Crisp Titanium – Castiglion Fiorentino, Italy
Darren Crisp has been around specialty metal for quite some time. Originally from Texas, Darren started his career in architecture and design, worked for a blacksmith and sculptor in Mississippi and moved years later to the hilly centre of Tuscany as a project manager. Since 2004, the Tuscan-by-choice is building high-end titanium bicycles full-time. Being a member of the Framebuilders’ Collective, his work is informed by both his own experience as a competitive cyclist as well as his constant exchange with likeminded enthusiasts, relentlessly aiming for the best solution available.
The concept is based directly on the collaboration with the rider Jan Eric who comes from pro-racing and likes speed, efficiency, thrust and agility. Obviously made from titanium, the bike features an oversized diameter downtube and chainstays to keep it rigid and huge seatstays to counteract the braking force of the disc brake. To make it an all-day frame, a little balance was added to the more aggressive geometry. The bike responds without hesitation and delivers efficiency at the rider’s command, while utilizing the intrinsic mechanical characteristics of titanium which will dampen some of those vibrations when the road gets nasty. All-in-all we’ve got a performance bike with some forgiving qualities that make for an excellent all-day companion.
What inspired you to build? What does the craft and the material you are using mean to you? Is it a job, a passion, an attitude?
My introduction to framebuilding began in 1995. I was working as an apprentice for an accomplished blacksmith and copper sculptor. I had little metalworking experience. After a few years I realized that I had the tools and basic know-how to piece a frame together. This was a personal necessity as there were no bikes that fit me within a 5 hour radius. To familiarize myself with the frame building process, I checked out and photocopied Talbot’s frame building book. I made a go at it and had a blast learning to braze with silver and brass. That started the ball rolling.
My career in the architectural metals industry was advancing. Years later, I was six months into a project in Manhattan when the twin towers event took place. All union steel workers were called to Ground Zero to clear debris and the work was suspended indefinitely. It was at this time that I decided to make a run for UBI’s (United Bicycle Institute) framebuilding course while work at the office back in Italy was on hold. That time in Oregon sealed the deal for me. I had already garnered some good experience with titanium, and after building my first ti frame there, my focus turned intensely to this as my material of choice.
I do not consider myself a “framebuilder”, but rather a guy who builds bicycle frames. I don’t identify myself the same way that I considered historic builders like Tommasini or DeRosa. As time passed, I found myself among builders at tradeshows , so I guess it just happened out of passion. I don’t consider building frames a job, but more of a challenge; to build the best product I can for my friends and clients is what gets the adrenaline going and feeds me the enthusiasm every day to get in the shop and get it on.
How do you make a bike? What’s important to you in the process and what is it that sets you apart from other builders?
I spend a good amount of time culling information together with the client. This allows us to get the necessary data for the build, but simultaneously starts a psychological process of closeness between builder and cyclist. A synergy develops which helps both of us to gain clarity and insight into the other. This, in my view, is what makes the project valuable and unique.
As far as building is concerned, I execute all aspects of the fabrication. I don’t come from cycling pedigree, but from metal fabrication. This allows me some freedom to build the way I think things should be built, and not from a predetermined collection of design-build protocol. For a while I fought this idea as I thought things had to be done in a certain way, old-school style in the traditional method. In time, I’ve learned that not being confined to historic processes spawns creativity and allows space for individuality.
What does the Rapha Continental mean to you and to the bike you’ve built for us?
When I think of Rapha Continental, I think of an important emotional experience in cycling. Unlike a race, it is about the felt perception of pedalling under diverse conditions; expecting the unexpected. The bike I’ve created together with Rapha represents a vehicle which becomes transparent under the rider. I don’t want the cyclist to think a minute about the bike. It should disappear under spinning legs and the rhythm of expanding lungs. What a Rapha Continental rider experiences on the ride, thoughts, emotions, pain, euphoria should be born out of his direct interaction with his surroundings. The sights, sounds, smells of the road. The bike I’ve built is designed to accentuate the desires of the Continental rider and to encompass his riding qualities, allowing him to react to his thoughts and emotions. Permitting him to focus on his qualities and characteristics and not the bike enriches his riding experience which is the objective of my work.
Tell us about your favourite bike ride.
I have a long list of favourite rides, but probably the most exceptional ride is one that leaves my hometown of Castiglion Fiorentino toward Montepulciano. From there I do a loop into Chianciano Terme, then shoot over to Pienza. I call it the wine and cheese loop as those regions are famous for their local agro-culinary products. You can turn that ride into a day trip and it is not a good idea to rush through it but to slow down the cadence a bit. Those roads that connect Montepulciano to Pienza are picturesque and the sights are unforgettable.
In our journey to explore the Hidden Europe, where do you think we should go and ride and why?
See above..it was a deciding factor in my moving to Europe.
What would you do, if you weren’t building bikes?
I’d probably be in construction. I am fascinated with the built environment. I am constantly studying architectural elements, fixings, structures, finishes, fabrication methods. I think I’ve got a genetic mutation that pulls me like a magnet to these things. I say it’s genetic because my brother is a golfer. He tells me he is constantly looking at objects in the distance and contemplates the correct club to get there. Go figure.
For more information visit: http://www.rapha.cc/
Rapha Continental Project