A Visit to Cicli Bonanno: An Italian Builder in Berlin
We recently dropped by the Cicli Bonanno workspace in the heart of Berlin to get to know Italian builder Niccoló Bonanno and the standout range of bikes he creates with an unmistakable style that blends his past and present. Find our interview with Niccoló and a vibrant set of images from photographer Stefan Hahenel here…
Photos by Stefan Haehnel (@stefanhaehnel)
Sneaking in one last look at the German capital before the end of 2022, we’re slowly continuing our tour of Berlin via introductions to its creative community of bike builders, bag makers, and other passionate cyclists and bicycle advocates who call the city home.
Our latest stop is the tidy Kreuzberg workshop of Niccoló Bonanno of Cicli Bonanno, whose beautiful custom frames will eventually catch your eye if you spend enough time in the city. Beyond being impeccably crafted by the Italian frame builder, Bonanno’s TIG-welded bikes are recognizable for their bold, unmistakable color combinations and minimal, ultramodern logo. The end product somehow interweaves Niccoló’s intense focus, commitment to perfection, love of disco, and distinct artistic sensibility that has flourished during his years in Berlin.
Although speed and performance are central to his vision for the brand—and there are indeed several true road bikes in his small lineup of models—Niccoló’s bikes aren’t merely built for unloaded rides. Rather, in recent years, they’ve taken on the Silk Road Mountain Race, Italy Divide, Transcontinental Race, Bohemian Border Bash, and Atlas Mountain Race, to name just a few. And, from my conversations with Niccoló, it’s safe to assume that we’ll see more in this direction down the road.
I recently spent a morning hanging out in the Cicli Bonanno space with friend and photographer Stefan Haehnel, who shot some photos of Niccoló at work, then asked him to capture another dimension of the brand by bringing his camera along for a typical ride around the surrounding state of Brandenburg with a bunch of folks on Bonanno bikes. Find my brief interview with Niccoló paired with film shots from Stefan below:
Before they became your career, how did bikes first enter your life?
The bicycle came into my life by accident, quite literally. It all happened when I was 16 and crashed my moped. I had no other way of getting around in Milan, so I picked up a bike. It’s impossible to forget my first steed: it was an old Bottecchia road bike painted in a red and white colour scheme. I’ve been inseparable from bikes since then.
When and where did you learn frame building?
Some part of me regrets not having followed the traditional Italian learning approach of the bottega. There are probably two reasons for this. One has to do with my personal experience: at the time I moved to Berlin, it was hardly possible to have access to any established maestro in frame building. The second is related to the period during which I joined the profession. For two decades, research and work on aluminium frames, and even more on carbon fibre, had dominated the sector. As a result, leading figures in steel frame building were becoming harder to find.
Between 2013 and 2016, I worked as a bike mechanic in Berlin, which is when it all started. In those years, I set off on a sort of Grand Tour of the Italian masters of handcrafted steel frame construction. In particular, I would like to mention—with a certain amount of affection—Tiziano Zullo and Dario Pegoretti. They are two great sources of inspiration who in recent years have given me the opportunity to peek into their workshops.
What I consider the core of my “apprenticeship” was a process of developing and learning together with a new wave of colleagues who eventually became good friends. A crucial factor that helped make this possible was the blossoming of a bunch of new communication channels: it’s no coincidence that it all happened in the late 2010s when new media helped shape this new generation of frame builders. Not only by facilitating communication between us but also by opening up a window to the rest of the frame building world. Among these, I would like to mention Thomas Becker, a companion with whom I shared my first workshop in Berlin for two years, and two great friends of mine, Dario Colombo (aka Bice bicycles) and Gianmaria Citron.
Do you think your Northern Italian upbringing influences your approach to building bicycles?
The whole of Italy has a great history when it comes to frame building craftmanship. It’s true that I was raised in Milan, a city with an approach to business that has conditioned my workflow and taught me to see my job on a wider scale. I had experiences I treasured there and that helped me to accomplish the transition from a young idealist who is running a one-man show to managing a small business.
