The issue of the quality of work produced by Medici I will address here, then I'll stick to the story. Just like the formative years of Masi in CA; Medici went through a considerable number of gyrations from its beginning to its end. Medici frames were built almost exactly like Masi GC's shortly before and during that time. The fixturing and methods were reasonably identical to that of Masi, and also the methods of brazing and construction. Of course, when Medici occupied the original Confente facility much of what Mario used to build frames with was used to build the Medicis. In the beginning, the primary employees (Mike Howard and Gian Simonetti) and the owner (Bill Recht of NJ) had good intentions regarding building a quality American frame. Mike Howard was an experienced framebuilder and excellent brazer (from Masi and Wizard experience) and Simonetti had picked up bits of framebuilding knowledge from his experiences at Masi. Between the two of them, they were capable of building frames of reasonable (but not artistic) quality except for the painting part. That was the position I occupied when the three of us worked at Masi just prior to the forming of the Medici Bicycle Co. Since I declined to move to Los Angeles when Medici was first formed, there is a period of time which the goings on at Medici were/are unknown to me, although I know a good amount of what went on at Masi just prior to the formation of Medici.
The point here is that over the years, there have been several painters working either with (me) or for (lots of others) Medici as a painter. Sometimes there was down time between full time painters which would force Simonetti to have to paint bikes (run for the hills!) in order to finish orders. Sometimes the real painter wasn't much, if any, better than Simo at painting. Eventually they realized that if Simo could do the painting they could actually run the company with a skeleton crew of two during lean times, which did hit during the heyday of the MTB boom. Painting at the upper level requires someone that has an eye for detail and certain skills (like patience) that some painters lack. Simonetti basically doesn't have the touch or patients to become an expert with decals. That explains why some Medicis have nice and durable finishes (mostly very early ones) while others look like they were done during"art class" in kindergarden. I've seen numerous repaints done by Medidi of classic Masis that were painted and decaled as GC's for convenience sake. Their attitide is (was) valid business wise, give the customer what he wants, and never mind getting too carried away with"restorations". They have more of a utilitarian attitude. The type of work each outfit produces depends on the intentions and attitude of the owners and workers. In the case of Medici, it is not completely fair to invalidate the craftsmanship of the frame based on the admittedly poor paintwork. Better having Simo do crappy paint than have him building frames, trust me. Again, over the years there have been many phases of Medici, some of which the frames were almost excellent, since in the early days people like Sharadon Saxon (ex-Masi employee), John Sencak (builder of Wolf Cycles), and myself worked as subcontractors or employees doing framebuilding. I worked there for a little while filing frames, doing lug cutouts, etc. while a guy by the name of Chuck Carr did the painting. It was really painful to build the frames and then turn them over to a guy who was really struggleing with both paint and decals. I've never seen a painter who got so much paint all over himself; it was almost comical. I'd never seen a run that was so long that it literally dripped to the floor in a long string from the BB shell (of a frame that was left hanging in the booth overnight); until I worked at Medici. That one wasn't even Chucks' work, it was another guy!
So to conclude the preface, I can say that there are some early Medicis that are quite nice frames, many of which have good paint jobs as well. Looks like the one recently purchased by the person who inquired about Medici is an example of one. The lugs have been filed much more nicely than most Medicis you'll see, the paint is thin and the decals appear to have been properly installed. I can tell by the Hayden "Europa" fork crown that it is an earlier frame. Even the cutouts in the (granite investment cast) lugs were cut out individually by hand (using antique files, more about this later). One thing you can sort of expect from a Medici is that they are somewhat "inconsistant" over the long haul.
Well, lunch break is over. This is all I have time for now. I'll address the "time before I know about" and the early Union Pacific Ave. period next.
Mike and all,
Regarding the IC lugs used by Medici and designed by Mario Confente; the owner of BOTH companies, Bill Recht, was the rightful owner of the lug pattern. He owned both bike companies and empolyed all parties at each. The lugs belonged to him. I'm sure Mario knew that the money spent having the lugs cast would only be cost effective if both bikes were built using the same set of lugs. The Confente spade lug cutouts were done by a pantagraph engraving machine (the sharp tips being finished by hand afterwards) whereas the Medici cutouts were done by hand. Mario never got to use the IC lugs, his bikes were Bocama lugs modified. They look like "exactly the same lugs" to the untrained eye, but they are different.
