The Medici Story
The following is a collection of messages which recall and discuss the "Medici story." These messages were posted to the Classic Rendezvous email list by various people, including "eyewitnesses" such as Brian Baylis, Jim Cunningham and Ted Kirkbride. It is a very long read, but very interesting. At the very end is an article about Mario Confente by Russell Howe...
I have not been very active on CR lately because I’m trying to focus my writing time on completing my book about Mario Confente. It is factual, but told in the form of a novel. Key portions of the story involve Medici and the parts of the story Brian “does not know about’. Because of the turn the list has taken on this subject I’ve decided to share about this period.
The text is not directly from the book, but lays out the underlying facts and story. I welcome any input, especially facts and anecdotes involving Mario or others connected to his story. Please send these to me off-list as I’m not keeping up with the list lately.
I have rarely shared this story as I feel it must be told in some detail. Also I find it difficult to tell without casting some people in a negative light, something I avoid, but I think one must have some grasp of the characters and motivations to understand what really happened. I worked with Mario Confente from his last year at Masi, 1975-76, helped him start Bicycles by Confente and continued working closely with him until his death March 12 of 1979.
The Masi Bicycle Company was still in its original US premises, a spacious, modern facility with a view of the glorious beaches of Carlsbad California. The owner was successful “Novo Riche” transplanted Texan named Roland Sahm. Sahm had over-estimated the profit potential of building Masis’s in the US. The peak of the 1970’s “ten speed” boom had passed, the “gas crisis” had not convinced Americans to trade-in their gas pedals for bike pedals. And worst of all, Falierio Masi had oversold the production capacity of his operation by “neglecting” to mention his extensive use of subcontractors like Confente. As a result, Sahm had retreated from his ambitious plan which included a seaside Velodrome on the premises. The manager was a prim mustachioed accountant whose name I cannot recall, whose sole concern was for Sahm’s finances. Neither Sahm nor his accountant knew the first thing about bicycles. It was rumored that the aim of the company at that time, was to lose a certain amount of money, in order to offset the considerable profits of Sahm’s other ventures. Sahm’s monthly visits usually ended with inexplicable and dubious decisions which were frequently reversed the following month after the damage was done. It was apparent to all of us working there that there was a problem with Masi Carlsbad at top management. Falierio Masi had returned to Italy to enjoy the profits of his deal with Sahm. The other Italians who had come with him to set up the operation had also returned home except for Mario Confente. In Mario’s capable hands fine production frames were being turned out by a crew of 12 including one painter. The bulk of labor was in hand filing the cast iron lugs and bottom brackets and edging and shaping the lugs prior to jigging and brazing. Mario Confente’s passion for his craft and amazing skill and speed inspired others. The result was production bikes that rivaled those made in Italy. His quiet demeanor and weak English language skills lead him to teach by example. This sometimes led to debates about “why do it that way” but after more experience we usually understood the wisdom of his techniques. Some people were put off by Mario’s personality. His self confidence could appear egomaniacal. He had that young male Italian bravado. Many who got to know him, however, came to love his integrity and dedication to his craft. Two of Mario’s heroes were John Wayne and Rocky Balboa. He admired their determination and hard working honesty. He also believed in America as the home of the free and thought it offered him opportunity to control his own destiny that had been denied him in Italy. One day Gian, carrying packaging boxes, bumped into Mario who was assembling freshly filed lugs and mitered tubes. The resulting cut in Mario’s hand looked dangerously deep. I took him to the doctor and we had a long talk. Mario told me that he never wanted to run such a large shop, that he wanted to return to a smaller shop where he could control his own destiny. Masi had tricked him into leaving his small shop in Verona, and he missed it. But he did not miss Italy. He loved California and his new blonde girlfriend Lisa. He thought there was a great opportunity for pro bicycles in the US, but he did not know how to get started here. I told him I’d help. I’d had my own small business before joining Masi. Since neither of us had any capital to start our own shop, we discussed the feasibility of starting very small but, the minimum tooling costs, rent and materials were beyond our means. I had some money saved, but Mario had been sending all his earnings home to help support his disabled father and sisters. Unless we could save more, I told him, he’d need a business plan to show to bankers. Perhaps we could get an SBA loan or some other form of backing.
I wrote a comprehensive business plan and we agreed to a partnership. From the outset we could see that the profit potential of such a business was slim, but money was beside the point, we were determined to build the best bicycles anywhere. Meanwhile, although the politics and intrigue at Masi were getting thick, we were content to work there while we built our exit plan. As it turned out, we had very little time for that. When Bill Recht first visited the Masi facility, he was one of the top 20 richest men in the US. His principle residence over looked Central park in NYC where he rode the finest bicycles money could buy. He was born to his father’s empire, whose roots were in prohibition era nightclubs and boxing. Bill had studied law and diversified his father’s assets. By this time he was a ruthless, powerful, lonely man of about 55. I first met Bill Recht when he stepped into the enclosed Masi spray booth. Realizing that this was the one place he could talk with a Masi employee without being observed or overheard, he told me he intended to buy the company. He wanted to know the “inside story” on the company from the employee’s point of view. He proposed to meet me for dinner and discussion. I was hopeful at the possibility of Masi USA being set right by a new owner who rode and had a passion for bikes. I had several more contacts with Recht during the negotiations for the company. At one of them, he told me, and I quote, “After months of wrangling over the sale, I flew out here to finish the deal and when my pen hit the paper, Sahm pulled the bill of sale away and said “ the Masi Bicycle Company is not for sale”. I asked what he meant, expecting him to squeeze me for another 50 grand, instead he said it’s not for sale... TO YOU.” Years later, I learned that the contract with Falierio was a non transferable 99 year lease and as such, Roland Sahm, could not have sold the company if he wanted to. Perhaps Sahm thought he might be able to renegotiate the deal with Falierio and was fishing for an offer. Whatever the intent, the brash, arrogant and foul mouthed Recht had pursued the negotiation hard, only to come away with a personal rejection. It was clear that Recht had a vendetta. He told me specifically that he intended to hire everyone away from Masi and build a bike company that would bury Masi. He’d buy what was left of Masi USA after he destroyed it. There was a problem however, Recht confided; unlike other employees, Mario Confente seemed uninterested in his plan. Mario had made it clear that he would not join a new company like Masi if he had to work with some of the people Recht was planning to hire. Chief among these people was Gian Simonetti. Who Mario felt was dishonest and talented only with his tongue. This was no surprise, as Gian had been hired primarily for his translation skills. At the time was at MASI Carlsbad, it’s last year, Gian only did bike assembly and packaging. He had failed miserably at wheel building. I remember Gian bragging after hours when we were alone in the shop about how he could braze as well as any one. I then watched him horribly botch a simple braze-on. Because Gian could be so charming and because he was closest to the entrance to the shop, Gian usually met visitors and toured them around the shop. He succeeded in alienating everyone who worked there by acting the part of the Master of the shop. Recht really liked Gian, however, and wanted to know if we could do without Mario. Gian, he said, claimed he could take over Mario’s position. I laughed! I suggested that Gian’s best application might be in sales, perhaps Mario would consider the position if Gian was banished from the shop where his boasts and distortions hurt the moral of the hard working crew. One day soon thereafter, Masi’s accountant, announced that a decision had been made to close the Carlsbad plant. Most of the crew were let go. Because work-in-progress was to be finished, I stayed on to paint the remaining frames and Gian to assemble and package them. This is when Albert Eisentraut came in to measure frames for subcontracting. Recht called me at home. He was concerned that the crew would disperse. He knew he needed the right people to overpower the Masi name he could not buy. He had not been able to get Mario to agree to join his new company. He said he’d offered Mario “more money than anybody makes building bikes”. He was astonished that Mario was unmoved. I asked if he expected to make money in bikes. He scoffed, “as a business”, he said “bicycles are hopeless.” He boasted that he owned a dozen business that brought in millions every year. His interest in bicycles was strictly a hobby. In this he seemed sincere. Having grown up New Jersey, we discussed favorite rides and shops. At least he was a genuine cyclist. So, I suggested that he consider a smaller venture and back Mario in his own operation. I sent him our business plan. We needed $20,000. “Pocket change” he called it.
In February, 1976, Bill Recht agreed to provide the seed money for “Custom Bicycles by Confente” and provided a rent free space on the premises in of a Recht-owned company, Plexicraft, in LA. There would be no interest owed on any money drawn from the account. If there was a negative balance in the account after two years the agreement would be reviewed. If there was a positive balance, we were free to take the company where we chose. (Out of Boyle Heights, for sure!) Mario, myself and one other person besides Bill Recht were present at this meeting. My reaction was, it was too good to be true, I wanted it in writing. Mario thought that would offend Recht and overruled me. He wanted to do it on a handshake. Mario and I had not written a partnership agreement either, we trusted each other, and so it seemed natural to extend that trust. The first step, was for Mario to travel to Italy and purchase tools and supplies. Since Recht’s people had contacts in LA, they would order the paint baking oven we required. I approved the selection. They also purchased a rotted out spray booth from Wizard cycles that I patched together. When Mario returned to LA the painting equipment had still not arrived. I stayed in San Diego and took a job painting radar equipment for the Navy. An SBS-40 radar array is a web of triangulated light gauge, one inch diameter aluminum tubing and expanded metal about the size of a school bus. It took 8 hours to apply a single coat. I honed my painting skills radar by day, and painted Confentes at night. Every returning Apollo mission was first detected by these devices. The man who installed them to the very top of the highest mast on Nuclear Carriers boasted that the microwave energy emitted from the device was so powerful that unfortunate birds that flew near an active unit were vaporized. Most of the early Confentes were painted suspended from the emitter of a 14 million dollar SBS-40 radar array. Bill Recht was more involved in the Confente business than we expected. It seemed natural to accept his help with things like brochure production because he had excellent connections. If he was involved as a hobby, it seemed we had to let him “play” by doing the things for us that he felt like doing. Mario, was awed by the man, and trusted him far more than I would have. Still, I knew he had vast business experience and it was impossible to ignore his “advice”. I was expecting to join Mario in LA, full time, any day, but Recht insisted that there was little for me to do until the paint bake oven arrived and to keep painting as I was doing. He did not want me draining the account in wages waiting for the various permits and equipment still required to spray paint in a printing warehouse. In fact, Mario did need help and I made dozens of trips to the shop to work with him, unpaid. Recht kept delaying the date he wanted me to officially start. He seemed to be stalling me, and did not return my calls. I began to suspect that Recht was not going to be fair with us. In early
December 1976, I was diagnosed with a dangerous tumor under my left ear. Immediate, delicate surgery was required. At a minimum, the tumor and the entire parotid gland needed to be removed. Motor nerves to the face run through the center of this gland. The best prognosis was for partial paralysis of the facial muscles on one side. Speech would be affected. If the tumor were malignant I had a particularly deadly cancer to fight. I decided to have the surgery done back in New Jersey where my mother, a nurse, knew the doctors well and could care for me. But before I checked in, I checked out Mr. Recht. I researched his past, his holdings, I learned what I could, and then I dropped in on him. Approaching the Jersey City office of RexArt, a chemical plant, and his flagship business, I noticed the reserved parking spaces had names on them. The closest space to the entrance had his name on it. Better yet, there was a car in that space. A new two-tone blue Chevrolet Caprice. Odd choice for such a rich man I thought. It’s extra wide tires and oversized exhaust tipped me off to the high power under the low key hood. Recht was not one to flaunt his hand, but kept an ace up his sleeve. I entered the lobby and told the receptionist that I was a friend of Bill Recht, would she let him know I was here. “He’s expecting you? She asked. I nodded, “he should be” then winked and said “it’s about bicycles”. As expected, she knew about the boss’s peculiar passion and laughed, “well then” I’ll get you right in. I waited 90 minutes, but I took a seat where I could watch the blue Caprice, prepared to dash into the parking lot if he appeared there. Finally, I was ushered into Recht’s office. We discussed the problems with the paint oven delivery, marketing ideas for Confente and my proposed sister company CyclArt. I was surprised that Recht hated the name, he proposed “Ferrochrome”. “You know, Latin for iron-color”, he said! I suspected he liked the name too much and had other ideas for it. I argued forcefully for the CyclArt name, and he relented saying, so you’re not a “yes” man! Good, we’ll go to dinner. And off we went. We learned lot about each other that night. Mom got me the right doctor and the surgery went better than I dared hope. I was back in San Diego by the end of January. The paint shop was still on hold.
