build.
The detailed finish is nice enough but it’s the built in brake line routing that really makes this a slick unit. Easy line in… and a shaped hole for line out at the caliper that is well placed and oriented for a clean exit with enough room to work, but with no sloppy extra.
The finished product is exceptionally clean, with no need for any clamp-over pieces or Zip ties.
Hide and Sleek
The internally-routed rear brake line is also very cleanly handled.
The entry ports for the rear brake as well as the front and rear shifting cable stops are all run through the down tube – only the hydraulic brake line is full length housing.
The holes are all angled to keep the rear brake line and the shifting lines nice and tight to the frame…
But the angles and placement of the holes are also set such that there is very little cable cross over despite close proximity. Of course it’s not a “critical” detail, but it is a detail that many miss and makes for virtually no cable rattle.
It’s tough to see from the front but there’s actually space between the shifter lines and adjusters and the brake line…
Like the fork, the rear brake line exit is also a clean run, with a properly angled metal insert / sleeve that is removable to make finding the line MUCH easier. Not everyone running internal lines takes into consideration that not enough room to work will mean that there is constant force from the stiff hydraulic housing that tries to push the caliper out of line while adjusting. Sarto’s angle and placement leaves just enough exposed line to make easy work of mounting and adjusting the caliper.
The rear caliper mounts are carbon and Sarto use a high temp-resistant resin in these areas. The mounts are well finished and make for a straight forward install of SRAM’s Hydro disc caliper. They are spaced for a 140MM rotor (easily changed to 160 with a spacer kit).
And once everything is together, the Energia looks refined enough that you would think custom carbon disc road bikes had been around for a decade. But then, like lots of manufacturers, Sarto have been making high end custom carbon mountain bikes and discs are not new.
Bits & Pieces
The build out for the Energia seems fairly practical relative to the exotic nature of the frame and fork.
The group is SRAM’s Red 22 Hydraulic Disc set up… (All of the components were knocked to a matte finish…). SRAM have fully updated the group since these pictures, but the looks are fairly similar. I’ll have a recap on the latest Hydro kit shortly.
More on the function below, but I can tell you that wet or dry, the braking is notably better than anything else, ESPECIALLY relative to that of any standard rim brake on carbon tubular wheels.
The Cockpit is Ritchey Logic
The Superlogic EvoCurve bars and Superlogic C260 stem are a great match in finish, style AND performance. At 115 grams for the stem and 190 for the bars, they’re plainly light enough…
And the matte finish sits well with the total package, as does the muted graphics that beg to be looked at without garish / overly-large logos. They also happen to be an upper-mid level stiffness that gives good feedback and has no slop, but are not so stiff that they spoil the ride.
The biggest surprise from Ritchey though was the Vector Evo Contrail saddle and post topper attached to the Superlogic seat post.
If the shape suites you, you should try this combination…
I rolled out of the house on the first check ride just to make sure things were situated properly ahead of wrapping the bars and immediately stopped when the bumps at the end of the driveway seemed a lot less harsh.
I was certain that I had forgotten to pump the tires on a brand spanking new set of Zipp 303 tubular disc wheels.
Rolling on new Conti’s GP4000 Tubulars.
After checking the pressure and finding 100psi front and back, I was sure something else was wrong, but everything was secure, so I rolled out again and just kinda giggled.
I’m telling you now, this saddle / rail / wing flex stuff works.
I have no idea if the bumps are soaked up more by the slightly bowed and fairly flexible mono-rail or by the flexible wings that support the weight rather than traditional rails pointing up into your butt, but I know it makes a difference you can feel after using the combo on a few other bikes as well as the Sarto.
Of all the dollars spent on other parts for this bike, the Vector tech is easily the biggest bang for the buck.
Does The Energia Perform?
You bet your ass (and eyes) that it does.
For starters, Sarto designed the Energia as what they would call a “Gran Fondo bike”, but I really can’t call it that because this was custom. Because Sarto didn’t mention “Fondo” when we first agreed to a review, I gave them my standard performance geometry.
So this Energia is a hybrid of sorts. A disc ready frame that weighed 920 grams, a disc ready fork that cut down to 378grams and a full build that hits right at 14 pounds (that’s bottle cages, Look Keo Blade Ti pedals, bar tape, the works). And it’s built in my normal geometry which is more responsive than what most would want in a Fondo bike.
The net result is what I guess should be called a ”Granfasto”.
It’s a hybrid of Fondo-like comfort with quicker handling, wrapped in top notch, race level bits and anchored by a set of brakes that haul down a light weight set of tubular carbon rims like nothing you’ve ever felt – unless you have a set of 303 tubulars on Hydro-disc brakes already.
The stiffness is upper middle. It’s not a bike designed overly stiff in order to make German test rigs happy. And it’s no sloppy noodle at all. Very few people will climb on this bike and push it hard and note flex.
It’s what you want for a fondo plus maybe a touch more in the front. I would guess that’s a good thing because a bike made too flexi in this geometry would get bound up and handle poorly when pushed, especially with this brake set.
