While France and England can probably take shared credit for the invention of the bicycle and its first mass production, Italy certainly deserves praise for the popularization of cycling.
Italians have done much to sustain cycling as a sport over the years and were, of course, early adopters of the notion of the Grand Tour with the Giro d’Italia – celebrating 100 years this year – started just six years after the Tour de France.
Much like the Tour came to symbolize a sportive France, and became infused with the history, culture and politics of the country, the Giro in Italy has had much the same role. One might even argue that the Giro has retained something distinctly Italian while the Tour has become a more international, cosmopolitan – even European – event. One certainly hopes that the great race will soon receive similar scrutiny and study in English-language writing as the Tour has done.
But Italy’s contribution has not just been the Giro. It has also produced many fabulous riders whose impact has been felt outside the country – Alfredo Binda, Octavio Bottecchia, Gino Bartali, Felice Gimondi, Francesco Moser, Marco Pantani, and Il Campionissimo himself, Fausto Coppi.
Its impact has also been most keenly felt in bicycle design, with Italian builders soon setting the standard for other makers to follow. Italian frames still capture something essentially Italian about attention to design, in many ways the perfect intersection between form and function, and all infused with the country’s rich cycling heritage. And who can forget the contribution and legacy of Tullio Campagnolo to the technology that we enjoy today.
Italy’s contribution to cycling has been wider than just Europe, of course, with emigrating Italians taking their love of cycling (and their frame building skills, such as Quebec’s Marinoni, which you can see more of here) to many far corners of the globe.
How fitting, then, that the Italian Cultural Centre in Vancouver should launch its new museum with an exhibition – Speeding Past – celebrating the local Italian community’s contribution to cycling in the city.
The exhibition focused on the Broadway velodrome, built from yellow cedar timber for the Empire Games in 1954. The track was the centre of the action for the local Italian cycling club until the track’s demolition in 1980.
The photos and mementos at the exhibit were a showcase for not only local Italian cycling but also the sport in the 1950s and 1960s (which we the focus of the display). Also included were some classic bikes from different eras (which Richard has reported on here) – and another reminder of great Italian handiwork.
Although the velodrome is gone now (although Vancouver still retains its indoor track, which is perhaps more practical given the weather here), the exhibition was a poignant reminder that the line of history for cycling in Vancouver runs right through the Italian community in the city.
That cycling was the first exhibit at the new museum is also a reminder of the importance of the sport in Italian culture and the central role that Italy has had in sustaining bikes and bicycling over the years.
For readers in Vancouver, follow this link for more details on how to visit.