Mario’s business had a very successful debut in early March 77 at the big annual bicycle trade show, then held in New York. Mario and I were not entirely comfortable with the brochure produced by Bill Recht, but we received many orders. At the show, Mario had revealed his intention to create molds for investment cast lugs and dropouts. Up to that time
there had been few successful applications of the technique outside of jewelry and aerospace. Microfusione in Italy had done a crown for Masi, but lugs and bottom bracket presented a much more difficult challenge. The casting samples that had been attempted were thick, awkward looking and were distorted out of tolerance for proper fit. Mario’s schooling has been primarily in metal working, specifically in investment casting. He told me that at school, he had intended to be a jeweler but could not afford the gold. Mario believed he could produce molds that would make beautiful lugs without the many hours of filing he did to the crude parts then available. We estimated that this would increase his production form 2.5 to 5 frames per week. In 1975 Mario had conducted a patent search and began the registration process for designs he had started before his employment with Masi. Bill Recht had offered to get castings made for Mario to test while we focused on delivering existing orders and shop improvements. Mario sent Recht his patent drawings and models. I have extensive files of correspondence from this period. Bill Recht would generally dictate instructions which were typed on triplicate forms. Our responses would be written on the bottom of the form and returned, the middle layer returned and the carbon filed. As I became aware of problems at Confente, I began taking these documents home for safekeeping. Therefore, I still have a paper trail of correspondence from both sides. This documentation supports that Recht lead us to believe that the lugs, tooling and designs Mario and I created were for the exclusive use in building Mario’s company. Shortly after joining Mario full-time on site, Recht came visited for a meeting. He reported that he had found a casting house he believed could cast the lugs properly. Mario wanted to meet with the casting engineer, he wanted to make the molds personally after consulting with them. Recht insisted that we had more important work to do at the shop and that if Mario provided models that the casting house could take it from there. Mario was skeptical and concerned that the esthetics of the lugs would be changed. (they were!) I wanted to know about the economics of the situation. After all, our goal was to break even or better within two years. Mario and I were taking a minimum draw (less than minimum hourly wage) to keep as much money as possible in the Confente account. We were willing to sacrifice in order to be “free” at the two year mark. I was concerned about how much the lug project would cost and how long it would take to get a return on it. I asked the question: If we create a great set of investment cast lugs, do we use them strictly on Confente bicycles, to boost our production, do we introduce a production model to use them on or do we offer them for sale? Recht looked surprised and responded cryptically, “yes that is the question!”. I went on to speculate weather copyrights and Mario’s incomplete patent efforts would provide any protection and how long it might take for competitors to copy us. Since Mario was opposed to an operation on the scale of Masi, I proposed that perhaps the lugs should remain a Confente exclusive until we had something better on the horizon and them sell them either exclusively to one company at a premium or to several manufacturers in greater volume. While we were discussing the merits of these tactics, Recht did not tell us that he already had plans for Mario’s designs.
The first monthly paycheck I actually received for working at the Confente shop convinced me we were in a lot of trouble. I had expected that Mario had set up a business account for the seed money and we would always know how close we were to “2 year freedom” by simply balancing the checkbook. Mario had a checkbook all right, but Recht had “helped” Mario by handling his billing so Mario could concentrate on building frames. The problem was, that the paychecks and expenses were not written from a Confente account. Sure, the account held the correct balance, but Mario did not realize the significance of the Recht-owned company name at the top of his checks. As an employee of one of Recht’s companies, he had no rights to inventions or anything else he developed! From Mario’s point of view, and mine until that time, Recht had invested in our company. But with this slight of hand, Recht could deny our verbal agreement and show payroll records that would convince any judge that Mario was his employee. I held that first paycheck uncashed as long as I could, and insisted on speaking to Bill Recht about the “peculiar state” of the Confente accounts. As usual, it took weeks to get any reply. Meanwhile, I probed further.
Bill Recht had commanded Chris Sohmhegi, the president of Plexicraft to have Carol Moen, Sohmhegi’s personal secretary put in two hours each day to handle correspondence and billing for Bicycles by Confente. She would pay the bills, prepare the payroll and transfer our handwritten notes to triplicate typed letters. Carol had worked for Sohmhegi for nearly 20 years. She warned me that Recht was ruthless in his pursuit of money and power. I already knew Bill Recht’s riches were derived primarily from patents he controlled. Some of these involved obscure printing processes and materials which exploded in the 1970’s. Specifically inks for printing credit cards and continuous roll printing as in fan folded computer paper. What I learned from Carol was that these patents and companies had often been “acquired” by Recht in ugly conflicts that he always won. Carol recalled betrayals where Recht used insiders to push out his opposition, clever legal challenges that spent the opposition into bankruptcy, and various forms of intimidation. Here she refuse to go further, she would only say that her own boss, a Czek WWII Army veteran and as dominating, rigid and tightfisted a manager as ever lived, never challenged Recht’s commands, even when she knew he was completely opposed to them.
So it was clear that Recht had virtually already stolen Mario’s lug designs. Further, it was doubtful that he would honor our agreement, so he would likely claim all tooling and profits made in the first two years belonged to “his” company. Mario refused to believe this at first. He felt that our agreement with Recht had been so clear and explicit that he could not believe the man he had shaken hands with could betray him like that. He was in denial. We were doing better than we could have expected and at the rate we were going we could pay Recht off early. He though it preposterous that Recht could steal “Custom Bicycles by Confente” from Mario Confente! I tried to speak to Bill Recht about these things, I tried to get the accounts changed, to insure the copyright and patents were in Mario’s name, but Recht was out of touch and when I did hear from him, he absolutely refused to address these issues. It is clear that Recht made a real effort to hide the Medici company from Mario and I. There were signs of trouble as soon as I arrived. Mario would had not noticed because he was focused on his craft and let Carol handle all this mail and calls. But when I arrived, I opened and read all the mail first and I answered the phone. There were rumors that Gian Simonetti was involved in some sort of bike company. But what troubled me was the several instances where vendors we had used to buy one tool or a small quantity of supplies would contact me to request payment for several tools or a larger quantity of supplies. It was extremely rare that I could reach Recht by phone to report these billing problems, the few times that I did, told me to just forward anything like this to him so “his people” could deal with it. He suggested that it was an error or a scam or a purchase he made for his distribution company. I will never forget the day I uncovered his evasions, November 10, 1977. I needed more adhesive for the decals and I stopped by the decal printer to pick them up. They thought I was there to pick-up the decals for “the bicycle company” and so gave me a package and invoice. They were Medici decals, billing address was Recht’s New Jersey office, the delivery address was nearby. I delivered them personally. At the address I found Gian Simonetti. Gian was surprised to see me and very nervous. I tried to make small talk, but John “had to go” and I was ushered out of the shop immediately. When I got back I told Mario what I had found, and I called Bill Recht. I got through, and he was furious! He told me that now that I knew, I’d better figure out how to get Mario to cooperate with the Medici company. I was also informed that my CyclArt refinish business had to be set aside to accommodate the many frames Medici would soon be producing.
Although I resented the way Recht had manipulated things, to this point, it did seem to me that it might be best for Mario if he did as Recht wanted. He was heartbroken, but I insisted that he consider all his options. First, if he accepted his status as an employee, then he should have a very substantial raise. Recht had offered and he had declined an excellent wage to lead the new company. He was working for far less than that now. It seemed he should get the raise retroactive to the beginning of Bicycles by Confente as compensation for the “misunderstanding” that Mario “thought” he was working for himself. It made sense to maintain Confente bicycles as the custom, elite frame, while Medici built the production bikes. Since there were separate shops, Mario could limit his involvement in day-to-day operations at Medici and concentrate on the Confente operation, while benefiting from the considerable assets and clout of Bill Recht. Maybe we could get an agreement on bonuses for improvements to frame design and construction. Mario, however, would not be swayed. He pointed out that Recht had clearly betrayed us, was heavy handed and meddlesome in our operations and had hired people Mario did not respect. Mario did not want to be “part of a company of liars owed by a liar.” Mario insisted he would not be associated in any way with the Medici company. He decided we would have to start over, if it meant leaving all this work for the past year and his designs behind. It was a lot to loose. I pointed out that the success of the past year would make it easier to get started again. At least we could take that with us. Medici frames started to arrive for painting. Recht announced that they had to be ready for debut at the NY show. Mario would be sharing a booth with Medici. Recht also announced that dealers who wanted to order Confente frames would have to take 5 Medici for every Confente they wanted. Mario wanted to stop taking orders and to finish all work in progress so he could leave before the NY show. He did not want to be associated with Medici in any way. I discreetly suggested to several of Mario’s customer’s that Mario was unhappy with his current situation and sought to move. Since the Confente account was not quite at break even, and we had not been able to put away much in personal savings, we would need some financing as well. One client, George Farrier, offered to let Mario stay and work at his ranch in Carmel California. I would have to find a way paint the frames elsewhere. With a month to go, despite working extremely long hours, it was apparent that we could not finish all the orders. Mario decided to complete all orders possible and leave the remainder unstarted. We expected the deposits on those outstanding orders to be returned to the customers. With 30 days remaining until the show, Mario dictated a letter of resignation. It included an accounting of the deposits to be returned. We gave 30 days notice to give Recht time to make adjustments prior to the trade show. We wanted to leave on good terms. I edited the letter for clarity and gave it to Carol to type and send.
The day Bill Recht got that letter, we came to work as usual. As I locked my car I noticed Carol leaving the office in tears. She told me that Recht had called her personally and fired her for typing and sending the Confente letter. 20 years of service, she was Sohmhegi’s right hand and Recht fired her instantly without even consulting Sohmhegi! She wished us well and told me to be “very, very, careful”. We were locked out of our shop. I approached Chris Sohmhegi who would say only that Recht had fired us and that we were not allowed on the premises. I pointed out that we had personal possessions and tools in the shop and requested that he accompany us into the shop so that we could claim them. Sohmhegi refused. His instructions were clear we were not allowed on the premises under any circumstances. Recht would call when he arrived in Los Angles to discuss return of our tools, Sohmhegi did not know when that might be. I asked if I could be allowed only to clean my primer gun. The paint in would harden in 48 hours, ruining the gun. Sohmhegi refused and insisted we leave immediately.
Mario and I retreated to a nearby coffee shop to discuss the situation.
