Masi Bikes celebrated their 90 year anniversary in 2016. Leading up to this milestone, Haro’s Chief Operating Officer Joe Hawk made the trip to Milan, Italy to learn more about the origin of the company. He took with him the author and researcher, Dominic Phipps, who was embarking on a year-long journey to pen the story of the brand. The result is an inspiring book, Ninety Years of Masi, which includes rich details of the sport’s history and beautiful photographs of the legends who shaped the bicycle industry. Below we touch on a few of the highlights and supporting details of Masi’s early years and entry into the U.S. market.
Faliero Masi was born just outside Florence, Italy on May 11, 1908. By this time cycling had been fully embraced as a means for members of the rural communities to travel greater distances and it was transitioning into a sport with many fervent followers. One year after Masi’s birth, on May 13, 1909, 127 riders lined up in Milan for the first of eight stages in the inaugural Giro d’Italia. In his hometown of Sesto Fiorentino, Masi grew up watching his community host races through the town and into the nearby mountains. It did not take long for Masi to embrace the sport. By the early 1920s, he had established himself as an apprentice in a local bike shop and one of the most talented local riders. In 1926, at only eighteen years of age, Masi designed and constructed his first frame
Over the next twenty years, Masi honed his craft through his own shop in Sesto Fiorentino, by managing the racing team of the Cicli Viscontea bicycle factory, and by developing deep connections in the racing scene. It was these connections that ultimately kept Masi from being conscripted into the Italian Army for World War II when he teamed up with Learco Guerra and began work on Learco Guerra Utility bicycles.
The Vigorelli velodrome was built in Milan in 1935 and became known to fans as the pista magica, or magic track. It sustained damage to the roof and a subsequent fire due to the bombing raids of the early 1940s, but due to the popularity of track racing at the time it underwent repairs immediately after the end of the war. Today it still stands, refurbished again in 2016 and 2017, and is revered for its history along with the Roubaix velodrome in France and Herne Hill in London. It was below this behemoth that Masi opened a workshop in 1949 and earned the recognition as a true artisan in the innovation of the bicycle built specifically for racing.
“Masi was the best frame builder and bike fitter of all time. Every rider he put on a bike was perfectly positioned. He had a gift and he taught many people how to build bicycles to the highest standards.”
– Irio Tommasini, Tommasini Bicycles
Throughout the Golden Age of Cycling from 1946 to 1967, Masi worked alongside Giuseppe Pela and outfitted many of the champions of the road and track with his custom bicycles. His riders included Fausto Coppi, Aldo Bini, Antonio Maspes, Fiornezo Magni, Reg Harris, and Eddy Merckx, among many others.
Masi’s first inlet to the burgeoning U.S. market in the 1960s went through Peter Rich of Velo Sport Cyclery in Berkley, CA. At this time the Masi bike was an extremely rare purchase and the custom orders could take as long as four months to get into the States. Eventually, the long delays and a communication breakdown would lead to the end of this relationship and a temporary lapse in Masi bikes being imported. But soon afterward two California businessmen, G. Roger Smith and Roland Sahm, who wanted to utilize their extensive resources with aluminum set out on a mission to partner with one of the best bicycle designers in Europe. In Milan, they found an Italian craftsman who was interested in seeing his life’s work developed into a full brand. It took a year of negotiations on the details of manufacturing and upholding the integrity of Masi’s designs before the three men reached a deal. Sahm purchased the exclusive trademark and manufacturing rights and Masi agreed to stay on for five years to ensure the quality standards were upheld.
The Masi USA production facility trained or involved many of U.S. cycling’s key craftsmen: Mario Confente, Brian Baylis, Jim Cunningham, Rob Robeson, Dave Moulton, Mike Howard, and David Tesch. Faliero Masi later returned to Itay and passed away on Tuesday, January 4, 2000. Today, Masi USA is owned and managed by Haro Bikes. Learn more about the Masi history by reading Ninety Years of Masi or following the timeline at Masibikes.com.