Legnano: The Warrior’s Wheels

legnano-bicycle-head-tube-badgeCinelli has it familiar crest, Colnago its ace of clubs, Fuji its stylized mountain, Raleigh its phoenix and Schwinn its four-point star — but Legnano may be the only bicycle company whose headbadge depicts a sword-lofting warrior. The reason why is nothing short of amazing, predictable as it may be in the end.

The warrior depicted on Legnano headbadges is none other than Alberto da Giussano, immortalized in the moment of triumph — specifically, the defining triumph of his era — at the Battle of Legnano in 1176, when the “Free Communes” of the Lombardi league, led by Milan, finally defeated and cast out the German rulers who had been lording over them the previous couple centuries.

That this remains important to Italians can be evidenced by the mention of Legnano in that country’s national anthem — the only other city mentioned being Rome itself. Why it was important to a bicycle manufacturer, even an Italian one, may be a trickier but no less intriguing question.

National pride? Perhaps. The smell of victory attached to the name? More likely, given Legnano’s output includes a long, rich lineage of pure racing bikes as only Italians produce, and an impressive roster of victories on the road race circuits.

There is also the darker possibility that choosing da Giussano for the headbadge was in support of nascent Italian fascism, quoting Classic Rendezvous:

The turning point comes in 1924, when Fascism was looking for sports heroes and only wanted Italian companies. Bozzi offers a lifetime contract to a young house painter, Alfredo Binda, and changes the company’s trademark to Legnano, a single name. The symbol is Alberto from Giussano, the commander who fought and won over Federico Barbarossa.

 

Before that “turning point,” the company bore the uninspiring name of Emilio Bozzi & Company. While the machines they produced were already aesthetically gorgeous and highly race-worthy, the name they would eventually carry to fame did not arise until Italian pride (and Mussolini’s corporate statism) committed their original name to the history books.

While some claim the bicycle enterprise that became Legnano started as early as 1902, the earliest hard evidence comes in 1908, when Emilio Bozzi founded a company to build bicycles in his own name. Not long afterward he formed an association with Franco Tosi, who had bought some patents from Wolsit of England, a renowned English bicycle company of the time.

Tosi was also from Legnano, but the company kept Bozzi’s name until 1924, when they hired Alfredo Binda to ride for their team. Having maintained a sideline business selling motorized bicycles and mopeds for many years, Bozzi and Tosi eventually sold this business to NSU in the 1930s, and finally discontinued mopeds in 1968. Bicycles were always the lifeblood of the company, especially after the duo’s intense involvement in road racing beginning with Binda.

During the mid 1930s, Legnano’s team, starring Binda but captained by Eberardo Pavesi, collected six world titles and won five Giro d’Italia, two Tours de France, four Tours of Lombardy and numerous less famous races. To make matters more interesting (and no doubt profitable), the racing world promoted an emerging rivalry between the Legnano and Bianchi teams, the latter being a far older company established in 1885, who must have seen Legnano as something of an upstart.

Upstart or not, Legnano was by then a maturing company, and with the world plunging into a war partly initiated by Germany’s refinements of Mussolini’s fascism, Legnano adds a pair of bonafide cycling all-stars to its team: Gino Bartali in 1936, followed by Fausto Coppi in 1939.

Binda, Bartali, and Coppi: three legends whose contemporary reputations outshine the warrior prince on the company’s headbadge. Victory after victory followed on road courses and in velodromes, while Bartali and Coppi developed their own rivalry temporarily obscuring that between their employer and Bianchi.

All of which gets overshadowed by a war where victory will not belong to their motherland, to the extent war produces victors. Coppi sets the hour record on a Legnano in 1942 at Vigorelli, while bombs fall outside.

After the war, dazed and searching, the nation needs distractions, and focuses again on the rivalry between Bartali and Coppi, this time folded back into the renewed context of Legnano versus Bianchi, for Coppi is now riding the older firm’s machines.

In 1948 Bartali wins the Tour de France on a Legnano.  In 1956, a young rider named Ercole Baldini wins in the Melbourne Summer Olympic Games on a Legnano. That same year Baldini breaks Coppi’s long-standing hour record of 1942, again on a Legnano, but after that racing victories begin petering out.

The company forges ahead, though. In 1960 Legnano becomes the flagship product of Singaporean bicycle distributor KH Cycle, who refered to the brand on their website as “one of the oldest and best known cycling brands in the world at that time.”