We expected that it might be some time before Recht arrived and meanwhile, there were things we needed, like personal tools, checkbooks, correspondence, and more. We made a list, but it was hard to remember everything; we kept coming up with more things. I called the police and tried to report that the things on our list had been stolen. When I explained that they were “taken” by locking us out of our workplace however they called it a “civil matter” and explained that the best we could do was to have a County Marshal escort us into the premises. He could stand by and notarize our inventory of the premises. We returned to Sohmhegi and asked him for an appointment time when he would open the shop for this inventory accompanied by the Marshall. We explained that nothing would be taken or even touched, that we just wanted an inventory so that we could take the matter up with Bill Recht. Having done so we would wait patiently for his call. I could not see any legitimate reason for Sohmhegi’s flat refusal. I asked to call Recht myself to propose the idea to him. He handed me the phone, but Recht’s secretary said she had strict instructions to refuse any call from me, Mario or any mention of Custom Bicycles by Confente. I told Chris Sohmhegi that I had always found him fair and reasonable, and could not accept his refusal, when he could present no legitimate reason for it. He asked that I give him a list of the items that needed to be returned and he would attempt to get permission for their return. I said I would do so only if he could close his eyes and give me an accurate list of everything on his desk. He conceded he could not do that. We would just have to wait for Recht. I asked if the shop would be kept sealed until Recht arrived. Sohmhegi said no, that since it was the from of one of his paper warehouses his warehouse manager would need access and the “Medici people” would need access because they needed frames painted. I decided to take a more direct approach. I went home, made a protest sign, “unfair lock-out” and returned to the shop and waited. After a while, John, the warehouse manager came across the street with his hand-truck, for another spool of printing paper. John, an older quiet man with at penchant for horse racing had visited with us everyday for the past year as he made his supply runs almost hourly. I told John that I d did not want to get him in any trouble, but that if he opened the door, I was going in. He replied, that he had been given strict instructions that Mario and I could not be allowed in the shop. I said you’d better tell Sohmhegi. John came back a half hour later said he Somhegi had been furious and that the we REALLY needed more paper for the presses. He was sympathetic to my position. I told him I was not moving, he shook my hand and went back without his paper. A short while later, three pressman came over and told me top get out of they way, they postured and looked tough, but I could see their hearts were not in it. They had been ordered by Sohmhegi to “get me to out of the way”, but the word had gotten around the print shop that I was standing up to the boss and they loved it! For security I pointed out my girlfriend holding a camera in my locked car across the street. They returned saying they could not move me. Little by little, the plant across the street got quieter and quieter, more and more heads popped up in the factory windows to watch me. Finally, Chris Sohmhegi came storming across the street looking like he would explode. He commanded me to step aside and put his key in the door. I told him calmly, there is no reason to deny us access for a simple inventory. I won’t strike you but I will do what ever else is necessary to get in that door. We were pressed literally nose to nose. He stormed back across the street and suddenly the workers were leaving the shop. Some gave me a thumbs up and joked about the welcome day off. I returned several times over the next four weeks as we waited for Recht’s visit. On one occasion, the door opened while I sat on the doorstep and out peeked Brian Baylis. I told Brian that I wanted to enter the shop escorted by a County Marshal to take an inventory. I needed him to let us in. Brian refused. I said that surely he could see that Mario and I were being ripped off, could he please do what was right here and let us do this. What could be wrong with our taking an inventory? Brian said that he had been told that we were not allowed in, for any reason, that he did not want to get involved; he was just there to do his job. He said he needed the money. I said he WAS involved - he was in our shop, surely he could see from the things it contained that we were locked out unexpectedly and that it was wrong. Still he refused. “I’m just following orders” he said. That did it. I was angry. I told him “that’s what the Nazi’s said,” I called him a conspirator, whore, opportunist and a coward. He closed the door. Years later, I buried my anger with him when I argued that he be given a job and a place where he could continue to build his bikes in the shop I shared with Masi in San Marcos. When his frame building business foundered there, he conspired with others in the building to forced CyclArt out of the premises and vowed to put me out of business. Apparently, I was right about him. I have been civil to Brian at every meeting since, I have provided a venue where he could show his work at my Contours events and given him prizes for his fine work. Still he remains hostile to me, I frequently have people tell me that his hatred of me is evident. A simple apology would heal this as far as I’m concerned, but one has never been offered. In Brian’s account, he claims to have returned to the area in February 1979. He is off by a year. It was 1978. Mario Confente would spend the most of 1978 in Carmel where he built and delivered all the frames that he had taken deposits on despite the fact that Recht never returned any of the deposits. When Recht finally arrived, he refused to give Mario anything of value and claimed that he would use the Confente name for his custom bikes. Not doing of his sole “concessions” to Mario. He refused to speak to us together and in fact refused to see or speak to me at all. As feared he claimed all assets, deposits, and tools in the shop as his. Fortunately, I got some good legal advice and in his refusal to give us anything, Recht made the mistake of not giving Mario or I our final paychecks, nor did he re-reimburse our expenses. This meant that we were able to file a claim against him with the State Labor Commissioner. The claim was limited to our unpaid wages and the actual replacement cost of tools that had been lost, but we needed it to recover. I knew from Carol that a favorite Recht tactic was to use clever legal ruses to run up the cost of legal action, to lie under oath and to spend his opposition into oblivion.
The State labor Commissioner uses an informal hearing process that prevents the use of most of these legal tricks and a judgment from the Labor Commissioner has teeth. We obtained a judgment, but Recht managed to escape our efforts to collect by claiming that he did no business in the State of California. I would need an attorney in NJ, preferably one who would not burn the entire judgment trying to collect it.
I asked my mom in NJ, if she new any good attorneys. Mom is a nurse and she had befriended and powerful attorney while in the hospital, she said she’d ask him. When she did, and explained that is was a matter of collecting a California Labor Commission judgment, the attorney said that mom had saved his life and he would handle the matter personally, at no charge. The attorney was Sheldon Leibowitz. At that time, Sheldon Leibowitz was one of the heaviest legal “guns” around. This was like having Johnny Cochran handle a parking ticket! I would have loved to seen Recht’s face when he got Sheldon’s notice that he was representing me! True to form, Recht performed spectacular, expensive evasions, easily spending many times the cost of the judgment defending it. I still have a deposition where it takes four pages to get an answer to the first question, which is the address of his principle residence. In it Bill Recht claims to have had no connection with Confente at all. He could not explain the 95 signed memos and letters I had given Sheldon. Sheldon saw Recht’s game for what it was, and he fought back in kind. He told me at one point he spend more time on this case than others with millions at stake. Almost two years later, I got a check. Mario never got his as he died 6 months earlier, March 12, 1979 at the age of 33, of heart failure. While Mario was in Carmel, I had taken a job managing one of the first “health food” supermarkets. Shortly after he moved back to the San Diego area and married Lisa. I made the decision to leave my promising career and restart CyclArt. Susan and I moved our residence into the unfinished industrial building in San Marcos so I could devote all my energy to it. I was sweeping out the building when I got the news of Mario’s death.
Mario had rebuilt his tools and inventory since splitting with Recht. He had moved his shop from Carmel to Lisa garage. After Mario’s death, his bereaved newlywed wife sold off his tools and inventory to an unscrupulous buyer for $800. That inventory has been dispersed. I’m sure most of it is in good appreciative hands, but there has always been concern about forgeries due to the nature of the way his things were lost. Mario had created a mold for his own improved lugs, in her confusion, his wife discarded them.
I believe Brian’s assessment of the failure of Medici is correct. I also believe that Bill Recht was right that he needed Mario for that company to succeed. Without him, it slid into mediocrity. It is ironic that for many years, a picture of Mario hung in the Medici shop and they would claim him as their founder. I could not help Mario enough, but I try to live up to his high standards to this day.
From: Brian Baylis <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: [CR]The rest of the Medici story
Thanks for putting a caper on the Medici story. I appreciate all of the time, effort, and mental energy it takes to put these events in print. I read with eyes as wide as saucers all of the internal details of the events that transpired while I was in the “monastery” situation. I was essentially “gone” for 18 months; apparently a lot of things happened during that time. I like the way you write, it’s always entertaining. I would have to say that I, perhaps much more that most people on this list; found it very informative which allows me to understand some of what caused certain events to take place. In particular, I now have a much better idea why there has been this “strange friction” between Jim and myself. As a general rule, I’m about as friendly and easy to get along with a person as one would ever be likely to meet. But sometimes, there’s a person or situation that just isn’t going to work out. I think Jim and I must have one of those. I’m OK with that; I think Jim is too.
I was amused buy Jim’s’ account of the goings on between himself, Mario, and Recht. I can totally see all of this stuff happening. But When Jim’s’ account intersects with my own experiences and account, suddenly the gears no longer mesh. Since I wasn’t present for all of the internal workings of their relationship; I cannot and will not dispute any of the testimony up to that point, but I will have to correct Jim on a few points regarding his account of “the day in question” out front of the Confente shop.
The only time I either went in or out of the Confente shop that day was with an escort (I assume that was the Chris person) who unlocked the door and let me in where I had no key to open the dead bolt to get out.
I painted the entire duration (except to eat) of my “internment” that day and was let out by the same person when I was finished. I never spoke to Cunningham, and I can assure you that the “conversation”(however clever it is; I especially liked the part about the Nazis) never took place through a door which I had the power nor authority to open. My business was with them, not you. Even if I could have opened the door, I wouldn’t have if they told me not to. I don’t think I owe you an apology for anything that happened to you as a result of your involvement with Bill Recht. Don’t forget, of all of you guys (Mario, yourself, Howard, and Simonetti) I am the only one who didn’t fall for the Recht scheme. I won’t take too much credit here; my main reason for not wanting to join Medici in LA was I didn’t want to live in Los Angeles or Orange Country. I hadn’t ferreted out Recht as Satan or anything. There is a possibility a conversation took place through one of the push out windows which (I think) had bars over them on the front of the building; although if it had gone as Jim described I would have been laughing historically. Regardless, your beef with Recht was your business. My business was to paint bikes. I’m sorry you feel the need to consider me evil, but I’m OK with that and it’s your business.
I still liked reading the story even if I’m not sure which parts are straight up and which parts are slanted. I have no emotional involvement in what went on with Recht and Mario and Jim. Jim obviously has a lot, pretty much all of it negative. I don’t blame him for having bad feelings about what happened and some of the people involved. I consider it his business how he perceives me. Since what troubles him doesn’t involve me, it’s none of my business. But me apologizing to him for his having gotten involved with Bill Recht isn’t going to happen either.
Maybe someday this whole thing will clear itself up, yak think?
Again, thanks Jim for taking the time to clear up any doubts about why the whole thing didn’t work out.
I have another question that I would be curious to know the answer to.
Sometime while Mike and I were building Wizard Cycles the introduction of investment cast lugs came to Masi. I think Masi was one of the first (if not the first) company to make investment cast lugs. Microfussione in Italy cast the first lugs. I always thought that Mario made the “model lugs” for the Masi investment cast lugs. My question is, did Mario ever build any Carlsbad Masi’s using the investment cast lugs? I know Eisentraut was using them, and we used them when we came back in June 1976. I just wonder when the first cast lugs arrived at Masi and was Mario there then? I’m curious how much Mario was involved in the development of the Masi lugs.
