BQ | ROMOLO STANCO: LATERAL THINKIN’
JH: Where do you think current bikes can be improved? What needs to change?
RS: Here I will be succinct: everything. The cyclist must return to the center of the bike design process. That’s the opposite of the current approach of the bike industry. The bike is an extension of the body, and as such there cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution. Until this is understood, cyclists at every level will be forced to adapt, and they won’t fully enjoy their passion as a result” “
JH: How did you get interested in making bikes? How did you start T°RED?
RS: My background is in materials as a physicist, but I also have a degree in architecture and design. So my two souls often quarrel with each other, but my classical high school studies and a bit of madness help me make peace with myself.
I’ve always been interested in athletic pursuits, first as a high-level junior swimmer, then a cyclist
and skier. I worked as director of several research laboratories on projects in different fields: biomedical, automotive, industrial design… I have always loved to blend creativity and technology.
In 2012, Erica Marson, a journalist and curator of international exhibitions, and I joined forces to carry out our own projects: first around the themes of smart cities and then with R&D projects such as the C7OLED lamp made with Philips Lumiblade. But you probably want to hear about the bikes…
Well, one sunny afternoon I was training with a former pro rider, my good friend Giairo Ermeti (six times Italian champion on the track). He asked me: “You do all these crazy and innovative things. Why don’t you design me a bike to race the National Championship on the track?” And I said: “Why not?”
That bike was made from steel, and it went fast. It had a lot of success with the Italian National Team in 2017, and even the world champion Benjamin Thomas rode it … In the meantime friends and ‘weekend riders’ saw a bike winning that was made from steel, a material considered old-fashioned, but with new design concepts.
They started asking for bikes designed that way.
T°RED was not born as a bike company, but
as a result of research into how to make bikes perform better. That is my job: to find new limit.
JH: Your ideas about bike performance are different from others.
RS: For many people, performanc is going fast. For me, performance is feeling good.
When you feel good, it is almost certain that you will go faster, but the opposite is not true: Just going faster won’t always make you feel good. Enzo Ferrari once said: “We cannot be sure that a beautiful car will be fast and perform well, but it is certain that an ugly car will not go fast.”
If you think about it it’s true: Sportscars like Fer- rari or Pagani, or motorcycles like Ducati are not designed just to be beautiful. They are designed to perform, but you look at them and say: “Wow! That’s cool.”
This is why I always start with the human: Whether athlete or enthusiast, the human on the bike has a right to feel good. Then they are able to deliver their best performance. It is from them
that we must design the bike.
Then there is the search for the limit. That’s what’s exciting for me on the track or in fixed- gear races. To quote race car driver Gilles Vil- leneuve: “How can we know the limits if we don’t try to overcome them?”
“At the center of our bikes is the human, the cyclist, with their needs, aspirations, goals, expectations”.
JH: We were surprised when Francesca Selva won the Italian Fixed Championships on a very unconventional bike.
RS: I was also surprised, especially because Francesca was returning from a knee injury and had been training for just ten days. The Italian fixed championship in Mantua’s indoor kart track was supposed to take place in November 2020, but it was postponed due to the pandemic. When I saw the track in the summer of 2020, I realized that, to win, you had to think outside the box.
So I dug into my experience as a go kart racer and started doing calculations and simulations. The chassis of Francesca’s bike, the SpeedWay Kartodrome is insane. We used chromoly steel tubes of 28, 30, and 32 mm to make the chassis ‘work’ just like that of a go kart. But to do this, I needed a lot of grip on the asphalt to increase cornering speed: About 65% of the track was cornering, and only 35% straight.
Francesca had not been able to train. On the straights, she would loose a little compared to her opponents. But she is extraordinary: There are those who ride fixed; those who know how to go fast on a fixed gear; and then there is Francesca Selva.
