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In The Attic

Words/Images: James Startt

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I first met Lorenzo Savarino in 2017 when I was looking to repair my vintage Eddy Merckx steel frame at La Bicyclette, a Paris bike shop that specializes in vintage bicycles and equipment. The shop was resplendent with a wealth of classic machines and components, and I often wondered where Savarino harvested his rich stock. I found the answer this past spring.

in the attic

By chance, my local shop, Alesia Cycles, introduced me to a young frame builder, Stefano, who invited me out to the farm where he had his workshop. And it was here where I once again ran into Lorenzo, who turned out to be Stefano’s father. Dressed impeccably, he greeted me as he came down the aging staircase from his attic. And I realized right away where he kept his vintage bicycles and components.

We chatted and he showed me around quickly. I photographed a bicycle stem on a work bench, and it proved to be one of my favorite images of the day. So, I understood that I needed to return, for here I could likely photograph a treasure chest of cycling componentry.

chance my local shop

When the dust settled from another Tour de France, I ventured back to the farm. Stefano’s workspace on the ground floor could not have been better as a photo studio as there was a rich ambient light from the opaque windows perched high above, while his aging cast-iron worktable had an uncannily warm texture.

“What is it you most want to photograph?” Lorenzo asked. And I immediately started to rattle off my wish list. There was of course a vintage Campagnolo rear derailleur, a classic Mafac center-pull brake and perhaps a classic Cinelli stem. Lorenzo went quiet. “Well, yes, I most definitely have all of those items. But where exactly? That is the problem.”

And in case I had any doubts, he ushered me upstairs. “It’s all here but, well, finding a specific piece, well, that’s not so easy.” Indeed, while his collection was abundant, his sense of organization remained rather organic. We focused first on Campagnolo and soon enough he came up with Mafac brakes as well as a set of pristine levers.

Long an admirer of the craftsmanship of these vintage parts, I wanted to photograph them in a way that really captured their lasting aesthetic beauty, which I understood better now than when I was racing and simply saw such equipment for its functional value. Now though I truly marveled at the inherent beauty of the Campagnolo high-flange hub, so popular with track and criterium riders in the 1970s and ’80s. And the Italian company’s iconic Delta brakes that, while never worthy of high marks in the performance category, remain a thing of beauty from a design perspective. I loved seeing the Mafac brakes, and even the brake levers were a work of art; their high sheen finish and elegant lines could be mistaken for a detail of Art Deco design.

Soon, Lorenzo began showing up with items and components I could not have imagined. The vintage Nisi rims reflected wonderfully in the light of the barn. And while I loved the pristine quality of the Mafac brakes, the natural patina created from a well-worn set of Clément silk-walled tubular tires had a painterly quality to them.

I was in bike-nerd heaven, as I placed one component after another on the iron table, I worked as quickly as possible to capture as many pieces as possible. But I also had taken the time with each piece. I needed to understand the way the different objects reacted to the light, and to find the position and perspective that not only illustrated the object at hand, but also underlined the elegance and form of each object.

as i photographed
as i photographed
as i photographed

As I photographed, Lorenzo kept walking up with another jewel. There was the first Simplex five-speed derailleur from the 1930s. There was a colorful array of Silca frame pumps. And some components, like one certain handlebar and stem, needed no name. They simply caught my eye by their distinctive lines. And while I did not know what Lorenzo might find next, I understood as the afternoon continued, that he possessed a living history of the bicycle. There were children’s bikes. There were folding bikes. And there were bikes from champions such as Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx.

“I’ve been collecting and selling for years,” Lorenzo said. “It’s funny, but only a few years ago you could pick so much of this stuff up for nothing. But now there is a real market for it. We go around to a lot of events like Eroica and then people come to us, sending us an email at the shop explaining just what they are looking for.”

As the afternoon faded, I understood that in many ways I had only scratched the surface of Lorenzo’s collection. “And what about Shimano or Zeus,” I asked. “Do you have any of that?”

“Oh yes,” Lorenzo said. “But for that you have to come back. And you have to give me more time to dig around and find it.”

And on that note, we opted to call it a day. After all, there would be another one.

From issue 105, get your copy at pelotonshop.com