Hope this soap opera isn’t too much for anyone. Personally, I think the only thing between Jim and I in reality is a simple matter of personalities being about 180 degrees apart. Happens sometimes. No worries.
Some details regarding dates (which I’m not the best with) are a little fuzzy that far back; but I still seem to recall 1979 as the year of my return from AK. I thought Mario died in 1980. Maybe someone can confirm.
Mathematically everything fits that way.
Maybe we should get together and write soap operas for TV.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, Bob Freeman <email@example.com>
Thanks for the Medici story. I have one. I got in Seattle from Bob
Freeman and the store he was working for at that time. Pine Street Cycles He is working with Bill Davidson and Davidson bikes. They have the best lugs per anyone else’s lugs. I love the Medici bike. Perhaps you had something to do with it. Look forward to your book. Sad ending however for Mario. I would have preferred it ended with his riding away on his bicycle.
e-mail reply from JFC to Charles Nighbor
Glad you enjoyed it.
If you bike was one of the first 50 or so, I probably painted it. The lugs were very disappointing to Mario, as the casting house only approximated the intended design.
Sorry about the ending, the story is all fact, and that’s the way I’ll tell it.
I regret the “bickering” aspect of the posts; but I didn’t put that out there in my original writings. I only try my best to recall accurately what happened, with who, and when. The fact that someone else has an issue with some of it isn’t my fault. Since I actually have no beef with him or anyone else related to these events, there isn’t anything I can do to fix it other than to remain open to a solution. The rest of it is out of my hands.
I appreciate your contributions to the list whether I agree with them or are interested in the topic or not. In this case I feel that many are benefiting and are interested in these details; therefore I only ask that you indulge us a bit. It’s not exactly off topic.
Thanks for the kind words. The Confente lugs were important because, like the best of investment cast lugs today they are beautiful without requiring many hours of skilled hand labor. They are consistent and free of voids. They have closer tolerances that allow better capillary action of the brazing material, especially silver. Mario also designed dropouts that eliminated the large slug of brass required to fill the end of the tubes with conventional types. To some degree, as seems always the case with bicycles much of this has been done before, just not was well.
As feared, the lugs that became Medic’s were not well executed by the casting house, as their mold only approximated Mario’s designs.
Mario’s investment cast lugs would look like the Bocamas that he reworked on all his Confente frames. If you compare a Confente and Medici, you’ll see the differences that disappointed him. Functionally, I don’t know how well the Medici lugs work, as we never used them.
I have Mario’s original drawings of his lugs. I made T shirts year ago, with the Confente logo on front and the lug drawings on the back. I still have a few, let me know the size and I’ll check stock. If there is some demand I can do another run.
Mario created molds for his lugs and was trying to raise the money to cast them when he died. I never saw the molds and they were lost. I suspect that they would have been a further evolution of his ideas.
JFC ~ CyclArtist
Thanks for your comments. I consider writing about these events a challenge and an opportunity to exercise rational thought and judgment while not stepping on any toes. Not an easy task under the circumstances. Some of the aspects of these topics are delicate and or sensitive, but life is like that. Since there is nothing in it for me either way, I just take the position as journalist reporting what I witnessed. None of those goings on affected my life in any significant way. Just another day in the life of a frame builder to me. Those who were more involved naturally have a different point of view. I find Jim’s perspective very interesting, but at the same time I have the ability to converse with other players in the drama who can add more information.
As a result of the story I have heard from several people who were involved in one way or another and have been able to add to my understanding of the dynamics of this unusual situation. I feel obligated to tell all that I know as accurately as possible from as many angles as I can gather. It’s just good journalism. Sorry if it offends anyone, that’s not my intention.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.
Dear CR list,
I have received many kind and supportive posts off list regarding the Confente/Recht/Medici story. Thank you all.
It seems necessary to respond to Brian’s recent response to that
post, because it was sent to the list, not to me.
In many way we are opposites that don’t attract. I have resigned myself to his opposition. I don’t seek Brian’s company. I do (and have done) nothing to harm him and I and try not to express any animosity toward him. I can work quite well with those whose personality, politics or lifestyle are distasteful to me. What Brian misses or tries to gloss over here, is that the problems I have with Brian are his actions against me. Personality differences just add heat to the formula. RE: >I was amused buy Jim’s’ account of the goings on between himself, Mario, and Recht. It is hard for me to imagine being “amused” by as sad a story as this is.
In recent attempts to socialize with Brian at bike events I have tried to warm up to him, but I am often repulsed at this sense of humor. It seems mean spirited. What is funniest to him is others hardships or put downs. I just can’t get into that. This makes it especially hard for me to mend fences with Brian, although I’ve tried. A recent effort ended in a shouting match at the GWBR in 1999.
RE: The only time I either went in or out of the Confente shop that day was with an escort (I assume that was the Chris person) who unlocked the door and let me in where I had no key to open the dead bolt to get out. This sort of thing was one of many things what should have made it clear to Brian that something was wrong with the situation? (Not to mention unsafe and illegal) To me it was perfectly clear that the only reason to deny my request to have a Marshal-escorted notarized inventory performed was to facilitate Recht’s theft?
RE: I never spoke to Cunningham, and I can assure you that the “conversation” (however clever it is; I especially liked the part about the Nazis). SNIP to the end of the same sorry paragraph. There is a possibility a conversation took place through one of the push out windows which (I think) had bars over them on the front of the building;
Now that he mentions it, I do remember that the conversation occurred through the window. I had forgotten that detail as I had several heated exchanges on the doorstep. The content of the conversation, which we absolutely did have, I am quite clear about. Being 50% German and having Jewish girlfriend at the time, and having ground up with Shultz on Hogan’s Heroes on the tube, the “Nazi” accusation popped out. I am not proud of it. I think such accusations have no place in such trivial matters as business and employment disputes. What I meant however, was clear in context: Brian was shutting out the ethical problem with what was happening, just following orders that were obviously wrong and refusing someone desperately asking for his help. We don’t have to speculate on weather we had failed to communicate. Having read my detailed written explanation of events, Brian says now, “My business was with them, not you. Even if I could have opened the door, I wouldn’t have if they told me not to.” And “your beef with Recht was your business. My business was to paint bikes. I’m sorry you feel the need to consider me evil, but I’m OK with that”. I put the anger of that exchange behind me long ago. I recognized that other things I called him, were probably unfair at the time. I did not know how short-term his involvement had been, nor that he really could not have opened the door at all. Remember I supported his being included in the San Marcos cooperative in 1981. Even after he helped destroy that cooperative, in very ugly fashion, “evil” is too grand a word for the way I feel about Brian. I don’t waste energy on hate. I do steer clear of people who have disappointed me. RE:I don’t think I owe you an apology for anything that happened to you as a result of your involvement with Bill Recht. SNIP. But me apologizing to him for his having gotten involved with Bill Recht isn’t going to happen either.
I agree. As I said before, I never held that single event discussed above, against Brian. Also, Brian had no part in our getting together with Bill Recht. The apology is owed for a series of actions taken later, in San Marcos in 1983. I don’t want drag that mess out in public, and I don’t expect a public apology. I do think however, if Brian can find it in himself to do so, in private, as did his cohort at the time, Dave Tesch, it would help heal the rift between us. If Recht hurt Mario, perhaps I am to blame for fostering his involvement, but Recht would have contacted Mario and tried to hire him without me. Perhaps I could have sensed Recht’ danger sooner, perhaps I could have insisted on a written contract. Perhaps I could have found another investor. Perhaps I could have insisted that Mario get medical check-up that would have uncovered his heart condition. Perhaps... I could not see the future. I did my best in all these areas and more.
In our partnership, I saw Mario as the master and myself in a support role, I presented options and expressed opinions but the decisions at all critical points were left to Mario. I suppose to Bill Recht, I had poisoned his plans by helping Mario to believe in himself and the possibility of freedom through hard work in America. Then I exposed Recht’s plans and had the audacity to stand up to him. RE: I have no emotional involvement in what went on with Recht and Mario and Jim. Jim obviously has a lot, >pretty much all of it negative. I don’t blame him for having bad >feelings about what happened and some of the people involved. For someone with a passion for frame building and who knows how hard it is, I find this lack of compassion for others in his craft strange. Perhaps there is some jealously or competitiveness getting in the way. I came away from the Recht/Confente saga with much more than “negative emotional involvement” or “bad feelings”. First, despite the unfortunate turn of events I still feel privileged to have shared several years with Mario Confente. Mario was a masterful craftsman, disciplined and passionate about bicycles above all else. They were his calling, money, women, even food were lesser priorities. His bravado and weak English masked a childlike nativity’ and a powerful soul. He never built my Confente, I was not able to keep a single tool, but I gained immeasurably by being his partner. I learned about integrity and the power and danger of one’s convictions. Even Bill Recht taught me lessons beyond those in universities. I learned to how to protect against and even attack a superior force. I learned unwritten laws of litigation. I learned that power and money do not buy happiness. That those who would sell their principles for money are weak and will fail or desert when times are hard. Pain and struggle build strength. More recently, years after I last saw him, Recht has taught me that that love of one’s craft can out last a corporate empire. (The only hits to be found today on a Google Internet search for “RexArt” or “Plexicraft” printing or “Bill Recht” is an EPA suit for illegal dumping of chemical waste.)
Brian closes with one question of the type we need to get back to: RE: I’m curious how much Mario was involved in the development of the Masi lugs. I believe Mario made the models for the first Masi investment cast lugs, just as Recht asked him to make them for what became the Medici lugs. They arrived when Mario and I were there, but Mario was not satisfied with them. This is why he wanted to make the molds, not just the models. As Mario explained it, the molds cannot simply be a female of the male model. They have to be distorted for the part to be undistorted when cooled. Also, he had ways to make the steel thinner than had been done up to that time. If there are any responses to this post, I ask again; please send to me off line as I need to get back to the book and will not be following the CR list as much as I’d like to.
JFC ~ CyclArtist
Them there’s pretty strong words, Jim. I suppose if I was guilty of all of these atrocities against you I might be pitching a fit right about now. Fortunately, I’m so amused at your perspective that I’m actually astonished. I’m clearly to blame for everything, I’m really sorry.
I’m convinced at this point that there MUST be a parallel universe lurking about here somewhere. You sure weren’t at the same world I was at. It’s pretty obvious we’re not getting anywhere discussing this matter.
Apparently it doesn’t sink in regarding the day in LA. I knew absolutely nothing of what was going on between the two “warring” parties. I had never met you nor did I know who you were. I would have to be an idiot to even listen to your crap under the circumstances. I also guarantee you this. You would have done exactly as I did were you in the opposite position. Get serious. Unless you also remember me laughing in your face afterwards, I still say you’re mistaken about that conversation taking place. Certainly I would have remembered you calling me a whore and whatever else, to say nothing of the Nazi bit. Come on, Leon isn’t even that good!
Honestly, I don’t mean to ride you and I don’t (and never have) meant you any ill will, but sometimes you’re so off the wall I can’t help it. As I suspected much of what you are angry about originates from goings on in San Marcos. You don’t need me to tell you how weird that whole thing was; and you’re right we don’t want to open that can of worms. Might be too late though. If you clue me in as to exactly which incident in San Marcos has upset you so, and which cohort you are referring to, I will ponder it if you like. You might do well to ponder why people treat you this way instead of always blaming them when they do. You should also know from the school yard that you don’t give someone like Tesch any ammunition, but you kept feeding him. What did you expect?
Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to pause here and erase from your minds ever having heard mention of the “San Marcos period” of this roller coaster ride. You think the Mario stuff is complicated; you have NO idea how bizarre that situation was. I REALLY don’t think that would be wise to explore. But if Jim insists, I’m game. Later though.
OK, we’re back.
Sorry pal, my policy is to respond in the forum it was presented in. That’s a cheap shot. You want to speak your mind like that about me in public forum, the answers coming to public forum. (Sorry folks, I didn’t mean for it to come to this; but I expect further communications will take place off list if necessary). Well, I’ve had enough excitement for one day. Time to pack it in. I hope everyone else can see the humor in this situation as I do. You have to admit, it’s pretty rich.
On Sat, 24 Feb 2001 12:57:49 -0800 “Jim Cunningham” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: Jim Cunningham
Bob Hansing of Euro Asia. He took advantage of a distraught widow. I had been there on a Thursday and taken an inventory, I was trying to raise the money for a decent offer. Word leaked to Hansing, (via Kirkbride) who swooped in the following Sunday. Wholesale value of the tools (3 complete Campagnolo tool chests, extensive set of files, torches, hand tools, frame fixtures etc., on the inventory list I took was nearly $20,000.) I wanted to offer at least $5,000, more if I could get it. I could never low ball by that much and would certainly not have done so when I knew that someone was trying to raise a fair price for the widow.
That’s enough for me. Bob Hansing (and his heirs) can take every bit of his inventory to the grave before I’ll spend a nickel for it.
Dear CR list,
I have received many kind and supportive posts off list regarding the Confente/Recht/Medici story. Thank you all.
It seems necessary to respond to Brian’s recent response to that post, because it was sent to the list, not to me.
RE: Personally, I think the only thing between Jim and I in reality is a simple matter of personalities being about 180 degrees apart. Happens sometimes. No worries.
In many way we are opposites that don’t attract. I have resigned myself to his opposition. I don’t seek Brian’s company. I do (and have done) nothing to harm him and I and try not to express any animosity toward him. I can work quite well with those whose personality, politics or lifestyle are distasteful to me. What Brian misses or tries to gloss over here, is that the problems I have with Brian are his actions against me. Personality differences just add heat to the formula. RE:>I was amused buy Jim’s’ account of the goings on between himself, Mario, and Recht. It is hard for me to imagine being “amused” by as sad a story as this is. In recent attempts to socialize with Brian at bike events I have tried to warm up to him, but I am often repulsed at this sense of humor. It seems mean spirited. What is funniest to him is others hardships or put downs. I just can’t get into that. This makes it especially hard for me to mend fences with Brian, although I’ve tried. A recent effort ended in a shouting match at the GWBR in 1999.
RE: The only time I either went in or out of the Confente shop that day was with an escort (I assume that was the Chris person) who unlocked the door and let me in where I had no key to open the dead bolt to get out. This sort of thing was one of many things what should have made it clear to Brian that something was wrong with the situation? (Not to mention unsafe and illegal) To me it was perfectly clear that the only reason to deny my request to have a Marshal-escorted notarized inventory performed was to facilitate Recht’s theft? RE: never spoke to Cunningham, and I can assure you that the “conversation” (however cleaver it is; I especially liked the part about the Nazis). SNIP to the end of the same sorry paragraph There is a possibility a conversation took place through one of the push out windows which (I think) had bars over them on the front of the building;
Now that he mentions it, I do remember that the conversation occurred through the window. I had forgotten that detail as I had several heated exchanges on the doorstep. The content of the conversation, which we absolutely did have, I am quite clear about. Being 50% German and having Jewish girlfriend at the time, and having ground up with Shultz on Hogan’s Heroes on the tube, the “Nazi” accusation popped out. I am not proud of it. I think such accusations have no place in such trivial matters as business and employment disputes. What I meant however, was clear in context: Brian was shutting out the ethical problem with what was happening, just following orders that were obviously wrong and refusing someone desperately asking for his help. We don’t have to speculate on weather we had failed to communicate. Having read my detailed written explanation of events, Brian says now, “My business was with them, not you. Even if I could have opened the door, I wouldn’t have if they told me not to.” And “your beef with Recht was your business. My business was to paint bikes. I’m sorry you feel the need to consider me evil, but I’m OK with that”. I put the anger of that exchange behind me long ago. I recognized that other things I called him, were probably unfair at the time. I did not know how short-term his involvement had been, nor that he really could not have opened the door at all. Remember I supported his being included in the San Marcos cooperative in 1981. Even after he helped destroy that cooperative, in very ugly fashion, “evil” is too grand a word for the way I feel about Brian. I don’t waste energy on hate. I do steer clear of people who have disappointed me.
RE: I don’t think I owe you an apology for anything that happened to you as a result of your involvement with Bill Recht. SNIP But me apologizing to him for his having gotten involved with Bill Recht isn’t going to happen either.
I agree. As I said before, I never held that single event discussed above, against Brian. Also, Brian had no part in our getting together with Bill Recht. The apology is owed for a series of actions taken later, in San Marcos in 1983. I don’t want drag that mess out in public, and I don’t expect a public apology. I do think however, if Brian can find it in himself to do so, in private, as did his cohort at the time, Dave Tesch, it would help heal the rift between us. If Recht hurt Mario, perhaps I am to blame for fostering his involvement, but Recht would have contacted Mario and tried to hire him without me. Perhaps I could have sensed Recht’ danger sooner, perhaps I could have insisted on a written contract. Perhaps I could have found another investor. Perhaps I could have insisted that Mario get medical check-up that would have uncovered his heart condition. Perhaps... I could not see the future. I did my best in all these areas and more. In our partnership, I saw Mario as the master and myself in a support role,
I presented options and expressed opinions but the decisions at all critical points were left to Mario. I suppose to Bill Recht, I had poisoned his plans by helping Mario to believe in himself and the possibility of freedom through hard work in America. Then I exposed Recht’s plans and had the audacity to stand up to him. RE: I have no emotional involvement in what went on with Recht and Mario and Jim. Jim obviously has a lot, pretty much all of it negative. I don’t blame him for having bad feelings about what happened and some of the people involved.
For someone with a passion for frame building and who knows how hard it is, I find this lack of compassion for others in his craft strange. Perhaps there is some jealously or competitiveness getting in the way. I came away from the Recht/Confente saga with much more than “negative emotional involvement” or “bad feelings”. First, despite the unfortunate turn of events I still feel privileged to have shared several years with Mario Confente. Mario was a masterful craftsman, disciplined and passionate about bicycles above all else. They were his calling, money, women, even food were lesser priorities. His bravado and weak English masked a childlike nativity’ and a powerful soul. He never built my Confente, I was not able to keep a single tool, but I gained immeasurably by being his partner. I learned about integrity and the power and danger of one’s convictions. Even Bill Recht taught me lessons beyond those in universities. I learned to how to protect against and even attack a superior force. I learned unwritten laws of litigation. I learned that power and money do not buy happiness. That those who would sell their principles for money are weak and will fail or desert when times are hard. Pain and struggle build strength. More recently, years after I last saw him, Recht has taught me that that love of one’s craft can out last a corporate empire. (The only hits to be found today on a Google Internet search for “RexArt” or “Plexicraft” printing or “Bill Recht” is an EPA suit for illegal dumping of chemical waste.) Brian closes with one question of the type we need to get back to:
RE: I’m curious how much Mario was involved in the development of the Masi lugs. I believe Mario made the models for the first Masi investment cast lugs, just as Recht asked him to make them for what became the Medici lugs. They arrived when Mario and I were there, but Mario was not satisfied with them. This is why he wanted to make the molds, not just the models.
As Mario explained it, the molds cannot simply be a female of the male model. They have to be distorted for the part to be undistorted when cooled. Also, he had ways to make the steel thinner than had been done up to that time. If there are any responses to this post, I ask again; please send to me off line as I need to get back to the book and will not be following the CR list as much as I’d like to.
JFC ~ CyclArtist
Subject: Major Correction Regarding the Masi Italy and Masi USA pages
from the owner of MASI
Dear Cycles De Oro, Classic Rendezvous:
I really enjoy your page and would like to offer some corrections and details.
My name is Ted Kirkbride. I have been continuously involved with the Masi bicycle company since the Masi name was purchased in the early 70’s. There have been only 3 owners of the Masi trademark.
Faliero Masi of course, Roland Sahm who purchased the trademark when Faliero moved his company to the United States and finally I am the current owner. At the very beginning of the sale of the trademark, in 1972, I was a consultant for Roland Sahm for the establishment of a frame building operation in the United States. I worked at the very start with Faliero in setting up the Carlsbad operation. The original intention was to train American frame builders but it soon became apparent that this could not be achieved in a short time frame. So, we brought 3 Italian frame builders who had built for Masi in Italy. After the factory was up and running, the only Italian builder who stayed in the US was Mario Confente. One of the first major innovations that came out of our U. S. frame shop was the fully investment cast lugs. We sent Mario to Microfusione in Italy to have our original idea of investment cast lugs made. The Italian company, Microfusione, was not able to produce the lugs without the help of its US licensee who had the expertise to produce the thin walled technology. Mario advised that the lugs not be made in Italy since the ideas would most likely be copied by other Italian companies. His prediction soon came true as our $80,000 investment in developing the tooling to produce the lugs was soon being used by other major Italian manufacturers. We were the first company to put into production the fully investment cast lugged tube frame. Our pioneering efforts soon became the industry standard. In 1975, Mario Confente went out on his own to build his bicycles under his own name. In 1979, Mario Confente asked to come back and work for Masi. In the process of setting up his shop with us, he passed away. In fact, the morning Mario died of a massive heart attack he was scheduled to meet Rene Moser, the general manager of Masi at the time, to go pick up a new granite surface plate. Back to 1976. In this year, Mike Howard built frames and Brian Baylis painted the Masi frames.
It was in 1977 that the Carlsbad factory began a transfer to the San Marcos, California facility. During that time Albert Eisentraut built about 50 frames to fill a gap during our move. Keith Lippy became a principal frame builder from 1977 to 1978. Rob Roberson also built our frames during this time. One of the special bikes that we made during this time required several pairs of forks. This of course was the now famous bike ridden in the Oscar Nominated Movie Breaking Away. In 1978, I took full control of Masi frame building. Jim Allen took charge of the painting operation. Also in 1978, Dave Moulton and I became the main frame builders. It was around 1984/1985 that Joe Stark replaced Moulton as one of the principal builders. I continued to build special team frames and oversee that the qualities and traditions of the Masi frames were maintained. During the mid 1980s, I became the owner of the Masi trademark. This is just a brief history of Masi USA frame building. The information on your page regarding serial numbers while some of it is correct the majority of the information is erroneous. On our web site, www.masibikes.com, we intend to produce more details and we will keep you posted. With regard to the Italian Masi page. I would like to clear up a few errors. First of all, there were no “nefarious business dealings” on our part in acquiring the Masi trademark. Faliero Masi was paid $175,000 for the trademark, plus he was paid a salary to oversee the running of the operation and a royalty for every frame that was made.
In today’s dollars that would probably be a million dollar deal. In fact, the nefarious business dealings came from Italy. During the final negotiations for the trademark deal with Faliero Masi, Alberto Masi tried to prevent the deal by claiming the trademark as his own. In the end, the deal was a huge compensation for all the years of hard work Faliero put in to building a reputation that we here in the United States have done well to live up to. Finally, with regard to the Lokoshinx (correct spelling) team that rode our bikes to World and Olympic gold medals, it was I who specially built their bikes not Masi Italy.
