Simon’s Somewhat-Rapha Saporito Responsorium16th October, 2023
Flashes of pink, grey and black, clues to who might be piloting the Pegoretti Responsorium that pulls to a stop outside, its navy-clad rider neatly dismounting, before wheeling his bike inside over tall, closely-marshalled characters proclaiming that “it’s never just a ride”.
Of course, it’s not much of a guessing game. The rider is Simon Mottram, the founder of Rapha Racing and the creator of the ubiquitous pink, grey and black colour scheme that now adorns his Saporito graphic Responsorium. I’m here at Rapha’s North London offices in Holloway to interview Simon about his new bike, how it came to pass and how he arrived at its final look.
Before we sit down to chat, he tells a colleague about his weekend at the L’Eroica Gaiole In Italy, so I start by asking him about the bike he was riding. “A 1978 Colnago Mexico,” he replies. “I bought it from a vintage bike dealer called Bob Johnson, specifically for this event. He was the guy who lent me five or six bikes for an exhibition we put on when we opened Rapha in 2004.” Presumably, the bike was still era-correct? “Absolutely – toe-straps, down-tube shifters.” And vintage shoes, but those, he says, delaminated after 35km, so he had to tape them up to complete the ride. “It was quite a trad experience,” he laughs, “but the bike was so stable, and during the event, I wondered why I would ever ride anything else, but then I got back home and rode my Pegoretti.”
Jumping from the pinnacle of road racing bikes from the 1970s to the Responsorium must have afforded him a unique perspective. “Indeed, although I’m not good at describing bikes, things like compliance and all that. But I did note that Colnago has a long wheelbase, and perhaps because of that, it felt super stable, like it could get over anything – perfect for those gritty roads. And the Pegoretti has that same sort of stability. Compared to my carbon bikes or other steel bikes, it feels planted, completely secure.” Attributes that to the uninitiated, risk conferring a certain dulling of sensation as a natural trade-off for stability, but Simon says not. “It’s still got the zip, a certain lightness. Lively without being skittish.”
Longtime Rapha followers will know of the brand’s ability to combine European cycling lore with keen-eyed reinvention. I ask Simon whether his love of Italian cycling, in particular, sparked his interest in Pegoretti. “Well, it was always Italy and France,” he replies. “They were the two biggest cycling nations. There’s Belgium, too, but Belgium is different – a different romance. For me, southern Europe is where everything clicks into place. When I was reading about the amazing heritage some 25 years ago now, that was the stuff that resonated.” Stories and places that became central to Rapha’s rich retelling of cycling’s halcyon past. “Mortirolo, Zoncolan, San Pellegrino in Tuscany, all beautiful locations, but they had to have a relevance to me for road racing,” he says. Not just pretty pictures? “Exactly. Even if people might not know the connection, to me, it mattered.”
It was a road, Simon explains, that eventually led to Pegoretti. “I knew about Dario Pegoretti before Rapha, of course, but then in 2009, we did an article about Dario in Rouleur magazine.” He then recounts a story that sounds part fairytale, part dream. “Myself, my friend Ben Ingham, and Guy Andrews flew out to visit Dario,” he begins. “We arrived at what we thought was the right area but couldn’t find the workshop. It was dark, there was snow on the ground, and we were on the verge of giving up when we suddenly caught a few notes of free jazz in the wind. We followed the sound and saw a wisp of smoke from an old industrial building. Swallows on the windows told us we might be at the right place, and then we saw Dario inside, welding without glasses, blithely smoking a cigarette while he worked.” Vintage Dario, indeed.
“We had an amazing few days,” Simon recalls. “He was very inspiring, and afterwards, he said he’d like to make a bike for me, his view of me and Rapha.” To Simon’s regret, he never took Dario up on it. “I was so busy at that time,” he says, “but it would have been interesting if a slightly shocking Ciavete paint scheme, I’m sure!”
After seeing Pegortetti continue to thrive post-Dario, and with his peak-Rapha period behind him, Simon felt the time was right to purchase a Pegoretti. “The brand feels very coherent,” he says. “In Ben’s film ‘Of Steel’, Dario likens himself to a balloon, and Pietro, the person holding it, bringing it back down to earth. And that’s key – Pietro has all the grounding, and Dario lives on in the name and the art and paint schemes the team is putting out, so it’s the best of both worlds in many ways.”
This brings us to Simon’s Responsorium and its geometric Saporito design. “Some of the wilder Ciavete designs don’t connect with me,” he begins. “If you were to see my bikes, you’d notice they are all quite plain, black or silver. It’s the same with kit. If I wear something lairy, it doesn’t feel like me.” Inspired by his love for the 60s and 70s racing aesthetic, Simon opted for a white base – “white bikes are the fastest” – and the Saporito graphic in the Rapha colours. “Pietro was really helpful because I originally suggested a fading and blending, but he felt that wouldn’t work,” he notes. “I intended there to be more pink on the top tube and downtube, but he introduced more of the black and grey, and I think that softens it down a bit and overall gives greater impact to the design.” Keen-eyed riders may note that the now famous pink Pantone PMS 190 is presented on a white base, a highly unusual contrast, as Simon explains. “I always felt that pink on white didn’t work, that it always worked best on black. So my Saporito goes against that, but I feel that it works here, next to the black.”
With the foyer filling up with mid-morning coffee-seekers from the Rapha offices upstairs, I take the opportunity to thank Simon for his time, and whisk his bike off for a few shots in and around the entrance and reception. The light feels good, and in short order, I return the bike to its owner, noting the well-used saddle. “Yes, it’s temporary,” laughs Simon. “I’m trying to get a white perforated Rapha saddle from Lucy, who works here, but negotiations are ongoing!”
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