The driveline stiffness matched with a light set of tubular carbon rims makes for great acceleration and responsiveness. The added disc weight at the hub is barely noticeable versus my standard (non disc) 303 tubular wheels.
What I do notice is the braking difference.
Tubular disc wheels are an incredible combination of low inertia at launch (better acceleration) and lower centrifugal force at speed (making for easier leaning and cornering) and they’re simply incredible in braking.
The low weight of a carbon tubular at the rim coupled with the massively better friction at the brake discs (wet or dry) versus rim brakes makes for braking that needs to be experienced to be appreciated… Once you understand the feel / modulation of discs as well as the traction level of your tire choice, you’ll find yourself literally braking very differently (and noting for the first time a genuine advantage versus others that don’t have the set up) when you’re really pushing hard.
Every single person that I’ve spoken to about Hydro disc brakes on solid tubular carbon wheels has found braking performance to be considerably better in every condition versus any wheel on any traditional rim brake. That includes duffers like me, but also includes a who’s who of jaded bike review journalists from most major publications…
Of course the fork and the front end stiffness / balance is pretty critical for Sarto.
Sarto are one of the few custom companies with proper testing equipment for both impact and stiffness at multiple points on the frame and fork.
The frame stiffness / balance were not an afterthought and the fork design was more than just an exercise in punching a hole for the line.
Sarto had to keep things balanced and they reinforce the fork for disc brake use. They went through several versions and tested them until they had what they wanted. Getting the details right is important not only because of the heat generated in the fork blade (at the caliper mount) but also because the brake disc rotates forward and pushes on the Caliper. A fork that is too flexible will literally steer away from the caliper side under heavy braking.
There’s also a spoke dish offset required.
The reinforcing layers of carbon are asymmetrical at both the fork and chain stays of the bike to deal with the forces (though the caliper mount at the rear will have very little to no effect of pushing the rear wheel off line).
As for the remaining design, it’s fairly conservative but there are notable tweaks.
The Top tube has a bit of a hump rather than remaining straight to allow for a bit more total chassis flex.
And the rear stays are notably thin front to back…
And quite a bit wider side to side.
The seat stays also turn a bit as they near the seat tube, all of this tweaking to make the stays a bit stiffer side to side at the rear hub, but allow for a little compliance. This is aided in the fiber orientation that changes as it moves away from the wheel.
So that’s a Wrap
I guess I should have paid more attention when I first got together with Sarto, but we were both running in a lot of different directions when this review first got the (red, white and…) green light. I might have spec’d things differently had I known the focus was “Gran Fondo”.
Instead, Sarto made me into a bit of an accidental genius as this bike responds like an all-round racer but also happens to be very comfortable (and that’s with my standard test saddle in place rather than it being down to Ritchey Logic’s saddle). Adding disc tubulars to this set up makes this a super combination of all day comfort with the ability to switch to attack mode without a second thought.
The tube set here is as much about comfort as it is about performance and that makes someone my size, with my affinity for hills and descents with some flat work VERY HAPPY.
If I wanted something with more focus going up hills, Sarto can shave quite a few grams with their climber’s model, the Asola. Conversely, if I were a flat land monster (or bigger or more powerful) I would look at their newer Lampo as the tube set is stiffer and shaped to cheat the wind a little more.
One thing that I find comfort in is that I’m sitting on something with a 5 year warranty from a company that’s been at this for a half century.
Sarto really check a lot of boxes…
Very few family-run custom shops (or frame makes in general) have survived for a half century. Fewer have embraced modern design and shapes in carbon fiber and also know their way around all types of metal. I can’t think of even a hand full of custom shops that make their own tube sets and forks.
Now there are certainly other lust-worthy Italian products to be had from great brands. My list of “wants” from this part of the world, stock or custom, is not short. But the Sarto family are turning raw fiber to tube set to full frame and fork by hand to your geometry specification in their shop in Italy and they’re doing it for a lower price point than several larger brands mass produced top line offerings.
That does not mean that their Italian compatriot’s products, produced in Italy or in the far east are not worth the money (I think they are). But it does mean that $5400 for a custom fitted Energia is a relatively good value. The exclusivity that comes with a small, long standing, custom Italian brand has value as well but at day’s end the reason most of us buy a bicycle is to ride it.
It’s a smooth ride quality, trim weight (even if it were not a disc ready frame), fantastic braking performance, solid balance and the handling that comes with being able to specify your geometry that are more important to me.
If I were buying anything high-end Italian and spending $5-6-7,000US on a frame fork package, I’m not sure there are any stock bikes that I would rather own over something custom like this.
Custom Orders will take roughly 2 months and you can contact Sarto directly to find the closest retailer. You can get more information (including their dealer locator) at SARTOANTONIO.COM
AND… Sarto are actually on Holiday (all of the staff) through August 25th.
You can leave them an email at Info@SartoAntonio.com.
You can also visit them at Interbike In September. They’ll have Booth #2109 and also be featuring several new models.
Note: if you have other experiences with gear, or something to add, drop us a line. We don’t claim to know everything (we just imply it at times). Give us a pat on the back if you like the reviews, or a slap in the head if you feel the need!
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