The week before the Italian Championship we went to test the bike at a friend’s indoor kart track in Affi. The comparative tests with the fixed bike we used before – and on which Leon- ardo Fedrigo won the World Championships – were impressive. On the new bike, the harder you enter the corners, the more you let the tires and the frame work , and the lower are your lap times.
Francesca told me “I’m not well. I don’t know what I can give, but with this bike I can win.”
In the final race, everybody was stunned when she overtook the favorite, Paola Panzeri, in the first corner. Francesca displayed an almost embarrassing simplicity and ease, and yet she was going at impressive speed. She continued to power the bike as only she can… and she won the Italian National Jersey with a huge margin.
The Speedway Kartodrome is designed like a
go kart. A kart has no suspension, but only uses the grip of the tires. Did you know that kart
tires usually run at pressures of 0.8-0.9 bar (12-13 psi)? And the frame has to have some flex, but at the same time you need reactivity to accelerate out of the curves. On the bike, these things are difficult to reconcile. Our front triangle is very small, it almost looks like a BMX bike, but at the same time it is very high off the ground to allow a greater lean angle while pedaling – in fact, 10° more than the competitors’ bikes. Our fork was made specially for this event, with a very short rake to favor agility, too.
JH: You make bikes from steel, titanium… Why different materials?
RS: When you go to the restaurant (a good restaurant), are you surprised that there are different dishes with different ingredients? Would you ever ask the maitre: “Why do you offer meat, fish, and pasta? Why are some fried, others baked, and yet others steamed?” Would you ask the chef: “Which is your best dish? Is pasta with Cantabrian anchovies better than baked sturgeon with crunchy vegetables?”
We have gone mad in the cycling industry. Nobody thinks, “What is best for my needs?” We read crazy things: “Lighter is better. Stiffer is better. Tubeless is better. Carbon is better.”
So many certainties! If they were all true, the
perfect bike would be a kind of one-size-fits-all torture machine.
In a restaurant, I choose according to my tastes, the hunger I have, my intolerances, maybe my ethical or health choices, or just taste and preference, or even the chef ’s suggestions.
A top racer has certain needs that a passionate sixty-year-old weekend rider doesn’t have, and vice versa. Different materials offer more possibilities, if they are designed, developed and used as solutions to expectations and desires. For a bike builder, more materials are just like a chef having more ingredients in their kitchen.
In the bike industry, and in most cycling media, you can read many clichés dictated more by marketing than by reality. Specialized has decreed the end of tubulars. Tubeless is the solution. Carbon is the best material. The less the bike weighs the better. Low profile wheels are the best. How much nonsense!
Just to counter some of these myths, consider that the German pursuit team broke the world record and won gold at the Tokyo Olympics running 20 mm tires with inner tubes. And once you understand how much research goes on at the German FES, you realize that they know what they are doing.
MotoGP motorcycles have almost 300 horse- power, and their frames are made of metal: aluminum for most teams; steel for KTM. Go-karts are very similar to road bicycles because they don’t have suspension. They are made of steel, too. Motocross phenomenon Tony Cairoli has won 94 Grands Prix and 9 World Titles – on a chromoly frame. Who will say: “Hey Tony, you got it all wrong. Carbon is better!”
With motorcycles, nobody believes that there is only one solution. Honda uses aluminum. KTM steel. Two-time world champion Casey Stoner rejected the Ducati carbon frame after trying it in practice. In all honesty, I have immense confidence in how Casey Stoner feels about a motorbike frame.
At the center of our bikes is the human, the cyclist, with their needs, aspirations, goals, expectations. As mentioned, I am a material physicist, I am the chef who selects the ingredients, works them with the expertise of years of research, and designs their balance to create the final result. At least that’s my intention and philosophy. Whether or not I deserve a Michelin star, only time will tell.
With T°RED, I have the opportunity to express different solutions starting from zero, from a clean sheet, and to design and build the best bike for everyone, at any level.
JH: You mentioned TOOT Engineering…
RS: TOOT makes cycling components. It is part of Bianca Lab, which works in many other sectors far from cycling. The starting point is always the same: moving forward, evolving, us- ing creativity, ideas, skills, partnerships between companies that aim to improve and not just sell.
