It is common belief that the first bicycle with pedals appeared in Italy around 1867, in the form of a French-made model.
One short year later, a variety of Italian two-wheel vehicles could be seen on the streets, mostly made in the Northern regions of the country – in Turin, Monza, Verona, Padua, Florence, and Novara.
The first bicycle races started in 1869, and in 1885 one of the most famous manufacturers was born in Milan: Bianchi, still operating today under the name of its original founder, Edoardo Bianchi.
The new century started with Italy’s first major victory: in 1900, Gian Ferdinando Tommaselli won the world championship in Paris, competing in tandem with Harrie Meyers, from the Netherlands.
By then, Italy had fallen in love with bicycles. New factories opened, manufacturing techniques improved, and sales soared. Also thanks to advertisement.
Here is a series of promotional illustrations for bicycle makers dating back to the turn of the century (as far back to 1896, to be precise) and the early 1900s. Some were for Fabbrica italiana Velocipedi Edoardo Bianchi, of course, but there are also other legendary brands such as Orio & Marchand (Piacenza), Frera, Prinetti Stucchi and Officine Türkheimer (Milan), Atala (Pada), Umberto Dei (Monza), and Fiat (Turin).
Some of the artists who worked on these images are also legendary figures, like Umberto Boccioni and Plinio Codognato.
Their creativity, paired with manufacturers’ growing skills, gave rise to what we can definitely call the “art of cycling” in Italy.