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The celebratory pink confetti from the final stage of the Giro d’Italia had settled overnight. Most of the race staff, teams, journalists and fans were on their way home, and Milan’s central square had returned to what it looked like on any other Monday morning: well-heeled businesspeople scurried in and out of the metro, tourists gaped at the magnificent cathedral and teenagers ambled by, one eye ahead, one on their smartphones. But with or without the Giro, this is where the heritage of Italian cycling belongs, and it was from here that we took a 15-minute train ride to the northern outskirts of the Lombardy capital to the home and headquarters of De Rosa bikes.
Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood, half residential, half industrial, the De Rosa factory stands today where it has since the 1980s. It isn’t a Brooklyn-style industrial area, prone to host new brewpubs or boutique outposts sandwiched between crematoriums and adult stores; it’s where your second-favorite aunt and uncle live, close enough to the big city to retain certain curiosities, but just far enough away that those curiosities are just out of reach.
De Rosa, like most of the Italian heritage bike brands, is in a constant balancing act, and as demand for bikes soar and technology innovation moves forward at warp speed, so the company continues to place one foot ahead of the next on the tightrope, releasing cutting-edge bikes, mostly made in Taiwan, while remaining a family business, handcrafting frames at its headquarters.
Company founder Ugo De Rosa, now 88, still comes in most days, sitting proudly in the showroom and greeting visitors. When we arrived, he was keeping one eye on the live feed of the Critérium du Dauphiné from France. There was a twinkle in his eye as Guillaume Martin came into view, his De Rosa bike in Cofidis colors splashed across the broadcast. Ugo stood up to greet us and extended his hand—a hand that he once used to build bikes for Eddy Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck and Francesco Moser.
Even as his business grows, De Rosa’s company will remain a family affair. His son Cristiano has taken over the main helm of operations and his grandson Nicolas is being groomed for future leadership. The factory floor is a melting pot of old and new. Swish iridescent painted carbon frames wait next to vintage steel display bikes. Box-fresh electronic Campagnolo groupsets perch high on the mezzanine while custom titanium frames are hand-welded in the other corner—a multi-day job for a single bike. Pictures of Ugo with Merckx line the walls, a constant reminder for all who enter that the story of De Rosa is what De Rosa is: skill, craftsmanship and precision, but most importantly, family.