I hope this information is helpful in your efforts to keep accurate information about classic bicycles. In the future, I’d be happy to verify any information regarding Masi bicycles built since 1973.
Thank you very much.
As a lug nut, I just wanted to clarify a few things about the production of lug modern lugs. As I see it the “technology” capable of producing an investment cast lug was around far before bicycles ever existed but seems to have been reserved for the production of fine accouterments such as jewelry. The general lack of investment cast lugs until the 70’s was most probably just based on the extra cost to manufacture.
Investment casting any object to a high degree of precision is not easy.
Many factors have to be considered. Shrinkage of the material in question, which is different for different alloys, size of the object, spurring or multiple spurring, air vents to allow full flow of the molten material. There is no special magic to making them thin or anything like that, they certainly had the technology back then. It is called a die sinking electronic discharge machining. In today’s world one would just computer model it, and have the original made using stereo lithography or CNC EDM.
As Mario explained it, the molds cannot simply be a female of the male model. They have to be distorted for the part to be undistorted when cooled. Also, he had ways to make the steel thinner than had been done up to that time.
It would be highly unlikely that Mr. Confente had the necessary tool and die machining and wax carving skills to accomplish this on his own... and “he had ways”; everyone has ways.
"His prediction soon came true as our $80,000 investment in developing the tooling to produce the lugs was soon being used by other major Italian manufacturers. We were the first company to put into production the fully investment cast lugged tube frame." 80,000 might be stretching the truth a bit. 30,000 maybe. Right now a full lug set (three lugs) with a small production run made in the U.S might cost 30K, Less in Taiwan. The original tooling always remains the property of the original owner, until sold. Other manufactures most likely saw the benefits for themselves and reproduced or made their own investment cast lugs but probably did not just use the original Masi lugs. As in many endeavors many people are thinking of doing the same thing at the same time, kind of like a absolutely new idea on the Internet.
One last question. Was Masi really the first company to make a investment cast lugged frame? Did no one do it before, even on a small scale? Maybe Hetchin’s etc.? I would be interested in finding out.
Dear CR List,
I’m sorry I did not provide more detail as to why I felt that Mario’s tools were sold in unfortunate circumstances. After 8 pages of a sad story, I thought I had gone on long enough. I should have left out that statement without it’s supporting detail, not having done so leaves a crack for fuzzy “logic” .
The details are:
Following Mario’s death, I spoke to his wife and offered my assistance. After all, I had been involved in his business and could assist in tying up his affairs. She told me everything would be handled by her attorney and I should send a letter to Mario’s business PO Box. I heard nothing for some time and made several calls to check see how she was doing. Every time I called she burst into tears, she was incapable of handling any reminders of Mario. A year after his death, I got my letter to the attorney back, unopened, marked unclaimed. I called Lisa again and this time someone was with her who explained that the lawyer had not collected the mail form the PO Box and apparently the PO had returned it when the PO box rental expired. Further, he explained that Lisa was still in a tenuous mental state and that she had avoided all reminders of Mario. She was planning to return to her family in Texas. He said that Lisa had never opened the door of Mario’s garage workshop since his death. Would I please come look at the shop. They needed to dispose of the contents of the garage. I agreed and came over immediately.
I visited with Lisa and her friend, (a young golf pro who’s name I don’t recall) on a Thursday at her home. My conversations with Lisa were very limited by her severe grief. She told me that she had given all of Mario’s clothes and personal things away a few days after his death, because she could not sleep in the house with them there. He had made the garage his domain and so she just kept it locked. She said now she just wanted everything gone so she did not have to think about it. She wanted to arrange a time when she would be gone and her friend could let me in to take it away. After sharing some more personal stories about Mario, she retired to her bedroom. I sat at talked with her friend, I had still not been in the garage. He told me that she had not been able to work much since Mario’s death and until the house sold she could use the money. He had made efforts to sell the tools but did not know what they were and had received only and offers of $200, which he felt sure was too low. I agreed to offer a fair price and went into take the inventory. It was quite emotional for me as well. There were several surprises, like three new full Campagnolo tool chests; French, Italian and English! Mario had rebuilt many of the tools we had lost to Medici and had somehow amassed a considerable inventory. I did not find the lug molds and there were no frames in progress, he was obviously still setting the shop up, having married at Lisa only two weeks before his death.
My concern at that time was how to raise enough cash to make a fair offer. Although this was a year after Mario’s death, I had only become aware of this situation that day and now that the garage had been opened, Lisa was more agitated about the contents and there seemed to be an urgency to remove them. I had no savings and no discretionary income at that time. I could not make an offer I could back up immediately, that seemed fair to me. I told the friend I needed time to prepare an offer. To return with my offer the following Tuesday.
My intent was to make a reasonable offer, and to keep the core of the Confente tools together. I considered building frames. I considered donating the tools to a school. I sold everything I could that weekend.
There were many things I could not use, some duplicated things I already owned. I created a list of things I might sell to increase my offer to Lisa. And I created a list of a few things like Mario’s brazing goggles that I had a real sentimental bond to. Perhaps in my efforts, news leaked to Euro Asia and gave Bob Hansing the opportunity to purchase.
Then I arrived as agreed on Tuesday Lisa’s friend met me at the door and explained that a man had arrived Sunday, and offered to buy Mario’s shop. Because the friend had never seen Bob before, he assumed I had sent Bob. Lisa was away from the house at the time and so the goods could be moved without her being stressed by witnessing it. Lisa had already offered me the shop to me for free, I had told him I would make an offer, but Bob had $800 in his hand.
I was saddened by all this, and extremely frustrated, but this was just another in the long tragedy of Mario’s life. Again, am sorry for having attempted to tell a truncated version of this. I admit “unscrupulous” was too strong a term for the way the buy was made. I don’t actually know how much Bob knew, but he knew he was getting a steal.
I know that initially Bob sold the bulk of the goods immediately to a neophyte builder, who soon thereafter sold it to Roland Della Santa. Soon after he got them he called me to inquire about how some of them were used. Roland is a worthy as anyone to use those tools.
There is some truth to Steven L. Sheffield’s suggestion that “all the trouble with Masi/Medici is what killed Mario, and didn’t want to sell his tools to anyone associated with that operation. She was so upset at everything that happened that she just wanted to get rid of the tools of the trade that killed her husband as quickly as possible ... money is not what mattered, but erasing the bad memories.”
I know that Mario had very reluctantly decided to do some consulting to Masi, which is where he was going on the morning of his death. Certainly hard work did not improve his health. Mario had only days before made arrangements with me to bring his next batch of frames to paint, and we were making other business plans. It is possible that Lisa or her friend felt uneasy about that fact that I was sharing a building with the Masi company at that time. I did not get that vibe however, as Lisa repeatedly thanked me for the help I had given Mario and had offered to give me all his tools in recognition of my loyalty to him.
JFC ~ CyclArtist
First great riding day in a while!
List, Jim Cunningham makes some claims below that don’t match my experience at the time.
Shortly before his death Mario contacted Rene Moser, Masi Bicycle company manager in Rancho Sante Fe. Mario wanted to meet with the owner, Roland Sahm, to discuss the possibility of resuming his relationship with Masi. Mario may have been reluctant but he initiated the renewal of his relationship with Masi. His vision was to be the master frame builder and instructor for Masi and also to build frames under his own name.
Following his meeting with Roland Sahm, Mario came to visit the shop in San Marcos. Ted Kirkbride and I gave him a tour of the facility. Jim Cunningham lived in a small building next door to the shop (San Marcos’ original gas station) and he was home when Mario visited us. His windows looked out into the parking area, parking for our facility was in front of Jim Cunningham’s building, yet at no time during the visit did Jim Cunningham come out to greet Mario.
During the course of the visit Mario noted the area Cyclart was using and commented that he did not want Mr. Cunningham touching his frames.
Logic, fuzzy or otherwise, leads to questions about Jim Cunninghams’ representation of his relation with Mario Confente subsequent to the events at Bill Recht’s facilities in Los Angeles. If Jim Cunningham was as close to Mario as he states, he would have known he was coming to the shop and if not, it would seem he would at least have come over to say hi.
In closing, I quote a respected frame builder and list member “Why is this guy making a career out of working with Mario for six months?” And no, it was not R. Brian Baylis! A friend is fond of saying “that X&*!|!** reality checker is not working! My reality checker seems to mesh with R. Brian Baylis’ and Ted Kirkbride’s.
Jim Allen’s post attached below:
The several conversations I had with Mario shortly before his death revolved around the fact that I was having misgivings about recommitting myself full time to bicycle painting. While Mario was in Monterey, I had stayed in San Diego and taken a job managing the grocery department at a health food supermarket. I operated CyclArt part time while trying to raise money to restart CyclArt independently. When Kirkbride offered to rent space to me in the San Marcos shop where he was beginning to build Masi’s I agreed, investing in replacing the existing booth with one that worked. I conducted my CyclArt business after my grocery job. However, things were going well for me at the store, there was talk of promoting me to buyer for the chain and it was clear that I would have to choose between two careers. Painting bicycles, or making money :)
I had not made a final decision by the time that Mario visited with Allen & Kirkbride. Certainly, Mario would have been considering alternative paint sources. This was not the first time he had to do that. While I was sick and on the east coast he had used nearby John Grant of Apollo Engraving. Had I chosen to dedicate myself fully to the food industry, Mario might have had to use another painter.
In our last conversations Mario had encouraged me to stay with bicycles. He told me about his plan to keep “low overhead” and to “not have any agreements” which could backfire as they had with Recht. As I have said before, his goal after Masi was the freedom to built his own bikes. I don’t know what payment was offered to Mario for his services, but anyone in his circumstance would have entertained the prospect of consulting or even employment at Masi. After all, Mario and I had made plans to form his own company while working at Masi and would have worked there longer, until our plans and bank accounts were more developed, had Sahm not closed the Carlsbad shop. (And briefly reopened it again!)
At the time, I considered renting space in a shared shop, as a short term solution toward a larger, full time CyclArt. Mario considered working in his garage in the same way. He had discussed reuniting in a small industrial space. I had offered to scout locations and meet with him to evaluate them. We certainly agreed not to have any more “investors”.
That meant that we first had to raise our own money. Jim Allen makes far too much of the simple fact that I did not get involved in one meeting with Mario. I’m sure Jim will recall that a problem at the San Marcos shop was that there was little privacy and could get awkward when a client showing up for one business, was greeted by another. Further it would be rather impolite to interject myself into their meeting. I knew Mario was not there to speak to me, I had spoken to him just prior and after that meeting, and expected many more exchanges in the future. It was not to be.
I don’t know what Jim thought Mario had said about my “touching his frames” but it would not have been the first time Mario’s poor English was misunderstood. (Ask George Farrier about that!) Mario could have been commenting that “I never touch his frames” because I was so careful to not to touch raw steel before primer. Who knows? On the other hand, there is the fact that I worked closely with Mario from 1975 to 1979. (Where does Allen’s unnamed slanderer get 6 months?!) There is a four year history of a close relationship between myself and Mario. Included among the hundreds of documents I have from that era are receipts and checks for work I performed, letters acknowledging the temporary need for other paint sources, even an endorsement of CyclArt’s highest quality refinishing signed by Mario. If Mario and I were not on good terms near the end of his life would his widow have invited me to help her dispose of his tools? Would she have given me given me his personal letters and photos after his death, rather than send them to his family?
