Eco friendly bikes

Andrew South went to the Racer Rosa Bicycles studio in Walthamstow to find out how co-director Diego Lombardi became involved in Friends of the Earth's Big Green Bike Ride 2012.

So Diego, how did your passion for bikes and cycling start?

It started in Italy where I grew up, and really came from my father. He was a passionate cyclist and always repaired bikes as a hobby and I learned from him. Bikes have always played an important part in my life.

What is the background of Racer Rosa - and how did you arrive at its name?

After a 15-year career as a graphic designer, I was keen to move from the commercial environment to do something I believed in.

My wife Alison, who has a background in media, and I were looking for a lifestyle change, and establishing our own ecologically-based bicycle company seemed logical. We started in March 2010, and it combined our talents with something we believe in - and our respective backgrounds are still useful.

The company name came our favourite album by The Pixies, 'Surfer Rosa' in 1986. The front cover poster on the wall of our studio still inspires us!

Why do you believe that Racer Rosa bikes are more sustainable than some other bikes?

Unlike mass-produced products from Taiwan, we use strong and durable steel frames which are made to measure and will last a lifetime, but are also reusable. Modern steel alloys are comparable in weight to other materials such as aluminium, as well as being less expensive. We also finish our bikes with high-end components that are designed and manufactured in Europe.

We have a revamp service too, where we restore old frames to their former glory, to enjoy another life.

Our Environmental Researcher is a former customer we have known for many years and who shares our passion for cycling and ensures that our production process is as ecologically sound as it can be.

Who else is involved in the production of the bikes?

We have a professional fitter from Velosolutions for our bike-fitting, and two other experienced freelance mechanics. The team provides a unique personal service which our small customer base appreciates.

How do you design your bikes and produce a unique, custom-built product?

Customers come to discuss what they have in mind and we take all the ergonomic measurements to ensure a unique ride. These are then sent to our Italian frame builder, and the bikes then take 6-8 weeks to produce.

How has your business affected the lifestyle you wanted?

Perfectly. Our first baby arrived in April and we've already carried her on our bikes. We don't have a car and rely on our bikes to get around, do our shopping and get to work in London. Who knows, perhaps our daughter will ensure that the Lombardi name continues to play its part in providing ethically produced bikes.

And the key question - how much do your bikes cost?

It's impossible to be specific because our bikes are made-to-measure to each customer's specifications and needs, so every one is different. But a rough guide for a brand new, steel-framed, unique product which will last a lifetime would start at around £1,400.

Customers can also supply their own frames for refurbishment and their condition can vary hugely.

How do the bikes reach the UK from the factory in Padua, Italy?

We don't air-freight any bikes. We courier at least 2 or 3 frames at a time by road to ensure the minimum impact possible.

How did you become involved in supporting Friends of the Earth's Big Green Bike Ride 2012?

It was a happy coincidence. Friends of the Earth wanted a bike manufacturer with strong environmental credentials and we fitted the bill. The ride from London to Edinburgh will be a great challenge - I may even take part myself!

What are the greatest challenges for cyclists in the UK today?

Undoubtedly safety. Cyclists still feel they are considered second-class users of road space.

I feel the Olympics could bring great benefits to cycling in this country because British cyclists such as Mark Cavendish and Chris Hoy will help to inspire people to overcome their fear of the road. I would encourage new cyclists to take up a training course to prepare them for the road.

And finally, what is the future for Racer Rosa?

Racer Rosa is a small-scale operation. We only produce around 10 brand new or recycled bikes a month and we are quite happy with that at the moment.

We have had fantastic business purely from word-of-mouth and social networks. We are proud of the personal service we are able to offer at our current level. But new customers are always welcome to contact us.

Find out more about the Big Green BIke Ride 2012.