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Alessandria's City of Bicycles Museum

CycleItalia's Larry Theobald shares his photos

Chairman Bill's note: CycleItalia's Larry Theobald was kind enough to share his photos from visit to the bicycle museum in Alessandria, Italy. Alessandria is in northern Italy, just east of Turin and southwest of Milan.

Alessandria is in the region of Piedmont, where Larry runs his Piedmont Cycling Resort. There is surely no better way to spend time than cycling in Italy and CycleItalia is the way to do it. Check out his website.

The “Museo Alessandria citta delle Biciclette” has just opened (2018), growing out of a temporary exhibition honoring the famous brands, builders and racers of the Alessandria region. English speakers are far more familiar with the bike industry in Lombardia (in and around Milano) but things were going on in Piemonte since 1867. Cycling’s UCI was even headquartered in Alessandria for 15 years, beginning in 1898 and one of the first velodromes was constructed in here in 1888. This is truly “the city of the bicycle.”

It took me a few laps of the center of Alessandria with the car’s navigation lady telling me over and over again in Italian that I’d reached my destination before I saw the AcdB sign and parked the car. The Palazzo Monferrato is located on a pedestrian (and bicycle of course) only street with the museum on the third floor.

A nice young lady sold me an admission ticket, but not before asking my age (you get a discount of you’re over 65) then pointed me to the elevator. I stepped out to be greeted warmly by Isabella, who upon realizing this American could converse in Italian well enough, offered me a private, guided tour!

Larry & Isabella

Larry and his guide Isabella

We began, well, at the beginning when local beer brewer Carlo Michel came back from the Paris International Exposition of 1867 with what might have been the first velocipede in Italy. The things caught on so fast and became so popular that city ordinances were quickly passed controlling their use. The museum has copies of these mounted on the walls of the first room. By 1890 bike rallies drew huge numbers of riders and the museum has a massive wall mounted photo of a huge post-ride gathering.

Paris Universal exposition

The Paris International Exposition of 1867.

Of course some enterprising souls needed to supply the machines for this craze so Giovanni Maino set up shop in 1896. Just like in NASCAR it was “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” so Maino’s company made racing bikes and sponsored racers to promote their elegant machines for the mass-market. English-speakers might be familiar with the famous poster of the elephant atop a Maino bike, an example of Maino’s marketing genius, ¬†unusual at the time. There are numerous examples of both racing and mass-market Maino bikes on display along with details, photos and artifacts from famous racers on the Maino squad like Giovanni Gerbi (the Red Devil from nearby Asti) Costante Girardengo (of nearby Novi Ligure) and Learco Guerra.

Other brands made (and displayed) here include Amerio, Gerbi, Quattrocchio, Girardengo, Torielli, Welter, Fossati and Fiorelli. Many are in original, unrestored condition and beautifully displayed with photos from the period, racing jerseys and newspaper clippings.

A special section is devoted to local boy Giovanni Meazzo who is still going strong at 90 years of age. The son of a bike mechanic, he started racing at age 15 and in 1945 raced with the SIOF team run by the famous Biaggio Cavana, the blind cycling wizard who discovered Fausto Coppi. He retired in 1952 and started his bike production in 1969 after years as a mechanic. He closed things down in 1996 to concentrate on his personal collection of “bici d’epoca” some of which are on display here along with massive photo murals depicting his workshop.

Meazza workshop

This is not Meazzo's workshop, but a photo mural of it that looks like you can just reach in and grab a tool.

Alessandri bicycle museum

There is some space on the bench to do some actual work

Alessandria cycle museum

Another view of Meazzo's virtual shop.

This is a real bicycle by Meazzo, classic Italian steel with a Campagnolo 50th annuversary gruppo. Sweet.

A beautiful Meazzo bike to do the important job of getting around town.

The bikes are positioned in front of the virtual Meazzo shop

You won’t be overwhelmed here like the Museo Ghisallo as the attempt is to showcase the local machines, riders and teams unique to Alessandria and Piedmont rather than try to have everything relating to Italian cycling or just bike racing in general.

The museum is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and by special request.

Alessandria museum

These Alessandria city ordinances limited the use of the dangerous velocipede in the city limits. Yes, the city that later was the UCI headquarters and one of the centers of bicycle production almost banned their use in the beginning!

Old bicycle

A classic old bike with a brake (called a "spoon" brake in English) that rubbed the top of the front tire. Note the wooden rims.

Wilier

A Wilier ridden by the Giovanni Gerbi, "The Red Devil". Gerbi won the first Giro di Lombardia in 1905.

Costante Girardenog

How about a bike ridden by the first "Campionissimo" or Champion of Champions, Costante Girardengo.

Maino

Here's a 1922 Maino. Note the sprocket on the rear hub's far side. To change gears back then one flipped the wheel around.

Bicyle from the late 1930s

Bikes have come a long way. Gino Bartali won the 1938 Giro d'Italia on a bike with this gear system. Note the wooden rims.

Fausto Coppi

A Fiorelli ridden by the great Fausto Coppi.

Nilux bicycle

You won't see one of these every day. Luigi Malabrocca won the "Black Jersey" for being the last place finisher in the Giro d'Italia in 1946 and 1947. From 1950 through 1953 he rode for Nilux. Above is one of Malabrocca's Nilux bikes. He might have ridden this to one of his Italian road championships.

Peloso bike

Peloso was a highly regarded Alessandria builder. Here's a work of art by Peloso made about 1980.