Words by Chris Reynolds, Photography by Curtis Chen.
In the crossover years of the 1960’s and 70’s, steel bicycle frames were standard. Even if you wanted it, there was no aluminum, or titanium, let alone carbon fiber. Across the professional racing circuits, across all categories and disciplines, steel bike frames were a constant in the equation for building bikes.
Propelled by innovations coming out of the military and aerospace industries, novel blends of aluminum alloys were being commercialized for private industry. Turin and Campagnolo had alloy components, but the exotic-for-the-time materials hadn’t been used for frames. ALAN set to change this by constructing bicycle frames using materials not suitable for the welding technologies of the time. It was a significant stepping stone to today’s carbon fiber ubiquity found in professional cycling, across all categories, and in the garages of most avid recreational riders.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
ALAN was founded by Falconi Lodovico in 1972. Prior to setting out on his own, he was a professional engineer by trade working for Torpado, one of the oldest bicycle makers in the world. With an idea and a passion for racing, he struck out on his own forming ALAN, registering a patent and naming the company as a concatenation of the first and second letters of his children’s names, Alberto and Annamaria.
The idea centered on developing a method for creating a strong and ridged frame using materials that are mechanically joined, rather than welded. In this case, the necessity drove the innovation. The promise of weight savings using these alloys made developing a solution a worthwhile endevour. And that solution could be found by skipping back one generation of bicycle construction methodology, lugged construction.
A material is cast or sheet formed into lugs, external fittings that the various frame tubes slide into. Diamond frame bicycle construction uses four of these fittings, the seat cluster, bottom bracket shell, upper head lug and lower head lugs. The tubing material is then inserted into the lugs and joined either by brazing or welding. In brazing, another metal is introduced to the joint, solder, that under the application of heat, melts, and flows around the base metals in the joint. Upon cooling, it solidifies and bonds the base metals. In welding, there is no solder. Instead, neighboring pieces of metal are melted in an electrical process that liquefies the adjoined base metals. Once cool, the welded area is a uniform material at the molecular level.
Necessity is the MOTHER of Invention
Lugged construction was the standard method for building steel bicycle frames from the late 19th century through the 1970’s. Changes in steel metallurgy and welding technology increased the suitability for welding with lugged construction, to the point that it supplanted the need for lugs. The welded joints of uniform metal were so strong, that lugs became unnecessary. But for Lodovico, the idea of lugged construction was the basis for his innovation and seemed to be a way to open the possibilities of material use for bicycles that were otherwise thought not possible.
By using lugs that had threaded female inserts, and threading the tubing ends, he devised a method with an aerospace glue to create a rigid frame with alloys previously unavailable to frame builders. This is the idea that ALAN was built on, and just one of the utility patents Lodovico would be awarded.
When carbon fiber followed the path of aluminum alloys, ALAN was positioned to take advantage of the phenomenally lightweight material and would go on to be a fixture of professional cyclo-cross racing.
Roots in Racing
Since 1950, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has sanctioned an annual Cyclo-cross World Championship. The current relatively mainstream attention in the United States of cyclo-cross is of bewilderment to European fans who have been captivated by the spectator friendly sport for the past 70 years. Over that span, ALAN frames have been under more winning World Championship cyclo-cross riders than any other frame. The Dutch sensation Mathieu van der Poel won his first World Championship as a junior in 2012 on an ALAN frame and has continued to be a pro cyclo-cross podium favorite.
This consistent passion for the sub-sport of cyclo-cross has translated to a legendary frame-builder that has always pushed the boundaries of performance with a focus on material choices and construction techniques.
The pursuit of frames designed using exotic lightweight alloys has been replaced with full-carbon construction. For half the cost and less weight, an equally or more rigid frame can be made. The advantages are clear. In the case of the Mito frame, the frameset weight comes in at a svelte 1100 grams, 1470 including the full carbon fork. And at a frame-set price of $2600. That is not achievable with lugged construction method.
The 46 years of experience designing and building bicycle frames using performance materials gives ALAN an edge that is observable in the craftsmanship of the frame, handmade in Italy halfway between Venice and Verona in the historic city of Padova. The paint scheme gives a clear idea of where bikes of the past would have alloy lugs, but with the advantages of a full-carbon frame.
The legendary status of ALAN rests on their racing record, and the MITO commemorates this with World Champion color striping wrapping the tubes. A special commemoration rests on the headbadge, marking the 40 years ALAN build bikes under the direction of founder Lodovico, who passed away in 2012, in a bike shop no less.
The frames are available in the United States through a Colorado-based outfit, VeloSport. Have one shipped to your local bike shop and build your own version of the ALAN Mito.