The name Hephaestus is unfamiliar to most outside of the study of Greek mythology. He was the god of fire, chiefly the blacksmith’s fire. As a result, he was the patron of all craftsmen, especially those working with metals.
According to myths of Hephaestus, early blacksmiths of the Olympian gods were ritually lamed so that they could not run away in order to hire out their unique and magical skills to the highest bidder. For they alone could take the lumps of glinting meteorite dug out of the earth and fashion of it swords, spear heads, braziers, and cauldrons. One could even say that they transformed raw materials into living things. This is what goes on at Columbus, the Italian manufacturer of tubing and one of the 29 bicycle artisans featured in the new book The Elite Bicycle.
The transformation of steel into tubing happens on a vast shop floor. It’s as cavernous as any subterranean goblins’ hall, full of machines, dull grayness, wooden racks, greasy with use and age, home to lines of mandrels, dyes, and formers. The machines found here are of an elderly breed. That’s because the company dates back almost one hundred years, to the year 1919.
Angelo Luigi Colombo founded the company the year the Great War ended, making tubes of all kinds. About fifty years later, his son, Antonio, a lover of art, became involved. But he had his own agenda. Having studied architecture, design, and fine art, he wanted more for the company than just producing metal tubing. He found that the only way for him to survive was “…to give some soul to the metal…” To this day, Columbus products remain a testimony to Antonio Colombo’s first love: art.
Unlike other companies in the ’70s and ’80s who were mass producing their products with the touch of a button, Columbus maintained its old ways of production: by hand. Maybe Colombo thought that it gave their products that extra bit of vitality and artistry, and that’s why he kept the old plant with the older generation of machines. Those machines depend on the feel, the hands, of those who operate them. With the help of a small work force, Columbus products are given soul, and for them, as a result, cycling is given soul.
This brief portrait of Columbus was adapted from its full chapter in the new book The Elite Bicycle.
The Elite Bicycle brings together intimate portraits of the world’s greatest bicycle artisans, examining the philosophies, the meticulous workmanship, and the eccentric personalities behind cycling’s most prestigious brands. Their materials and methods could not be more disparate, yet their pursuit is the same: the perfect bicycle.
In chapters featuring some of cycling’s greatest craftspeople, The Elite Bicycle offers up a conversation with the men and women who make the most coveted bicycles. Lavish, oversize photographs and personal interviews invite readers into their workshops to show the melding of old-world craftsmanship with space-age materials in fascinating studios and factories that fabricate superb machines.
The Elite Bicycle is both an homage to the bicycle maker and a collector’s piece in its own right, celebrating the stories behind the greatest bicycles and components in the world.