Thursday, November 10, 2011

the columbus max renaissance

i've been interested in the rare columbus max road frames since i was a wee tot.  back in the dark ages, the big builders didn't seem to know what to do with the tubes, and using the ugly-ass clunky-looking lugs right out of the box was not the greatest idea.  often, the frames looked unfortunately graceless and unfinished.  i do remember seeing a pretty nice looking celeste bianchi in a magazine, a very traditional marinoni pictured somewhere, and a cheesy somec in a shop long before i was in a position to even consider a custom or hand-built frame.  tommasini seemed to do the best job back in the day, contouring the lugs a bit, going with the chrome and usual italian shit.  when i finally saw one in person years later, i really liked it.

the merckx mx leader continued on for years in the lineup and gained the cred of a real pro racing frame, keeping the max tubing ideal alive even though the frame didn't use all the max tubes.  still, it was something; it was enough.

a generation after the original introduction, max bubbled back up lead by some small american builders, with lu edmonds-esque renaissance-madman don ferris howling into the bike tubing wilderness.   he stoked the max frame fire and then stopped building frames to enjoy the b2b stylings of his tooling business.

others hopped on board.   mike zankanto zancan zankon this guy made a big ole splash a couple of years ago with a graceful and stylish modern lugged max frame, actually making the lugs look good, as anvil had done before.

and the lovely and talented hampsten cycles folks have a clean and straight-up take on lugless max-tubed frames.

now, the max tubing is back or not back; columbus has apparently put it back into production using their modern alloys, or possibly it was around in stock all along and just essentially ignored by most of the steel bike frame world.  from the chatter on the interwebs, it looks like the lugs are not so readily available, but there's no need to spool up the time machine in order to get a new, custom max-tubed frame.  excellent.

it really is an embarrassment of max frame riches now.  my own thought is that i'd like to save my green stamps and get a tweaked and simple hampsten max, or maybe a lugged frame from someone known mostly for round-tubed lugged steel road-racing bikes like richard sachs--hah! what are the chances of the likes of me rating that??--peter dreesens, chris kvale or even mike zanconato himself.


  1. Thanks for this great post. I love the look and ride of MAX tubing, although it's slightly overkill for me (I'm not tall and I only weigh 158 lbs). But as per Don Ferris' rant, it's one of those tubesets that can impart such a great ride quality when used in a properly built frame.

    I enjoyed the ride of a Merckx MX Leader, despite its portly (by today's standards) weight of almost 22 lbs. I'm currently riding a custom Hampsten in stainless steel, but my MAX obsession continues - I hope to have Steve build a Hampco MAX frame after I deal with my house renovations.

  2. thanks for the comment. stainless steel hampsten, eh? that sounds wicked sweet; it's not something you'll see riding in the other direction every day!

    there may not be a boatload of stock max frames these days, but everybody that wants one today has so many interesting choices.

  3. I've adored the MX Leader since i first saw one in 95, and finally got one about 5 years ago. With proper 32 spoke wheels and a supple tire the ride is surefooted and confident, especially on the demanding roads around my home in Santa Cruz. I've now got a Black Cat MAX being built around disc brakes and 27 tires with fenders for winter and gravel. Can't wait...

  4. that black cat max with major clearance will be an all-road, all season monster. sounds like it will be big-time fun, too.

  5. I have a '96 El-OS Marinoni with lugs and Aesthetically it looks way more "right" than the Gios it replaced. The ride is fabulous as well.

  6. lugged marinoni's are wicked sweet. i rode in high school with a guy that had one, and a few of the local racers had the road frame/crit frame/cross frame combo straight from the factory. every two or three years they would take a road trip up to the factory and order their new frames for the following season. the third oldest frames they owned were then passed down to some of the local juniors. good times in the long long ago when the best stuff was affordable enough and durable enough to span generations.

    1. Does Marinoni still build with lugs? Not Max but any normal lugged frames? Theres nothing on the web site? Do they sell in the U.S.?

    2. not sure about marinoni & lugs. i've heard no way, but i've also heard maybe, so who knows. probably helps to speak quebecois french! i'm sure they have no max & lugs...

      i do have a picture of red lugged marinoni on here. it's a nice bike; vertical drops in the rear. it looks like a repaint to me.