cycling utah April 1999

Classic Corner

Small man was a huge name in bicycle history

Giuseppe "Pino" Morroni died February 11, 1999. "Who is Pino Morroni?", you may ask. He was probably the most well known, yet never heard about, person in the cycling community. Eddy Merckx knew him, so did Greg LeMond and Andrew Hampsten. Francesco Moser, Felice Gimondi and Gianni Bugno knew him as well. They knew him because his inventions and ideas helped carry all of them to their greatest victories.

I first met Pino at the Interbike Expo about four years ago. Among all the glitz and showmanship was this small, haphazard booth with a crowd of people looking over shoulders and between other folks. Being a curious sort and hoping to see something different, I waited for a spot to open so I could see what the buzz was all about. Finally, the crowd thinned a bit, and several of the people leaving the booth were famous racers or media types. "Cool, Iíve got to see whatís happening in there."

Immediately upon entering this 8 foot by 8 foot booth, I was handed a wheel by this small man dressed in jeans and flannel type shirt. He stepped closer, and said in a raised voice, "You canít breaka my wheelz!"

To which I replied, "Wha..".

And before I could finish the first word, I was given a five minute, loud, broken English speech explaining exactly the three hundred reasons why I couldnít breaka his wheelz. This little man was Pino Morroni, and I didnít want to leave until I heard every word he had to say, Italian or English.

Around the booth were titanium stems, bottom brackets, skewers and seatposts, several frames, and these wheels. The wheels looked normal at first glance, but as was quickly pointed out, they were not your average wheels.

The hubs were either Campy or Pino made - normal enough - the spokes were normal as well as I could tell, some being titanium.

But the business end here was at the rim. The spoke was threaded further than normal, and there was a nut on the inside and the outside of the rim wall. The rim was sandwiched between two alloy nuts.

The idea, which was finally conveyed in my on the spot Italian language course, was that the wheels were trued and tensioned in normal fashion with the outside nut, then the inside nut was tightened down to isolate the rim and allow no ovalizing under the riderís weight. The result was "de strongesta wheelz", and no room was left for questions or opinions. "Thatís it!"

Even though Pino held court for sure in his little booth, there was none of the chest pounding, "I invented this or that" boastfulness so prevalent elsewhere at the expo. He never mentioned that both Merckxís and Moserís hour records were accomplished with several of his parts. That Eddy Merckx would consult with him about equipment and use his parts throughout his career. Lemondís Tour de France victories, Gimondiís Giro wins, Bugnoís World Championships and Andy Hampstenís Giro and Alpe díHuez victories: All with the help of the man nicknamed Pino (small) because he was born two months premature.

Morroniís most legendary project (although there were many) was a track bike built with his partner, Cecil Behringer. Together, in the early 70s, they built an 11-pound track bike with 6/4 titanium.

This stronger version of titanium was not available in tube form at that time, so Pino machined all the tubes, fork blades, stays and lugs from solid bars to a wall thickness of 0.5 mm. Pino was the machinist and Cecil did the brazing.

To add strength to the frame, they brazed small hollow tubes across the inside walls of the main tubes of the frame. These small tubes were machined from titanium as well. To prove the bikeís strength, Pino would ride it down stairs, over curbs, anywhere he could think of to prove itís -and his wheelsí - merits.

This bike was also left side drive. The reasons: track races are ridden counter-clockwise, and putting the crank on the left allowed the right crankarm to be closer to the frame creating more room for banking clearance.

Also, tracks are circular, therefore by placing the extra weight of the crank to the inside of the circle, a rider pushes the extra weight a shorter distance each lap than if it were on the right, or outside, of the circle. "Thatís it!" as one writer put it, "Pino is about splitting hairs that nobody else even sees."

Pino Morroni was born in Italy in 1920. As a teen he raced bikes for a short time, until the start of World War Two. But he was always an inventor, and became a qualified machinist by the age of sixteen.

He was a prisoner of war in Northern Africa, after which he returned home and carried on with the business of inventing.

In 1958, Pino immigrated to America and began working for Chrysler in Detroit as a machinist. It was at this time he found a love of auto racing and applied his skills there, both as a driver and creator of lightweight components for race cars.

It was an interest from Enzo Ferrari that returned Pino to the bike in the mid 60s. After winning his division at Indy with a car he built at home, Pino received a call from Ferrari regarding a position on the factory team as a driver. Morroni began riding his bike to sharpen his fitness in hopes of driving for Ferrari.

The offer never came, but he discovered that the bike was still in his heart, and he once again turned his attentions in that direction.

Pino was 79 when pneumonia and emphysema ended his life. But his contributions, and especially his legendary aura will last the life of bicycle racing.

As another writer commented, "Pino knows so much about bicycles and bearings and speed and strength, that everything he says is the last word on the subject . . . If you know a lot about the subject already, if you think youíre an expert, youíll still learn three things per minute - and thatís from the 50 percent that youíre understanding."

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