For a brand with such a polished image there’s a pleasing lack of veneer about Formula’s Italian base here in Prato just north of Florence. A definite air of industry surrounds the building and after proceeding via ‘Shipping’ – a wall of brakes destined for every corner of the earth – we’re led upstairs into the control centre.
From Dirt Issue 112 – June 2011
Words and photos by Steve Jones
It’s an immense experience to be hosted by the Becocci family, and it’s said that on certain days Mrs Becocci cooks for the entire staff from a small kitchen here on the first floor. It’s something easy to understand once you begin walking around just how close this company is. It’s more a case of ‘made’ than manufactured.
Formula were the first company to design, produce and distribute mountainbike discs, and like Marzocchi they have featured regularly in Dirt from day one, the indomitable Sunn team and the striking Animal outfit of the mid 90’s spring to mind. Even today every single process takes place in and around the Prato base, and still the stars choose Formula as their method of controlling speed…Nico Vouilloz, Barel, Blenkinsop, Prokop.
Being Italian there is obviously a strong two–stroke background to the company and it was in motorcycle trials where they gained some of their early successes in the eighties making hubs for Beta. A slow speed specialty from a slow speed town – Prato is a centre of the Slow Food movement and an important one for cantucci and biscotti. It’s of huge importance as a textile town too. This is something I am reminded of sat in bed around 10pm one evening when a fashion show suddenly kicks off on the square underneath.
Having had a quick sniff of the friendly but diligent atmosphere I’m instantly ushered into the Formula boardroom where Sheila Fanti and the main man Andrea Becocci is open to any questions – an intensely focused and modest character that clearly heads a strong family led company. Beneath the world map he points out how they are facing changes and a need to offer more to more customers. This autumn we will see the launch of Formula’s new wheel and fork. Becocci adds “we are currently producing them and they will be on the market after Eurobike 2011. The new wheels and forks will be sold in the aftermarket first.”
Whilst the company already has some experience of wheel and suspension manufacture the new hoops and dampers will be partly European, partly Far Eastern made. But it’s in the finely crafted brakes that I’m really here to see being made. We jump in the car and drive inland to one of the plants where an army of machinery tackles every single process in the construction of your Formula disc brakes. The amount of mechanical technology in this building is stunning, creating everything from the point of sale pad spacer through to the hose olives or custom laser etched logos on the calipers. However there is still a substantial amount of human input to creating that incredibly fine finished product. I dig one of Andrea’s old road bikes out for a quick snapshot.
Back down at HQ the ‘Research and Development’ department shares the same building as the ‘Assembly’ and whilst there is a fair degree of automation in the workings, again its all surprisingly hands–on. The plant is working on custom GT and Rocky Mountain brakes, there’s a surprising lack of waste and a healthy speed of turnover for something so refined. There seems to be a substantial amount of checks to each part of the process. Downstairs the brakes undergo some pretty rigorous testing with many machines loaded up to put the finished pieces through the process. Well I guess you need to if you’re producing what they claim to be the “lightest and most powerful downhill brakes on the market.”
At 307g ‘The One’ brake, like the versions that came before it, has a rich history of anchoring the most exacting race teams and riders. The company’s association with Honda several years ago is quite notable gaining huge success with Greg Minnaar and the G–Cross team.
Change is definitely in the air however and although Formula is one of the few European component manufacturers to gain success at the highest level, in many ways they are similar to Marzocchi (located just north of here in Bologna) in terms of how they make their products. They too have had to move certain elements of production to Taiwan.
The Becocci’s are now managing increased diversity of their product line, increased demand for different levels of braking whilst having to juggle the whole process on different continents. It seems to be the way Formula are heading. “All the big US brands are manufacturing their products in Taiwan, and most of the European biggest brands are following this trend. As we want to be as close as possible to our customer’s needs this was an essential step to be taken” says Andrea. But it’s still a gradual move, “this year we will only move the production of our entry level brake the RX and partially the final assembly of some other brake models produced in Europe.”
It would be good to think that ‘Made in Italy’ still has a stronghold, so to speak, in the mountainbike world.