[CR]Italian 'Artiste' framebuilder (long)

(Example: Framebuilders:Richard Moon)

From: <themaaslands@comcast.net>
To: Classicrendezvous@bikelist.org (Classic Rendezvous)
Date: Sun, 12 Dec 2004 22:35:10 +0000
Subject: [CR]Italian 'Artiste' framebuilder (long)

There was been considerable talk on the CR list about the way that most Italian framebuilders looked at their creations as racing tools for the riders, built because that was their trade. I would therefore like to share a telephone conversation that I had earlier today with the son of the framebuilder Zanardi. I believe that you can then see that there are indeed successful Italian framebuilders whose primary goals were self-realization and pride. There was quite a bit of inventiveness and no time-clock involved.

I have always enjoyed shooting the breeze with oldtimers about the way cycling was in their youth. I have also tried to collect information about framebuilders from bygone years, asking about the builders these oldtimers revered in their youth, as well as the ones that were considered 'stars'.

Among the many names that I was turned onto was Zanardi. His name was mentioned by numerous oldtimers in the Po valley in Italy, both by people from his home town of Parma and beyond. All of these oldtimers who knew him or of him, spoke of Zanardi as being the rare combination of artiste and craftsman. Even his fellow framebuilders spoke highly of him! When I saw the first example of his frames, I could finally understand what they meant. His frames did not always take the road of least resistance, he often overbuilt them and used elements that would not normally be found on other frames.

Take a look: http://www.wooljersey.com/gallery/Zanardi If you look at the first bike in particular, notice the brake braze-ons, the waterbottle braze-ons, the pump nib... The bike shown is apparently all original.

What does this have do to with the title of this post? Well, after collecting testimonials from the oldtimers, framebuilders and other collectors, I wanted to find out more. After considerable research, I have finally been able to reach one of Zanardi's sons, who gave me the following colorful background on his father:

Zanardi was born in 1906 to a reasonably well-off family from Parma. As a young man, he travelled quite often to France with his family. It was during these visits that he got hooked on cycling, noting how much further ahead the French were compared to Italy. He started racing and built his first frame in his late teens (some time in the early 20's). He incorporated cable operated brakes on this first bike (as opposed to rod or coaster brakes), a feature that was then virtually unknown in Italy, he then went on to set up a framebuilding shop which became his first 'job' (his son claims that he was the first to use cable operated brakes on all of his bikes). It was during this period, of the late 20's and early 30's that he also started using sloping fork crowns (his son again claims his father was the first in Italy to do this and that Cinelli spoke to him about the design). All told, he kept building bikes for about 10 years before being recruited for the nascent aero-space industry because of his superior brazing skills. He worked in the aerospace industry until he was fired in 1939 for making jokes about Mussolini. He therefore returned to bike building, with an important sideline as a Partisan (anti-fascist) operative. His work for the partisans during the war years meant that in 1946, he had earned enough 'credits' to be awarded a small plumbing supply manufacturer formerly owned by a fascist. His inventiveness was put to good use, as he developed a few plumbing valves and fixtures (that were patented by others, with him receiving a meagre 'reward') and built up close ties to a few foundries (that would help with his bicycle building). He didn't however like the plumbing trade much, and his business never flourished. By the mid-50's, his ever-suffering wife suggested that he give up the plumbing trade and return full-time to bicycles. Zanardi however thought that the bicycle business was suffering death throes, so he only stayed involved on the edges. He built solely for his own pleasure, building perhaps a few dozen frames per year for local Parma amateurs. He built everything his own way and would not listen to anybody. He used his plumbing trade experience and connections to have his own lugs made or modified. Racers won consistently on his bikes and his reputation grew. It wasn't long before he was asked to come on as full-time mechanic for the Philco pro team in 1960. While he did turn down the invitation to come on full-time, he joined for spring training, accompanied the team for the Giro as well as an occasional weekend race. He quickly established a close rapport with a number of the Philco riders and was commissioned to build them their team bikes. One of the first pros he built a team bike for was the Belgian, newly arrived in Italy, Emile Daems. Daems went on to win numerous prestigious races on his Zanardi-built bikes: 2 stage wins in the Giro d'Italia, 4 Tour de France stage wins, 1 giro di Lombardia, 1 giro degli Appenini, 2 Giri del Ticino, 1 Milan-San Remo... The local Parma cycling hotshot, Vittorio Adorni also went to him for his bikes, racing a Zanardi bike, both while riding as an amateur, as well as a pro for the Philco, Cynar and Salvarani teams. It was quite interesting to hear that the relationship with Adorni was broken off when Zanardi suggested to Adorni that he should help another Parmesan rider, Ottavio Marchesi, rejoin the Salvarani team after he was dropped for poor results. Zanardi felt that Marchesi was a far stronger and talented rider and that it would be in Adorni's best interest to keep him on the team. A 'professional' framebuilder would never have dared to say such a thing to an established star, but Zanardi truly looked at his framebuilding activities as a hobby and a means of technical and artistic expression. He also found it to be a way for him to stay involved in the sport that he loved. He kept building until 1972 when cancer became so extreme that he had to give it up. He passed away in early 1974.

Steven Maasland
Moorestown, NJ