By way of backstory, I picked up the Casati Laser I'm riding a few years back from a guy in Kingston. I knew nothing about the bike other than it was in my price range and size for a used road bike was brazed steel and had a nice mix of Campy Record and Chorus. Long story short, fell in love with the bike, (the handling comfort on level that surprised me) did a bit of research on the Casati brand and became intriqued by how little info was available. So when planning this little tour I figured I'd be near enough to drop by so touched base and made arrangments specific for this day. The previous day was Feste della Republica, a national holiday and many people including those at Casati take vacation that week so the day was firm.
Anyway, I rolled out from the hotel on route to Via di Prampolino when the Casati workshop is. On route I enjoyed a completely one way conversation with an older gentleman who stopped me to share tales of his cycling exploits, the champions he saw and some pretty grisly details of an accident where he (or someone else I'm not sure) got their index finger and middle finger mangled in the spokes while (I think) changing gears using a cambio corsa shifter.
The conversation is notable for a couple reasons. One, it pertained to bikes, Two, it illustrates how randomly engaging the Italians can be despite big language barriers, and three, I don't speak a word of italian and he didn't speak a word of english but nevertheless he got across all those details and more.
So, after a slight delay I rolled into the Cicli Casati courtyard and began an almost 3 hr tour during which time nobody got and real work done but lots of other fun stuff happened.
The first person I met upon rolling in was the patron himself. Gianni Casati. Gianni doesn't speak much english or wasn't comfortable trying, but that didn't stop him from chattering a bit and making me feel quite welcome before handing me over to Stefania. Almost all my communication throughout was done through Stefania who was my translator while on site so she got absolutely nothing else done while I was there. Most of the detailed manufacturing questions were fielded by Luca Casati who, with Stefania translating, walked me through the processes of creating both custom and standard-size hand built bikes.
The frames are either silver brazed steel with or without custom cast Casati lugs, TIG welded aluminum, Titanium, or carbon .
All the frames are hand built in this shop, including the carbon and they do a fair bit of mixing and matching different materials to utilize the inherent properties of the different materials. A fairly familiar concept. e.g. carbon fork and rear triangle with aluminum, steel or titanium main triangle but the details of how they do it and the tolerances that they do them to are what set them apart. Some classic frames are built with catalogue (albeit top shelf) tube sets from Dedaccai or Columbus but many are custom sized and shaped and exclusive to Casati. A prime example is the Marte. An all carbon rocketship with a custom carbon tubeset from (I think) Dedaccai. The top tube has a longitudinal 'window' through it. I honestly don't remember the exact explanation behind the window. I missed some details due to information overload and the verbal tennis match of having manufacturing details bounced via Stefania as intermediary. ..I really need to learn Italian for my next visit..
I also have fewer photos than I'd like for the same reason but it's probably just as well. I don't guess too many people are as interested in the finer details of manufacturing as I am.
This is something unique to some of Casati frames. There is no visible seatpost clamp as it's hidden within the top tube and seat tube joint. I tried to get a pic of the internal arrangement but Luca asked that that element not be photographed. Nevertheless, I did see well enough how it works and while I had previously been leery of tightening the same clamp on my own bike, I now have no concerns whatsoever as the design is as robust as any external post clamp arrangement.
This is a layout table where the raw tubes get arranged, measured, marked for cutting and fitted. Many things said were somewhat indestinct with the language challenges but they saw to it that one thing got across to me for certain. That the fitting of the tubes was done to ensure complete accuracy and absolutely no gaps before any joining process started. The number of times I heard this and the intensity that it was relayed made it quite clear to me that this is a extremely important consideration and that they take very very seriously. The initial fit has to be perfect or the bike will not be.
Marte headtube with internal cable routing sleeves. The sleeves will get buried into the carbon wrap that joins the head and down tubes.
This is their fitup jig where the joining magic happens. another one is behind it set back to back.
And this. This is the icing. This is the first time I really went "wow".
Interesting story behind this instrument too. It was apparently the first one of it's kind. The company that made it for Casati has since made a couple dozen others for other builders but Casati has the first one made. Serial no. 001 as it where. A bit ahead of the curve on the QC front and an impressive dedication to quality. That focus on accuracy was something that was emphasized at every step of the process.
The layout has to be perfect so that alignment can be perfect and the bike will be stable.
The tube mitering and fitting has to be perfect so the alignment can be perfect and the bike will be stable
The joining (braze, weld, epoxy) has to be perfect so the alignment can be perfect and the bike will be stable
and so on.
By the time we got to the alignment table it almost didn't surprise me that they had the first pneumatic workholding digital readout table of it's kind.
So that was the manufacturing process tour in nutshell.
Some other fun bits.
The rack of tears.
I then spent a short while with Stefania sorting shipping and payment details during which time Luca kept disappearing and reappearing with more swag. Gloves, hat, bottles. nice touches. I dig swag.
By then I'd been there well over 2hrs and was feeling concerned about knocking such a huge hole in their day. Stefania invited me to join them for lunch but it was past noon now and I wanted to make it to Menaggio for evening. As it turns out I should have stayed. When finally I departed equipped with directions and a map to Madonna dei Ghisallo, personal mobile numbers should I have want of assistance during my travels I got going to realize that the nagging dull pain in my knee that I'd felt towards the end of the previous day was feeling really a bit more sharpish and worrysome. Consequently I ended up only making it to Lecco which is only 55km as a cautionary measure for the knee. 55k. I totally could have stayed with the folks at Casati for awhile longer. All the more reason to go back.
The rack of hotness.
While I was talking to Luca a couple of the NGC Perrel-Casati squad (Lampre U23 development team) rolled in for some mechanical tweaking. I got this shot of Gianni passing along some of his wisdom. Casati has long sponsored amateaur road racing and past sponsored riders include Gianni Bugno who rode on Casati frames for several years. One of Bugnos Casati bikes is in the cycling museum at Ghisallo.