Since Mario designed the lugs Medici used, he is responsible for the "lines that just don't flow right" on the Medici lugs. Thinner filing and a better cutout would have helped the look of the lugs as Medici used them; but since they were IC for the purpose of eliminating the labor of shapeing the lugs you can't blame Medici for the poor shape. The Confente has a more refined look because Mario DID use the pressed lugs to start with and then filed them like the old days. Medici was stuck using the IC lugs that were quite thick as cast. They looked clunky on account of that. I actually made a frame for myself using the IC lugs when I worked with Medici. I cut my traditional heart, spade, club, diamond motif in the lugset and they wouldn't let me put Medici decals on the frame. I filed it real nice and used my special Cinelli fork crown treatment on the fork; so there is a real nice 51cm frame out there somewhere that looks sort of like a mix of a Confente/Baylis/Cinelli sort of thing. May have had hand painted Baylis lettering on the down tube when original. If anyone sees her anywhere, send her home right away!
The Medici wasn't supposed to have the elegance of a Confente. The Recht plan was to have Mario to build the high end and custom stuff while Medici built a higher volume of racing bikes about like a Masi GC of the period. They were not competing with one another, they were intended to compliment the whole business plan that Recht had laid out. A good number of bikes had to be built to justify the cost of the cast lugs; way more than Mario could build by himself. Any idiot could see that that. Somehow the Confente camp missed that critical point, which apparently lead to a "misunderstanding".
The Time Before I Know About
Technically, the beginnings of Medici go back to the beginnings of the Mario Confente split from Masi, Carlsbad. Since I was not part of the original Medici operation, the period from when Masi Carlsbad closed sometime in late 1977 I think, to Feb. 1979 is a blank for me. I spent that time myself in Encinitas and Costa Mesa (CA) and Fairbanks (AK) sort of "following a path" so to speak. Meanwhile the Confente operation and the Medici operation were co-existing in LA under the same ownership but with Mario not aware of the presence of Mike and Gian about 5 miles away if I understand the situation as JFC ecplained it a while back. There is no question in my mind that Simonetti knew the whole "plan", but I find it hard to believe that Mario didn't know about Bill Recht's involvement with Medici as well as himself; but Bill Recht was a crafty and determined person. Let me explain the "plan" and how things were situated at Masi just before the Medici Co. formed. To do this I must back up a bit and will have to defer to JFC for some details of which I am unaware.
This is speculation, but I feel reasonably certain that something like this was the foundation of the "Master Plan" Bill Recht invisioned. I think the whole idea started when Bill Recht (whealthy business person/cyclist) decided he wanted to buy the Masi Carlsbad company. Or maybe he only intended to steal Mario from Masi and have him build frames and that was it, but I suspect Bill met Mario at the New York trade show and became interested in Masi or something like that. I don't know how the Confente/Recht association started up (maybe JFC knows since he was working at Masi at that time) since Mike Howard and I were in Huntington Beach, CA building Wizard frames. In about June 1976 Mike and I were tired of the hard life of "custom framebuilders" and decided to pack it in. Just at the same time Simonetti contacted us and made an offer to bring us back to Masi again, since Mario was in LA and there was no one to build Masis in Carlsbad. This is the period when some of the Masis were built by Albert Eisentraut and Keith Lippy as subcontractors. Simo was the shop foreman, Mike was the brazer, and I was the head painter. We assembled a new "crew" and started in making Masis again. Important selling point to get us back to Carlsbad was Simonetti introducing us to Bill Recht who was negotiating to buy the Masi operation. Gian said everything would be paradise with the new owner and everything would be great. Well, the sale never happened, due to an ironclad clause in the original terms between Faliero Masi and Roland Sahm and an ego battle of two rich men. The result was finally Bill Recht started his own "italian bike company" and wanted Simo, Howard, and myself to move to LA where he owned several buildings, one of which was already housing the Confente Bicycle Co. Mike and Gian went north and I stayed in Encinitas. That should connect to the first part of this installment.
