Championing the bicycle trade

In 1934, Nino Borsari landed for the first time in Australia to compete in the Centenary 1000: a cycle race that was part of the Centenary of Victoria celebrations.

In 1934, Nino Borsari landed for the first time in Australia to compete in the Centenary 1000: a cycle race that was part of the Centenary of Victoria celebrations. He didn't know he was shaping his future and the history of the bicycle trade in Melbourne. Several other European and international cycling champions came to race over the seven stages, covering 1,773 km, but none of them stood out from the others. Borsari won two sprints in Ararat and Ballarat and finished 5th overall.

During a return trip to compete again in Australia in 1939, war broke out in Europe and Borsari found himself stuck in Sydney. He sold his gold watch and cycle, hitchhiked to Melbourne and found a job promoting rollers for indoor cycling at the Myer department store. Unlike many Italian immigrants, he was not interned and in 1942 opened a bicycle shop on the corner of Lygon and Grattan Street. He passed away in 1996, aged eighty-four. Borsari Cycles is no longer in the family but his name has become a synonym for bicycle lovers and Borsari's corner a Melbourne landmark.

In recent times, another Italian opened a bicycle shop in Carlton which he later relocated in the suburb of Ivanhoe. Called Dolomiti, the shop specialises in electric pedal assist bikes that make cycling accessible to people of all ages: young and old, fit and less fit.

Giancarlo Zanol from Trento, (Gianni as he likes to be called) is a smiley, middle-aged man who moved to Australia several years ago with a past as successful corporate manager looking for change in his life. He never rode a bike before the electric ones he started to import from Frisbee - a company based in Bolzano.

"With the pedal assist bicycle", he says, "you can ride for longer, get less tired, sweat less (so that you don't need a shower once you get at work), but most importantly your commuting time is always consistent as it's not affected by traffic, peak hours, road works or accidents. And if you use it for leisure you can join and share the same experience with better trained friends or explore broader areas."

According to him, the niche market they are dealing in has recently doubled its volume. This is a good sign if we consider that, over the past few years, Australia has recorded a slight decline, literally a drop if we talk about children, in the number of people riding bikes.

Gianni suggests this decline is mostly due to the lack of infrastructure and has a huge impact on the health budget. A recent survey done by Australia Bicycle Council as part of the evaluation of the 2011-2016 National Cycling Strategy, shows that the physical inactivity of the population costs Australia more than $13 billion each year. The same survey has found 14 million of Australian would be ready to ride a bike regularly, but they are concerned about their safety.

If riding is clearly healthier, it is also believed to be more dangerous, but is it really so? Presumably cycling is more dangerous than walking. "Not so", says Gianni. "According to surveys, cyclists die at a rate which is nearly half the rate of pedestrians. And the more people cycle, the better other road users adjust to it and the safer it is."

In any case, whatever its safety rate, the bicycle will never become an extinct means of transport. It is an implement that defies time; its permanence sets it apart from all other human inventions.