Taking the world on two wheels

Love of cycling has had Cranberry man building bikes since his teens.

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When most folks want a new bicycle, they buy one.

When Anthony Mezzatesta wants one, he builds it.

That's how Mr. Mezzatesta, of Cranberry, started his business, Mezzatesta Custom Cycles, more than 30 years ago.

Anthony Mezzatesta works on a custom-built bicycle in his Cranberry garage on Thursday.
Click photo for larger image.

Well, he didn't actually start his business then, but he built his first bicycle then. At the time, Mr. Mezzatesta was living in New York City.

"As a kid, I was always out riding. That was freedom to me," he said. His parents had bought him "a cheap bike," he said, and he rode it everywhere.

A young man who lived in the apartment building where his family lived had "a dream bicycle," Mr. Mezzatesta said.

"It was a Legnano, a very fine Italian bike. He stored it in our basement for years," he said. "I drove the poor guy crazy. 'Can I borrow your bike?' 'Can I ride your bike?' "

His persistence paid off: When the young man left for college, he gave the bike to Mr. Mezzatesta.

"He said, 'Here, Anthony, it's yours.' It was my pride and joy," recalled Mr. Mezzatesta, who was about 12 at the time.

He rode everywhere on that bike.

"I just lived to ride the bike. I would ride 25, 35, 50 miles, all over New York City," he said. As he rode, he learned how to take care of his bike and keep it in top-notch condition, skills that would come in handy later.

He rode the bike for years, "straight through my teens," but he found in his late teens, he had grown too large for its frame.

He bought another bike, but it couldn't compare to his beloved Legnano. "I was terribly uncomfortable. It just wasn't the right bike," he said.

During his rides, he often stopped in bike shops, asking questions, finding out more and more about cycling. Finally, he decided he no longer wanted to ride the bike he owned, and he decided to build one.

"I couldn't afford what I wanted. I finally found someone who would talk to me and help me build one. I had to call him in New Jersey, and he would help me by the phone," he said.

He bought metal tubing from the shop and would take directions by telephone, then work on the bike. "He told me how to take my measurements and what dimensions the pieces should be."

The process wasn't easy. Mr. Mezzatesta had to learn how to weld, had to find somewhere he could rent the welding torch, and so on. But when he was 18 he had his first custom-built bike.

"I was so in love with cycling that I pushed myself to learn how to do it [build the bike]," he said. "I made it and it rode well, really well."

Mr. Mezzatesta kept building bicycles on and off over the years between other jobs. Years ago, he and his wife, Catherine, lived in Portland, Ore., where he worked as a full-time frame builder in a cycle shop. "I learned so much there."

He also built cycles when he and his wife moved back to New York. "For six years, I did full-time frame building," he said.

Since the bicycling business varies with seasons and the economy, Mr. Mezzatesta created a handyman/carpentry business when the couple moved to Cranberry five years ago. The 52-year-old now makes cycles part time, depending on demand.

"It takes anywhere from a few weeks to four months to build a bike," he said. "We take precise measurements and find out riding patterns, needs, etcetera. It is a custom-made bike."

It isn't cheap. The average Mezzatesta Bike costs $1,450 to $ 3,200, with Mr. Mezzatesta spending 35 to 80 hours on each one. But the bikes are made to last forever.

"I make them out of steel or carbon fiber, depending on individual preference. They hold up and ride forever," he said.

Unfortunately, his schedule leaves him little time for riding.

"My work is very demanding physically, so I am often pretty tired by the end of the day," he said. "But I have made myself a promise that I am going to ride more this year."

Kathleen Ganster is a freelance writer.


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