During the period of time from when Mario left Masi Carlsbad and the time when Mario was locked out of the Union Pacific Ave. shop, there was a boatload of monkeybusiness going on involving mainly Simonetti and Recht. Bill wanted a "framebuilding empire" it seems to me, and he was working all angles; sometimes without telling everyone under his employ what was going on. The issue of the investment cast lugs that Mario designed and made the moulds for is a classic example of how Bill operated. Until recently I didn't know the underlying story here; but it cost Bill his relationship with Mario. There was something I didn't like about the whole deal with Recht and Medici which caused me to pass on the original offer. Because of this, I was always able to act independently of them, but still benifit as I choose when I needed work upon returning from Alaska, etc. This is one of those crazy situations that spits out casualties along the way to finally ending up in the crapper.
To recap "the part I don't know about". Mario was in LA, Medici was in LA, and I was gone. The actual early days of Medici must have involved setting up the shop and building the first Medici frames. I showed up at what to me is "the early days of Medici" around Feb. 1979, at which time Mike and Gian had just finished the first 25 Medici frames.
The Early Days of Medici
As I explained before, timing was as about odd as it could get when I reappeared and made contact with Mike Howard. They needed someone to paint a run of frames and I needed to make some money. I rode a bus from Huntington Beach to downtown LA (a two hour trip each way) to work with them on this paint thing. Of course, as luck would have it, the internal problems between Recht, Confente, and Medici were boiling all around me and I didn't really know (nor care for that matter) what was going on. The details of this time went unknown to me for over 20 years. It all seems interesting to me now, but I didn't care at all at the time. Just wanted to make some money and start in making frames myself again.
I set up a small workshop in Costa Mesa, CA while Medici moved into the location that Mario previously occupied. I worked off and on as a subcontractor for them either painting or doing some framebuilding tasks for the next year or so. At that time the Medici frames were pretty much equal to the Masis that were built just prior to that. Medici was using the investment cast lugs that Mario never got to use himself and the frames were built by people with experience and a passion for framebuilding. This is just before the bicycle industry started heading into the mass production methods of carosel brazing stations, prefinished stay ends, seat stay plugs, one piece bridges, etc. that began to eliminate all of the handmade traits of the classic frames. Probably not long after I headed permemently for San Diego County again in mid 1980 or so, the period of inconsistency began at Medici. After the few experienced craftsmen had "been through" Medici (Saxton, Sencak, myself) they started looking for local help. I don't know who all did what and at what time after 1980, but at least paint quality was a crapshoot after that time for sure. Mike always oversaw the framebuilding and brazing, so that much was always consistent to my knowledge; although as the years passed and the strain of working for Bill Recht began to show, attitudes towards framebuilding changed in Mike. Eventually the passion was gone and he just "had a job". That doesn't mean he did bad work, just that his heart wasn't always in it.
Interesting sidebar. After Mario left Bill Recht he went to Monterey, CA where he built some frames under the wing of a person named George Farrier. That situation had also run its course, and Mario had apparently moved back to Cardiff-by-the-Sea in SD County and had recently been married. He was making plans to become part of the "CO-OP" of framebuilders being assembled in San Marcos, CA by Ted Kirkbride and Jim Allen (the current keepers of the Masi flame at the time). Imagine what the world would have been like if this senerio had taken place. The Masi operation (involving Dave Moulton), Mario Confente, Cyclart, myself and eventually Dave Tesch (initally brought to CA by Cyclart) and Joe Starck all operating independently and sharing facilities in the same building! OH, MY, GOD! What a fiasco that would have been. As it was, the whole thing did happen that way minus Mario; as his passing cancelled his involvement. That whole scene was bizzarre to say the least, thanks primarily to the antics of Dave Tesch. Without him most relations would have progressed in a somewhat normal manner, but add Dave to the mixture and the whole recipe changes.
Enough for now. Actually from this point there is not a lot to tell about the Medici roller coaster. I'll see if I can think of any juicy tidbits to add regarding the period from 1980 to present. The main theme is a slow but steady slide into the medeocre frame catagory.