Legnanos of the era sported the perhaps-inevitable Campagnolo Record group. Somewhat more of a surprise, they also featured special Brooks saddles that — according to the inestimable Sheldon Brown — were branded as Campagnolo. Sheldon further suggests top-end models of that time may be worth several thousand dollars today — definitely collectible pricing!

ebykr-legnano-catalog-roma-olimpiade

Bozzi was assassinated by Italian Red Guard radicals in the 1970s, after which the family lost interest in manufacturing. Arch-rival Bianchi bought the brand in the 1980s, and it saw racing action again under Fondriest, but Bianchi apparently did not truly have their heart set on promoting the former upstart competitor.

Legnano still lives on in name, now owned by bicycle brand consolidator Cycleurope, which has acquired many traditional names, including old arch-rival Bianchi. While Bianchi has fared very well indeed in the modern era, Legnano remains forgotten as a current brand. Of Legnano, Cycleurope’s website unceremoniously but accurately used to suggest:

“Legnano offers ideal solutions for man, woman and child; bikes that are comfortable, reliable, versatile, and full of accessories which make them perfect in every situation. Discover how exciting it is to personally experience the Legnano legend.”

Nothing wrong with that — the world needs all the everyday bikes it can get, after all — but it’s perhaps too quiet a retirement for a brand forged in battle, and tempered in the storied races of Italy and France. Alberto da Giussano’s ultimate triumph may still be coming. Bozzi and company would have wanted it that way.

Special Thanks:

Dale Brown

Sheldon Brown

 

Ebykr Legnano References:

Ebykr Cinelli Article

Ebykr Colnago Article

Classic Rendezvous Legnano History

Sheldon Brown Legnano Reference

19 Comments Add yours

  1. billy says:

    Didn’t Viking have a Viking on their badge? Can’t remember if he was sword lofting but he’d have been fierce :0)
    I had a Viking Hosteller in the ’70’s. I’m sitting here now waiting for my new Paul Hewitt frame to be delivered. Very excited!

  2. Mat says:

    My Mum still rides a Viking “Hosteller”, and has done since she bought it new back in 1963! This is the first time I’ve ever seen someone else even mention one to be honest…

  3. ibrahim says:

    Hello Messrs. in the factory Lyliano
    i am Ibrahim Almalty. 76 years old.
    Won several races in Libya in the fifties and sixties of the last century.
    Was rated one of the clubs known to have a bicycle from which made in your factory .
    Help me to win several races
    So far, I have cycling, which was donated in 1958 specifically to the situation is excellent.
    I do not know whether you will interact with me regarding the bicycle for the purpose of purchase or publicity for bicycle which will lead to financial benefit to me and you
    If you agree to piece Please send an e-mail and send you the pictures in the race. Photos very old
    And send images of new motorcycle

    Maltese Ibrahim

  4. Tan Heong Seng says:

    If possible, please forward us a copy of 2008 full catalogue and specification on road bike and mountain bike and etc. Any distributor so far in Singapore? Please advice? Your brand was recommended an 80 years old bicycle repairman. I am a proud owner of FIAT automobile Italian products.

    My address is :
    Block 2, #07-01
    Kaki Bukit Avenue 1
    Singapore 417938.

    Thank you and have a great day.

  5. kamela says:

    hi…my uncle have an old bicycle…wolsit AC 7448 green..it is new.. thiw the name of Emilio Bozzi..are you interested in it?
    please let me know soon..

  6. teo541 says:

    I found this old page from Life magazine, from the ’60s I guess. The picture was undoubtly shot in the US, and the man on the left is riding a Legnano track bike. Amazing!
    http://www.milanofixed.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/vintagehipster.jpg

  7. Steven Miller says:

    I have a Legnano 10 speed, levers down low,sew on tires,light racing style, green,purchased new in 1970. It is in good shape,not ridden much. Anyone interested or does anyone know what the value might be. I would like to sell it. A local bike shop had no interest in it.
    Thanks,
    Steve Miller

  8. ED "CHICO" HERNANDEZ says:

    Back in the late fifty’s I delivered papers while I was in high school and college. In an appartment house on my paper route was bicycle that always sat on the stair landing. One day I asked the lady who lived up stairs who owned the bicycle. She replied that her son had bought it while he was at the Vatitan. About six months later she said that she could sell it if I wanted it. It was real different than any American bike I had seen, but what the heck it looked new and I made asbout a dollar a day on the papers so I paid her $20.