Our laboratory is equipped with telemetry systems, design and calculation software, and 3D printers. We have a simulator that allows us to analyze pedaling dynamically with sensors and digital telemetry. Since 2016 already, we’ve been using 3D scanners to study and optimize the position of the cyclist. We are not only interested in time trialists, but also long-distance riders in search of comfort.
JH: I saw your track handlebars. What is the thinking behind them?
RS: When T°RED started to race on the track in 2017, there were no specific track handlebars. Athletes used road bars or 30-year-old track models actually worked better for a pistard.
We started to think about the position of the athlete, both in terms of aerodynamics and com- fort at high speeds.
Many pistards missed the ‘Sphinx,’ the track handlebar designed by multiple world champion Cameron Meyer. It was used by Bradley Wiggins, Ilio Keisse and many champions in the Six-Days, because it allowed a comfortable position that was extremely aerodynamic and allowed great power output at the same time. The Sphinx has
been banned by the UCI. There hasn’t been any interest by major component manufacturers to develop a handlebar to take its place.
Together with our athletes, we started studying positions and shapes that could lead to improv- ing the athletes’ performances in endurance track races.We started working on the first prototypes in 2019. In February 2020, we started track and wind tunnel tests, realizing that we weren’t just designing a handlebar, but a new way to ride on the track in endurance races with a position very close to that of Chris Boardman during his 1992 hour record, but within the current UCI rules.
Together with the ASHAA handlebar, the Falcon project was born, a track frame that is now in its fifth iteration. It’s been used at the 2021 World Championship by Facu Lezica, and it still has enormous margins for development in view of the 2024 Olympics.
Handlebars are a very interesting sector for me because they need to work with the frame to determine the position of the cyclist. Apart from the pedals and the saddle, the handlebars (width, distance from the support point in the saddle, height) determine the position and comfort of the cyclist. These handlebars are just the beginning…You will soon see adaptations of the technology for less extreme areas of cycling.
JH: What other products did you develop?
RS: We’ve also worked a lot on wheels. The ALIEN wheels are the result of meticulous work, on the track, in triathlons and in time trials. They have incredible aerodynamic performance even in the clincher version. Our new X-TECH road rims have a layup that crosses five carbon skins for each spoke hole, increasing stiffness, reducing weight, and making the rim safer. This also allows the use of proprietary carbon spokes.
Another TOOT sector always in development is the telemetry of the cyclist’s dynamic data. Indoor simulations often produce artifacts that make the data hard to interpret. Live acquisitions on road or track can be very realistic. We use accelerometers, dynamic sensors and aerodynamic detectors to understand how aerodynamics affect an athlete’s performance and how sometime aerodynamic optimization can negatively affect comfort and performance.
We use the system not just to study aerodynamics and power for time trials, but also to optimize the comfort zone for ultracycling. In the future, we plan to take this approach to rough surfaces and gravel, too.
JH: You focus a lot on racing. How does this translate into better bikes and experiences for recreational cyclists?
RS: Many people in Italy say I’m a bit like Enzo Ferrari. In my opinion, the races, the competi- tion, the results of our athletes and our bikes are the cutting edge of technological research and experimentation.
It’s like in Formula One. You certainly don’t go shopping with Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes race car, but those innovations (electronic, mechanical, aerodynamic) that allow him to win in F1 races can improve future production cars.
For us, the races are the testing ground where we can learn about the stresses on the materi- als and do research on the geometry and the dynamic behavior of bikes.
JH: Where do you think current bikes can be improved? What needs to change?
RS: Here I will be succinct: everything. The cyclist must return to the center of the bike design process. That’s the opposite of the current approach of the bike industry. The bike is an extension of the body, and as such there cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution. Until this is understood, cyclists at every level will be forced to adapt, and they won’t fully enjoy their passion as a result.