Brian"I've got blisters on me fingers"Baylis
Tom and Jack,
Pardon me for comming out of nowhere, but I can comment on Medici bicycles and shed some light on the quality of the frames as compared to other handmade frames of the period. The sequence of events you (Jack) laid out is not quite accurate, but to explain exactly how, when and why Medici came into being is a long and complex tale. For the time being I'll just tell you all about how the frames were made and by whom. Medici had a long history, about 25 years or so; therefore I shall only relate information about the "early" frames, let's say from their beginnings in 1977 or thereabouts to 1980.
To begin with, Medici had good financial backing through the ownership of the company by Bill Recht, who also at the time Medici was forming was already using Mario Confente to build the "Bicycles by Confente" that most of us are familier with. Mario was let go from Masi Carlsbad and Bill Recht hired him on and put him in business during the time he was also trying to buy the Masi Carlsbad operation. The purchase of Masi never happened, so Recht decided to start a bike company from scratch, hiring Mike Howard and Gian Simonetti to form Medici. I was "invited" to move to L.A. to be the painter, but I declined and went into building frames on my own. Mike and Gian built the first frames and they were being painted at the Confente facility a few miles away. So from the very beginning Medici had access to the nicest tools and materials because Recht was already involved with Mario. Recht was tied to the printing industry and saw to nice decals. The paint jobs seem to vary quite a bit during the first several years as painters came and went. By the time Mike and Gian moved into the previous Confente building where the spray booth was (due to a falling out between Recht the owner and Confente the employee), I appeared from out of state and was hired as a sub-contractor to paint the frames. Mike and Gian had gotten the building process down pretty good by then and I was painting. The bikes were in many ways superior to the previous generation of Masis that the same people built in Carlsbad, partially due to having access to a wider variety of cool framebuilding materials to work with. In addition to that, I was paid to make the original full scale drawings for each "standard frame" in each size. The bikes steered more like a nice Colnago than the Masis that had way too much rake and steered poorly for my taste. The Medici was a much more raceable bike for Southern CA than a Masi. I personally would take a Medici my size of the period over a Masi of the period in a heartbeat; and that is not to say Masis were bad, they were fine as far as workmanship and finish goes; but the steering in my size especially, was never accptable to me. That would have been around early 1978. Later on They hired another painter, Chuck Carr, to paint as I helped with framebuilding duties as a lug cutter, and lug and frame finisher. Some other previous Masi employees worked at medici under the same situation. Sheridan "Red" Saxon was there and also the frambuilder responsible for the few "Wolf" frames from Huntington Beach, John Sencak worked along side me for a time. We all took pride in our work, as did Mike and Gian. The bikes were well designed and well built. They used the same tubing to oval the chainstays and used the IC lugs that Mario designed for Recht, that even Mario didn't get to use. There was a lot od hand work involved for a "production" bike, including the three lug cutouts on each frame; all cut by hand in hard IC lugs. I did my share and it was a pain in the ass. The paint finish seemed to be all over the map over the years, which may make some think the frames weren't anything special. Wrong! The framebuilding work of mike Howard was always top notch, and Mike did most of the actual work in the early days and had good support before 1980. The bikes continued to be well made for all intents and purposes until the end. The Company had to change with the times, but all of the lugged steel frames have character and class, and there are a significant number of them that are exceptional. Particularly the early frames.
Hope this helps answer a few of the Medici questions. The whole story and all of the tributaries, as you probably know, is quite long and twisted. The whole story is book material actually. Someday the whole saga will be printed in detail and all in one place. But not today. If you have a nice one cherish it, it is a piece of American framebuilding History.
RE:AGE / VALUE: circa '81 Medici Pro Strada
Simonetti was not the "builder" probably did assist in cutting lug windows and stuff MAYBE filing, Mike Howard was the guy with the torch and the framebuilding experience. When he went off to jail, Simo Cycles closed down basically, no welder, brazer, framebuilder.
Mike was capable, the frames from this time were still when he had interest, but the fork might be a Tange "buyout", not that this is bad, just how they were surviving, Mtb's were the rage by this time, Stumpjumper...
These bikes get short shrift, they are well constructed, similar in design to Masi, just no cache. I have one, I got it CHEAP, a bike with little use a few years ago. So it goes.