As for “basing a career on Mario”. Well, he did convince me to stay with bicycles. I had a tremendous if not happy experience with him. As illustrated in my posts on the subject I gained in many ways. Otherwise the statement is as ridiculous as saying that Richard Sachs based his career on his few months at Witcomb! Some of us continue to grow.
In my original Mario/Medici post I requested feedback and comments off list. I am happy to answer questions or attempt to clarify facts. However, I am disappointed in the tone of some of the responses posted. There is too much innuendo and focus on details out of context rather than any substantiated or useful information. I stand by my version of the events because it is based on my personal experience and supporting documentation.
JFC ~ Jim Cunningham
Thanks for clarifying something I have known for over 20 years. Having to exercise professional courtesy for this long has been trying. It was no secret with Mike and Gian at Medici how Mario felt about Jim Cunningham. I heard it all back then. It turns out that a “demand” letter was presented to Roland Sahm on Marios’ behalf which resulted in Mario being “let go” from Masi. That’s how the potential Recht involvement with Masi turned into Bicycles by Confente. That letter is what is referred to by JFC as a “business plan” in his accounts of these events.
I feel obligated to now finish the Mario tool story without being afraid of “crossing the line”. It is necessary to do this in the memory of Bob Hansing from Euro-Asia Imports, who has recently passed away. I also feel that since everybody has sat through this, they should at least hear the actual true story.
To keep the story short, I’ll get to the point. The actual fact is that the ONLY person that Mario/Lisa didn’t want to have the tools was Jim.
Therefore to call the other parties unscrupulous is unfair. The seller got what they wanted.
I also doubt that the tooling was worth anywhere near $20,000 for these reasons. First, Mario had just come from Monterey where he did not own much of anything other than a few small fixtures which I will explain shortly. I personally saw the workshop Mario worked in there because George Farrier wanted me to “work” for him also. When I visited; in the shop were a complete set of tools, a granite surface plate, and a jig plate. This obviously was after Mario had been there. I declined the offer, but I did build a bike for him and a bike for some friend of his.
We also know that the day Mario passed away they were scheduled to go pick up a granite plate, so that was not part of what was in the garage. I can understand Mario having an Italian campy tool case, or even two; but not one each of Italian, English, French. Doesn’t make sense.
The way Mario built frames was unique as far as I’ve seen. Mario would first braze a head tube to a down tube at an angle I don’t know how he determined. He had a few simple “angle blocks” to account for a few different down tube angles. There were blocks for other sub-assemblies also. This in itself is very odd, but Marios fixturing for this system was of little or no use to pretty much any frame builder. So his whole sub-assembly system did not comprise much value. I know that Roland Della Santa has not made use of these tools. Each builder has his own way.
At Marios passing there was not a very large collection of tools and equipment. Ted Kirkbride had access to everything and simply had no need for that which was offered. And offered only because Lisa was moving back to Texas and had to clear out the garage. I believe the tale of grief is a bit out of line. If $20,000 worth of tooling was offered to someone in the business for $800 and he passes it to another person in the business who buys it for (or offers, or however that figure was arrived at) for that sum, then the stuff was probably worth $800. The fact that these people wouldn’t sell it to Jim for more money clearly supports my statement above.
It’s also safe to say that there was no “business plan” between Jim and Mario, had Mario gotten set up in San Marcos. As a matter of fact, Mario made it clear to Jim Allen would he would be painting any Confente frames built in San Marcos. I believe it is safe to extend that to the Recht affair also. I will refrain from explaining why, but trust me.
I regret having to reveal these things about someone whom (believe it or not) I respect and whose work and contributions to the craft and industry are obvious. Let this not detract from that. Their work speaks for itself. This is not about business. I just could not stand by and have the waters muddied by these confusing accounts when our goal here is to gather knowledge and preserve it somehow for the future. My only goal is accuracy.
I hope Jim will accept my apology for being a part of this, but I could not (nor would not have) done it without his nimble assistance.
In closing, I apologize to the group for this outburst (in it’s entirety; but it all started as an innocent Medici story) but I felt it necessary in order to not add any myths or confusion regarding the life and work of a great man. There is plenty of it already. I believe his memory is best served by remembering him through his work, not Jim Cunningham.
There are more details going back as far as events at Masi, Carlsbad that explain more about Mario and what actually happened; but I suspect people are quite tired of all of this by now. I’ll let Jim decide whether it is necessary to fill in the details.
No surprises from you. Mario’s production was 123 frames in two years, not 85. Those two years began when he returned from Italy, and included doing much more than building frames. He created that “state of the art” shop, it was not handed to him. He designed tooling and fixtures, even fabricating things like his own top tube guides and bridges. He developed what was then leading edge investment casting and dropout designs. That time also included moving his shop twice and retooling. Keep in mind that those frames, of which about 1/3 were delivered as complete bikes, were built using no investment castings, and few prefab purchased bits. There was almost no use of power tools. Comparing to someone else’s recent production from an established shop with modern materials is irrelevant. Since you bring it up, how many frames have you built in the past 2 years?
The only “demands” Mario made of “generous” Bill Recht was that he
honor the agreement with which they started, that he not steal Mario’s
designs and that he treat him honestly and fairly. I am in possession of a
virtually complete set of all correspondence from that period between
Mario, his customers, suppliers and Bill Recht. Your assertions of Mario
making demands, and your presumption that he was locked out for not
producing are completely false. Mario accepted investment money in good
faith and held to the terms of the agreement. It’s clear that Recht did
not. Mario’s business was a financial success, and could have repaid
Recht’s original investment at the end of the two years as planned. I
have the financial records to bear that out. When Recht took all that
Mario had built, including nearly $6,000 in deposits against on 18
unbuilt frames, Mario delivered them anyway. He was given a workshop to
work in during that time by George Farrier, but despite George wanting him to stay,
he left as soon as he could to regain his independence. He had nearly
achieved the independence he sought when he married Lisa and restarted his
business in Cardiff. He needed only some short term extra income to get his
Cardiff operation going. I’m sure your version of things was influenced by
the Medici crew, who were not in any position to know what was happening
at Mario’s shop, but had to come up with some respectable explanation
for how they inherited it.
From: Brian Baylis [mailto:email@example.com]
To: Jim Cunningham
Greg and the gang,
There will never be an end to the debate over Mario and what he
That is one of the typical advertising fallacies; the President has one, Clint Eastwood has one (did he order it or was it given to him, anyone know for sure?), a big giant basketball player has one, etc.
Like Dale said it would be interesting for a group of knowledgeable (read frame builders) people to get together with massive quantities of exotic frames and sort of rate the frames based only on the quality of the work and design of the bike. I got a good start this afternoon as I pointed out lots of details of construction to someone who knows bikes as young a racer, to bike mechanic, to collector/rider over most of his life. He had no idea there were so many minute details that one could inspected for quality and execution. My talk last year at Velo Rendezvous was centered around this topic. My presentation this year will probably revolve around the concept of “Replica VS. Counterfeit” and will include lots of these details. Perhaps one thing we as a group might undertake at this years Velo Rendezvous would be one of these open air side by side comparisons of a number of “big name” frames. I promise to open lots of eyes if it takes place.
So the bottom line as to why Confente frames sometimes get more money than they’re “actually” worth is because there are so few. I’ve also noticed that the most vocal persons regarding their value are those who own them or have something to gain from selling them. Not a one is a frame builder. All of them focus on everything except the actual explanation of what the frame really is. You’re buying 60% mojo and 40% bike. Again that’s the way it is in the world. It will not change.
To separate the “man” from the “frame” is an interesting way of looking at it. I knew Mario just like the rest of those who claim to. I have talked with several others who spent time with Mario at various times and the same impression come from all of them. We all thought highly of Mario. He was talented just like every other human being. He made several poor choices as to with whom and how to go about making world class frames. Mario is not without responsibility during all of the twists and turns of his life. His personal goals drove him in some directions that ended up being counterproductive. To blame everyone else he was involved with for his troubles and his shortened life is short sighted and clearly not true. Playing on this sympathy to sell his frames is an injustice to all involved, including Mario. Mario died young because he had a bad heart. He knew it; he told us that while we were working at Masi. He told the same thing to a close friend of his many years ago, that the doctors told him he could no longer race on account of it. This is a fact. Mario was human just like the rest of us.
Between the awesome ability to focus there were temper tantrums and fits of frustration and depression. Yes, caused by his circumstances; which he himself entered into. Possibly blinded by his own desperate need to build the best frames in the world and sell them to the stars. But either way, it ends up as “Mojo” to those who are predisposed to seeing that instead of his frames. Go figure.
For anyone who wants to know the sources of my information, know this. I have been researching the events of Mario and Masi and all of the tentacles for quite some time now and not only have personal first hand knowledge of much of it, but also have spoken with well over a dozen persons closely and personally involved in the whole saga. There are still more for me to talk to, but one thing is common to all. Everyone had respect for Mario and his ability. Some of them idolize him. Most feel that he was no different than the rest of us other than he was driven to do things that weren’t always the best course. Most of that had to do with him not being a US citizen. He wanted to be here really bad. He had enough sense to escape Italy where the devil (E. Colnago) wanted to buy his soul; but jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire by having to work for “money men” in order to stay here. By the time he had a solution it was too late. Mario believed that the US was the land of opportunity with all his heart; problem is there is no free ride just because you’re a great frame builder. Again, that’s the way the world is.
The Mario Confente Story by Russ Howe
Parts one and two
Mario Confente was born January 29, 1945 in Montorio, Italy, a small town a few miles from Verona. He was the third of five children and the only male child. His sister Gianna Confente recalls, “his infancy was not rosy because we were a modest family and only our father was working. It was a difficult period following the war.”
As a result, Mario began working at an early age. He first served as an apprentice in a hardware store. His mechanical aptitude soon captured the attention of a family friend, Mr. Tiberghien, who gave Mario a job in his wool factory.
Mario worked as a mechanic and often repaired the looms. As he grew older, he furthered his mechanical education by attending the state trade school, the Leonardo Da Vinci. Displaying his artistic side, he also made religious crosses which he sold to the Vatican.
Like most young Italian boys, Mario was captivated by bicycle racing. He was just thirteen when he joined the Aquilotti club, his town’s local club. His prowess on the bike was evident due to his numerous victories. At the age of fifteen, he won the provincial championship as a junior while riding for the Gaiga club.
When he turned eighteen, the Bencini bike club invited Mario to join their ranks. The Bencini team was the best Dilettanti (semi-pro) team of that period.
Local riders from Verona filled the squad’s roster. The director sportif was Guido Zamperioli. From 1963 to 1966, the Bencini squad members produced impressive results:
1963: Gold medal, Amateur World Championships, won by Bencini rider Flaviano Vicentini
1964: Silver medal 100km team time trail, Tokyo Olympics with Bencini riders Pietro Guerra and Severino Andreoli
1965: Gold medal 100km team time trial, World Championships, Bencini squad members, Pietro Guerra and Severino Andreoli, are part of the quartet.
1966: Bronze medal 100km team time trail, World Championships, Pietro Guerra is a member of the quartet.
