Basso: A view from the inside out
Words by Terry Hawes
Photography by Matt Grayson
If Italian bike brand Basso was a stick of rock - the type that every seaside town has in its souvenir shops - ‘Italy’ would be the word running through its entire length. Of the many factory visits we’ve experienced in Italy’s industrial heartland, none retain such a pure essence, such ‘Italian-ness’ as this company. Every part of every bike is homegrown.
We talk openly to Joshua Riddle, the company’s new marketing man, about all things Basso - a subject that includes the merits of e-bikes, gravel bikes and perspective on the disc brake debate.
What’s in a name
To many cyclists the name Basso is synonymous with multi-Grand Tour stage winner and twice Giro d’Italia champion Ivan Basso. This is a coincidence of name only, but the company does have a World Champion embedded in its DNA.
Back in 1972, Marino Basso took the rainbow jersey for Italy at the World Championships in Gap, France. Not only did the win inspire a nation, it also heralded the inception of a new Italian frame builder.
Alcide Basso, Marino’s brother, produced his first frames from their family garage in 1974. His approach to frame building followed a more scientific path, inspired in part by his academic background, namely the introduction of a gas which, when pumped into the chambers of the frame tubing, allowed a greater temperature to be used when welding.
This coupling of science and chemistry increased temperatures that, in turn, strengthened the welds. Another similar technique pioneered by Alcide increased the longevity of his steel frames by an induced chemical reaction that preserved the integrity of the steel by eradicating any long-term internal corrosion.
The geometry of these initial designs has altered little since Alcide’s first steel frames. We’re told that the initial orders, those produced from a garage, were all destined for a German market - an early salute to the extreme levels of engineering standards employed by the frame builder. Balanced yet aggressive, we’re told that bikes baring the name Basso are primarily ridden to be raced.
We are family
It’s clear that the notion of family and the values associated with it remain strong at Basso as we’re introduced to Alcide’s son, Alessandro. As an ex-national downhill mountain bike champion, his roots lie in bikes and the thrill of riding them. A degree in Composite Technologies and Engineering didn’t promote an instant invitation to join the family business. He’s keen to keep innovation close to the heart of the company, yet keen to point out the importance of the brand’s heritage.
We have to wait another ten hours before finally getting to meet Alcide. Although he is the company founder, he’s a shy man not used to meeting ‘the media’, we’re told. His handshake gives away the physicality of his frame building origins!
Look deep in Alcide’s eyes and you can see a man who lives to construct and create frames. We’re told he’s never happier than when actually building a frame. We get to share precious moments with this normally ‘interview shy’ company founder. His thoughts are constantly expressed in dramatic hand gestures and his passion proves contagious. Although, due in part to the language barrier, there’s an inability on both sides to communicate smoothly, we somehow instantly form a bond with Alcide. It’s his enthusiasm and joy when speaking about cycling and riding a bike that unites us. Both parties share that same restless spirit, the same fire, the same love for the bike and how it enriches both the heart and the soul.
As soon as our chat with Alcide is over, he disappears back to the factory, such is his eagerness to exchange the fire that burns in his heart with the artisans who work there. Maybe this is how Michelangelo or Leonardo cultivated their creative vision. Our time with Alcide felt special. Every minute was valued, but the time had now come to experience the physical qualities of a Basso bike in the flesh for ourselves.
From our very arrival at Basso HQ, all views from the boardroom were dominated by the vast profile of Monte Grappa, the iconic climb and Giro favourite since 1968. Where better to test the abilities of both bike and rider than this majestic yet foreboding mountain scape?
Away from the incessant flow of heavy plant traffic - a constant reminder that this was truly the heartland of industrial Northern Italy - we turned left from the main road onto more suburban back streets. Almost instantly, the air felt fresher and kinder on the lungs, and the road surface improved, along with the views. Beautiful roadside chapels and shrines elevated our senses - we too were blessed. A sudden realisation of the immensity of both the ride and the machine we were riding came together all at once.
Our guide and ride buddy needed no excuse to savour again the thrill of this climb with us. Although relatively new at Basso, Joshua Riddle throughout the time we’ve known him has been first and foremost a bike rider. Sure he has a company car but still rides to work (and up Monte Grappa) as much as the opportunity allows.
Joshua, the then soon-to-be first time father, was the ideal ride companion, making us aware of all the nuances the climb had to offer, from the sound of cow bells to the gradually increasing freshness in the air temperature.
The day’s heat was as intense as those of the views generated at every turn of the ascent. To climb onto an unfamiliar bike and then ride it up a mountain must surely be the most instant way to decipher its true capabilities. Our weapon of choice, the Basso Diamante SV, remained alien to us for a matter of seconds before every riding sensation started falling into place. Italian driving standards and the lack of courtesy to cyclists took longer to acclimatise to.
The Basso we rode was a matt carbon grey - an industrial designer’s dream, but too understated for our tastes. Even with a groupset manufactured too far East to fully compliment the total Italian purity of the bike, we found the overall ride experience to be extremely positive. The feedback from the road was somewhat more immediate than we had expected.
Anticipation is a strange mistress. Her deceptiveness at times can overshadow any obvious flaws, but we found the Basso Diamante SV to be something so exotic, so pure, so pared down - it’s very profile stands there shouting out to you, ‘Ride me. Ride me if you dare!’ Its exotic lines define its racing heritage. It’s the kind of bike your mother wouldn’t want you to ride.
We came away from our visit keen to experience further the bike we’d ridden, so we’re pleased to announce that we’ll be featuring a similar model as a long-term test ride in the year ahead. It’s a first for us, but a natural progression in the direction of Simpson magazine.