    After College I went to pilot training then six years in the Air Force. Then I went to work for Exxon and this bike followed me arround for fourty years. I even came home early one Saturday afternoon to find in the non-sold pile after one of my wife’s garage sales.

    I kept it in the garage, mainly because thirty years ago I was getting some new tires and the shop owner said it was a vary unique bike a real collector’s bike.

    Last week I looked on Craigslist under Items Wanted and “looking for old bikes” was listed. Sunday I got a call from some guy who was looking for an old ten speed bike. When I got it out and he started looking at it, mentioning the metal warrior on the front frame and the Campagnolo brakes and changer. He said he had heard about the Chartruse yellow paint job. Well a long story short fron Rome to Lexington, KY to Summerville,SC I sole my Bike. I was glad that a real bike enthasusist got it because I knew it was a great bike even back in the fifty’s.

    He started mentioning that he could put it back in shape with new stickers and such I knew it had a good home.

  9. Uncle Bob says:

    Steven- Value depends on equipment and condition. Maybe $1-200. Ed- I hope you diid OK. A 1959 Roma with a vary early Campy Record set could sell for $2500 or more.

  10. scot says:

    …have a ’60’s (?!?) Legnano w/all chrome frame + Brooks seat with a ‘setback’ race stem
    am just in love with the way she ‘looks’ – just setting there wanting to be ridden
    am not capable – anymore of riding –
    anyone interested?!?

  11. David Beattie says:

    I have a Legnano cycle that is very original and has an unusual frame. It is very well made. I think it was a urban rental bike. I have never seen anything like this before.

    I was just learning more about the maker. These bikes look good and have good history. I collect old cycles.

    I don’t know how to send a picture.

  12. Bruce says:

    Back in the late fifty’s I delivered papers while I was in high school and college. In an appartment house on my paper route was bicycle that always sat on the stair landing. One day I asked the lady who lived up stairs who owned the bicycle. She replied that her son had bought it while he was at the Vatitan. About six months later she said that she could sell it if I wanted it. It was real different than any American bike I had seen, but what the heck it looked new and I made asbout a dollar a day on the papers so I paid her $20.

    After College I went to pilot training then six years in the Air Force. Then I went to work for Exxon and this bike followed me arround for fourty years. I even came home early one Saturday afternoon to find in the non-sold pile after one of my wife’s garage sales.

    I kept it in the garage, mainly because thirty years ago I was getting some new tires and the shop owner said it was a vary unique bike a real collector’s bike.

    Last week I looked on Craigslist under Items Wanted and “looking for old bikes” was listed. Sunday I got a call from some guy who was looking for an old ten speed bike. When I got it out and he started looking at it, mentioning the metal warrior on the front frame and the Campagnolo brakes and changer. He said he had heard about the Chartruse yellow paint job. Well a long story short fron Rome to Lexington, KY to Summerville,SC I sole my Bike. I was glad that a real bike enthasusist got it because I knew it was a great bike even back in the fifty’s.

    He started mentioning that he could put it back in shape with new stickers and such I knew it had a good home.

  13. Fred says:

    I have a about a 1967 Legnano bike with almost all orginal parts. Has a Campy record. Anyone interested?? Email rabbitfufu2222@hotmail.com and I can send pixs and more info. Wonderful bike!!!

  14. marcelo says:

    hola gente , estoy restaurando una bicicleta legnano de mi abuelo la cual gano muchos campeonatos aca en argentina en el año 1945, tenia llantas de madera , y el numero de cuadro es sb2590. le cuadro es muy lindo y muy liviano , cualquier deto del modelo o año de fabricacion me sirven ya que estoy armando un albun con las carreras de mi abuelo y su bicicleta legnano, desde ya muchas gracias , saludos, desde rosario argentina.

  15. Emily Tuang says:

    Great! love those fixie bikes!

  16. martin says:

    i ride a legnano every day and it’s awesome, it must have like 40 years and it works perfectly, even the gears pass really smothly

  17. Noah says:

    I have a 50’s? Legnano Track bike.

  18. Steve says:

    Noah, did you find a home for your track bike?

  19. eddy matthias says:

    Hi Steven Miller , Fred or Scot:

    Dear Owners of Legnano, i would appreciate if u can email me the pictures of your bike that you are keen to let go and the price too.

    Cheers-ed

    I am now riding a legnano too.

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