Due to the demands of this higher level of competition, Mario chose to quit his job and race full-time. Soon he was traveling with the team to Torino, Milano and Switzerland. He supplemented his income by building frames. Mario’s father urged him to give up racing because it paid poorly and the risks were high. His father even remodeled a small workshop adjacent to their home to enable Mario to build frames. Soon, he built himself his first frame. Before long, his teammates were requesting frames as well.
As a semi-pro, he placed well in several races and even won a few. One teammate Severino Andreoli recalls, “Mario was a strong rider, not too much of a winner but often among the first places of the classification. He sacrificed a lot for the team during a break away or to block, while a companion took a flight for victory.”
Renzo Ferrari, another teammate of Mario’s from the Bencini club remembers, “I met Mario when I was 17 and he was 16. We were in a gym and we became friends even though we raced for different clubs. Mario was of good character and he got along with everyone even when he was racing. He was generous and highly esteemed for his passion of cycling. He distinguished himself from the other fellows for the attention, maintenance and care that he had for his bicycle.” He adds, “Mario was always adjusting my bicycle and he even taught me how to pick wild mushrooms!”
In 1963, during a race, Renzo and Mario broke away together and rode the last 20 km together. Renzo won the race and Mario had to settle for second.
However, they remained friends long after. Bencini rider and former World Champion, Pietro Guerra recalls, “Mario did not win a lot of races but he was strong, generous, and always ready to help everyone.”
While racing on the velodrome in the fall of 1968, Mario sustained a severe injury from a crash. Once he recovered, he gave up racing and threw his energy into frame building.
Mario’s work was impeccable and his reputation grew, thanks to his friends and teammates Pietro Guerra and Flaviano Vicentini. Both riders won numerous races and World Championships on Confente built frames.
Pietro Guerra remembers, “When Mario stopped racing, he didn’t know what to do. The passion he had for the bike was still strong so he learned right away how to build racing frames. He became a specialist in building racing frames and to make himself known in the field he gave me a track bike. It was a real jewel! With it, I won three Italian professional individual pursuit championships, 1970 at Varese, 1971 at Milano, and 1972 at Bassano del Grappa.”
From 1968 to 1970, Mario continued to build frames in his home workshop. During this period, Ditta Bianchi asked him to build frames for his company under a piece work agreement. Soon, Mario had more work then he could handle by himself. He quickly outgrew his facility. In 1970, Mario hired several apprentices and was forced to relocate his frame building business. The new shop, though modest, was expansive and he lived above it in a small apartment with his parents.
His reputation continued to grow and Pietro Guerra adds, “We presented Mario to the famous Masi of Milano. In the beginning, Masi brought work to Verona for Mario. At the time the bike market was slow in Italy, so with the Masi project he transferred to California in search of better luck.”
In the early seventies, the US experienced an energy crisis and a subsequent bicycle boom. Roland Sahm, a wealthy business man from San Diego contacted every Italian bicycle manufacturer on licensing their name and building frames in the US. According to Sahm, Cinelli, Colnago and Bianchi all refused him. However, one Italian bicycle manufacturer recognized the potential of the growing US market. Falierio Masi sold Sahm the rights to produce a Masi bicycle in the U.S.
Mario arrived in Los Angeles in October 12, 1973. As evidenced by the following letter he did not expect to stay long. Dated October 21, 1973,
Ernesto Colnago wrote to Mario in California:
Although Colnago and Confente never engaged in a joint venture, it would certainly have proved interesting. Confente did build for the Masi California project and eventually built under his own name. His impact on the U.S. bicycle market was profound and he quickly established a new standard for U.S. custom builders. Faliero Masi sold the rights of the Masi name to San Diego businessman Roland Sahm. Under their agreement, Masi bicycles would be built in the United States. Failero came to supervise the start of the new venture. He brought Mario with him to initiate production.
At the US Masi factory in Carlsbad, Mario oversaw production of some 2,200 bicycles over the course of three years. To reach that level of production, Mario was required to train a number of Mexican workers. They were hired to do the majority of the preparation work that goes into building a frame.
Mario’s widowed wife, then girlfriend, Lisa recalls, “Mario respected the Mexican guys who helped him. They would often have lunch together, Mario enjoyed the tortillas. These men would come up from Mexico and make a sacrifice to take care of their families, send home every penny. These were the people that Mario admired, people who worked hard and took care of their families. He was so Old World.”
She also recalls meeting Eddy Merckx when they traveled to Italy together. “We went in when Eddy was getting a massage. He was getting ready to ride the Milan-San Remo race. Eddy said, “hey Mario, I love your bikes and I want another bicycle.” Mario said that he made many bikes for him but he would always put his own decals on the frame. One thing that was sad about Mario being in the U.S., is that he did not have a strong command of the language. In Italy, he was like another person, he was so strong over there. We went to see Signor Campagnolo, Eddy Merckx, Signor Cinelli and all of these people. They way he spoke to them was so different then how he was over here.”
However, when it came to building and marketing bicycles Mario anything but “Old World”. In an effort to conquer the US bicycle market, Faliero Masi and Mario went to the Encino velodrome one evening. The reigning sprinter of the 70’s, Jerry Ash was at the track working out. He was offered a Masi track frame.
Ash recounts, “Before I received the Masi, I was riding a Rickerts and before that, a Paramount. I went to the Masi factory at Carlsbad and I was measured for the frame which Mario then built. I wanted an all-around track frame that would be good for sprinting. The ride of the bike was tremendous.”
While it was encouraging that top riders were bringing recognition to the new Masi venture, Mario was not content. The one thing that eluded him up to this time was the chance to build frames bearing his name. As the Masi California operation struggled, a New Jersey businessman, Bill Recht, attempted to buy the business from Roland Sahm. Unable to reach an agreement, Recht did succeed in hiring Mario away from Masi. Mario would finally build a bike with his name on the downtube. It was a dream come true, or so he thought.
Custom Bicycles by Confente was located in Los Angeles. One of the first things Mario did was contact Jerry Ash and offer to build him a road and track bike. Ash went on to ride the Confente track frame in the World Championships in 1976, 77, and 78. In 1977, he finished seventh in the match sprints, the highest finish for an American in over a decade.
Before long, other top riders, including Jonathan Boyer, were traveling to Los Angeles for a Confente frame.
Lisa recalls that Mario poured his heart and soul into this new venture. “He worked like a fiend. I would have to tear him out of the place in LA. He would not leave until it was spotless clean. I would help him sweep the floor - anything to get him out of there!”
Confente frames were the rage at the New York bicycle show the first year that they were unveiled. Tom Kellogg, of Spectrum Cycles, recalls, “Mario made beautiful stuff and he pushed the American builders beyond a look that we all had, which was kind of simple, plain lines. He forced us to class up our act. Mario’s frames were the first to combine American quality and the Italian look. That had never been done before. Fairly rapidly after that the Americans made their frames look slicker.”
Ben Serotta adds, “After seeing Confente’s bikes at the New York show, it was clear that he raised the standard.” Richard Sachs recalls looking at the Confente brochure and shaking his head in disbelief that someone could charge $400 for a custom frame. At the time, Sachs was charging $180 for a custom frame. Sachs notes, “I remember asking myself, what could a builder possible do to a frame to make it cost so much more?”
As beautiful and skillfully made as the Confente frames were, they were also expensive. Recht decided to capitalize on Mario’s name and innovations.
Unbeknownst to Mario, Recht was preparing to launch another, less expensive bicycle frame. When Mario ordered 100 dropouts for the Confente bicycles, Recht ordered 200. The Medici frame was to be unveiled at the next New York bicycle show. Prior to the show, Confente learned that his name was going to be used to launch this new frame. He perceived the Medici frame to be an inferior product. He promptly handed in a letter of resignation and was immediately locked out of the factory. Unable to retrieve his tools, Confente headed north to the one place where he knew he could continue to build frames, Monterey.
Mario had traveled to Monterey previously to meet with Boyer and a sponsor of Boyer’s, George Farrier. Farrier had a machine shop in his garage and Confente was impressed by the size of the shop. In the year that followed, he worked without distraction. Farrier recalls the day Mario showed up at his property, “Mario pulled into the driveway in his car. I was surprised to see him. I asked him what he was doing here and in his thick Italian accent he said that he was here to build bicycles.”
While Farrier’s accommodations were first class, Mario still longed for his own shop. He and Jim Cunningham put together a business plan. In addition to developments in his career, Mario’s personal life was taking a new step forward. Mario proposed to his longtime girlfriend and the two were married shortly thereafter. Lisa remembers, “I left Mario. I went to Houston for a while. I wanted to get married and I knew that he would never marry me. He sent a lot of money home to Italy. Yet, Mario thought you had to have a lot of money to be married. I had a little house in Encinitas and I believed that we would be all right. When I realized it wasn’t going to work out, I said that I’m out of here, we’ve been together for five years and there is no future. Mario was bummed out and very lonely after I left California. Six months later, when I returned from Texas, he asked me to marry him.”
The newlyweds settled into Encinitas and Mario renovated the garage into his new shop. Sadly, as Mario was on the verge of achieving his dream, he abruptly passed away. Mario and Lisa were married less than two weeks. An autopsy later revealed that he had an enlarged heart and suffered from heart disease. Lisa remembers Mario on his last morning, “He was going to go back to Masi to work for a short time, just to make some cash. He was supposed tomeet with the Masi foreman that morning. He was really upset and stressed about going back there. I felt like it was something he didn’t want to do, yet he felt he had to.”
The next thing she remembers, “This biker guy found him... a Hell’s Angel kind of guy.
He banged on the door, it was 5:30 or 6:00am. , he says, “Lady, lady there is a man out here and I think he is dead.” I went out there and saw him lying in the road. I just lost it. All I said was, “are his hands okay? He works with his hands.” He wasn’t breathing or anything. For some reason my car was in the middle of the road. He may have been trying to move my car. He was found beside the car, sort of out in the road.”
The cycling community was stunned by the death of Mario Confente. In his all to brief career, he was transforming the cycling industry. With the talent and passion that he possessed, one can only wonder about the frames he would be building today. One can only wonder about the man he would be today.
A Medici bicycle frame has nothing to with Confente built frame or does it?
The gist of the “World War III” posts, was that Mario Confente had some sort of business/legal/financial relationship with the individual who was the principal behind Medici. Confente designed lugs to be used in the construction of bikes “built” (there’s that word again eRichie) under the Confente name. The Confente castings ‘ended up’ being used for the lugs used in the Medici frames. I think that condenses the epic Confente/Medici saga without getting into the “who shot John and why” aspects. While it may open Pandora’s Box, and leaves many other issues open, it does answer your question in the narrowest sense.
Carlo (I just hope my recollection is correct) Carr
New Orleans (Where the 100th US Senate seat is as yet undecided) LA.
Yes, there is sort of a connection between Confente and Medici frames.
This could get ugly; the last time we tried sorting this out World War III almost broke out. The same person owned both companies. From there the whole thing is a mess. Let’s leave it right here. The details are bizzarre, confusing, complicated, obtuse, sorted, emotional, crazy, boring, fuzzy, debateable, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent ;-).
Unlike a good Boyscout; you couldn’t possibly be prepared for the answer. Buy me a beer at one of the events and maybe I’ll make an attempt to fill you in. Otherwise it could take weeks.
La Mesa, CA
I confused. A Medici bicycle frame has nothing to with Confente built frame or does it.
Charles nighbor , Confused
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