The leap from advertising to frame building is a long one, but with the correct coaching, the jump can be made.
Daniel Merényi spent four years learning his craft by watching Dario Pegoretti before making just four frames in his final year at the master frame builder’s workshop in Caldonazzo.
The story of Merényi’s education as a frame builder begins with a man newly arrived in Milan from Hungary seeking a bicycle as a mode of transport.
A subsequent immersion in the city’s fixed gear scene, and an attendant association with messengers and ‘guys in small shops’ led Merényi to Pegoretti via a friend who had ordered a frame from the Veronese master.
With hindsight, the meeting seems destined. Dissatisfaction with his role as an advertising art director (“You make something that is up for three weeks, then everyone forgets”) and an introduction to a thriving cycling culture combined to fan the flames of a long-held desire to make something by hand. An unfocused ambition had found a subject, and in Pegoretti, Merényi believed he had found a tutor.
“When July arrived, I decided to ask the question of Dario. I said, ‘I would like to be a frame builder. What do you think?’ I will never forget what he said.” Here Merényi lapses into an impersonation of his tutor: head tilted to one side, shoulders raised to a nonchalant shrug, palms turned upwards. “He told me: ‘Screwing up your life is a human right.’”
Undeterred, Merényi repeated his plea. “He said: ‘If you want to come, come. I cannot pay you, I cannot find you anywhere to live, but I will show you everything I know. You will watch, and you will learn.’”
I ask Merényi what he was shown and what he had learned. His reply is brief, and emphatic. “Everything,” he says.
The lathe became the first tool of Merényi’s new trade. Cutting more than 100 head tubes in his first week set the tone for an apprenticeship that would be defined by an understanding of the need to perfect even the most basic tasks. Eventually, the limitation placed on his own opportunities by the abilities of his colleagues drove Merényi to practice building in his spare time. “I found a place I could put my stuff in. I went to Columbus and bought 10 sets of the cheapest tubes available, lugs, and my own torch. I bought gas and went step by step. It was difficult. I have a family and at that time we were expecting my daughter. Every Euro had a place to go.”
The nature and duration of Merényi’s apprenticeship prohibits the cliché ‘overnight success’ but his debut show last year in Budapest brought congratulations, and, more importantly, admirers prepared to back kind words with cash: customers.
His work, custom build only, will be sold exclusively in the UK through Mosquito Bikes in north London. The frame Merényi displays on the shop’s stand at Bespoked Bristol is his newly finished track frame, soon to be ridden by its customer in the Austrian national championships. Titled, ‘Bel Canto’, in homage to Pegoretti, the frameset weighs 1789 grams; the fork, 700 grams. The top and seat tubes both measure 54cm. A 74 degree head angle is paired with a 73.5 degree seat tube angle. The ‘dM’ logo that is the signature of Merényi Bicycles is cut into the underside of the Bel Canto’s bottom bracket shell, a task took four hours to complete. “People say to me, ‘Don’t you know you can do that with CNC and it will take two minutes? I say, ‘Yes, but where’s the sport?’”
Like all of Merényi’s frames, it is made from Columbus tubing. “I know the people who make the tubes and that’s important. If I’m lucky, at the end of the summer, I will go for two weeks. I would like to know how they draw the tubes; the grain, the diameter. I want to understand as deeply as possible the material. That is very important,” he says.
He will not use stainless steel from any supplier and speaks with an obvious pride in the traditions of the region where he studied his craft. “My frames are made the Veronese way. I use copper solder; I won’t use silver. The guys from the west come to us and say, ‘The flames are huge. You’ll burn the frame!’ Well, the Italians have been burning frames a long time! I think these guys are scared!” he jokes.
Merényi has returned to Hungary, a nation he admits has little cycling culture and where a custom bicycle is considered a luxury purchase, but where his life beyond frame building is. When he left Caldonazzo last August, he went with his tutor’s blessing. “He didn’t give me any presents, but I always felt Dario wanted to help me, especially when I went to Columbus to buy my stuff. He phoned people and said: ‘Don’t sell shit to my boy!’ My first three frames were aligned by him. When I took the first two frames to show him, it was like an exam. I think maybe God decided I would be with him for four years, the same as at high school. Why not three years, or five?” he smiles.