In Milan, the industrial structure behind the bicycle business is strong and well-articulated. For me, it’s a big help to be able to communicate in my own language with suppliers like Columbus, which is not only a company that I have a good and pleasant relationship with but also one that has an eye for arising projects. And, starting next year, they will begin providing me with in-house designed tubes specifically tailored to my frames.
Why did you decide to set up your workshop in Berlin, and what does the city lend as a home base for building bikes?
It’s my personal life story that led me—more or less coincidentally—to Berlin. Though, as I’ve remained here, there must be a reason after all. There are several factors and inspiration sources that help to ease up the learning process in a metropolitan city like Berlin. It overwhelms you with its creative figures and cultural offers. Moreover, I feel the city influenced my aesthetic: minimalistic, clean, modern, and characterized by an essential design. The massive and enthusiastic cycling scene together with the rising gravel riding movement, of which I’m happily a part, are complementary to my work and help boost it at the same time.
Can you talk a little about the process through which you arrived at your various frame models, such as the Italo Disco and Stay Loco?
I don’t build prototypes for every single customer, and the reason behind that is simple. A frame is the end product of a certain amount of experience, executive processes, and design/building ideas that I base my work on—and that I continuously develop. There are many factors to consider before, while, and after welding, and the range of models I’ve developed over time allows me to meet a high standard of quality while meeting the intended needs and uses of my clients. I continuously work on the base concept of my frame models. Repetition is my way to improve not only my frames, and I consider it the magnifying lens that allows me to go always deeper into detail and refine my work.
What kind of customers do you look for, and how do you hope they’ll use your bikes?
Ideally, my ideal customer is a bicycle enthusiast and someone who has an eye for craftsmanship, design, and innovation. In fact, I think it is the product itself that selects my customers. My not-so-hidden predilection, if you really want to put it that way, still goes to discerning customers who focus on speed and performance.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing independent frame builders in 2022?
Selling a product that requires a lot of time to create in a world that’s moving along at an ever-accelerating pace.
On the other hand, what unique upsides are there to working on the handbuilt side of the bicycle industry today?
There are many advantages to doing this job, but what I appreciate most is that you are free to decide your own approach and frame standards, which means you can get ahead of the industry by making choices that allow you to work better and build a better product. I’m frame builder for this because I enjoy finding solutions that make me happy with the product I am selling without compromise.
To my eye, your bicycles are among the most beautiful being built right now. Do you come up with the color schemes yourself? If so, from where do you draw inspiration?
Thank you for the compliment. Over the years, with the help of designer and friend Benjamin Sickel, we have developed a selection of colour schemes and graphics that offer the customer some guidance and inspiration in their final choice. We also offer fully custom paint jobs on request. In this case, we cooperate strictly with the customer to create, aesthetically speaking, a meeting point between our visions.
When you’re not building bikes, what other passions and hobbies keep you busy?
Music is for sure one big thing in my life. Disco music is a steady background presence in the workshop. It ignites and motivates me and gives rhythm to the whole workflow. And food, too, naturally. After all, I am still a little bit Italian. And cycling is of course my favourite way to get me really hungry again. Talking about good music, food, and cycling rides, my mind shifts automatically to Mogast: an event I organize in cooperation with a beloved bunch of friends in the Italian Alps. It features three passes in one day and a lot of quality time. Check it out!
Lastly, is there anything else you want readers to know about Cicli Bonanno?
I’ll wrap up with an attempt at a cycling comparison. If Cicli Bonanno were a bike race, it would certainly not be an individual time trial, but rather a group ride. This company thrives thanks to the skills and energy of my closer long-time coworkers, such as David and Hiroshi, and of all the people and friends who gravitate around the workshop motivating us to keep high the level of love for our work. As I see it, all of this input from the community is essential to keep improving day by day. Without all of the support from friends, family, colleagues, and customers, none of this would be possible.
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