Zanardi Parma

Updated 10.17.2012

Parma, Italy

“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 frame building 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 meager ‘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 frame building activities as a hobby and a means of technical and artistic expression. He also found it to be a way forhim 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

1950s ZANARDI with Campagnolo Cambio Corsa shifters, serial no. 1645

pictures courtesy eBay seller Paracorto

A 1960s Zanardi seen at auction on eBay

A frame set for sale on