Man of his time


Giusto Pinzani was born in Pelago on November 19, 1897. In his early years he lived in Contea, a small group of houses called the Apparita. Contea is a small Tuscan village with less than 500 inhabitants that stands on the left bank of the Sieve River, in the municipality of Rufina, about 30 km from Florence. In 1897, however, the municipality of Rufina did not exist, being a hamlet of the nearby municipality of Pelago. It was not until 2 December 1915, following a referendum, that Rufina became an autonomous municipality and, among the various villages, the county was also annexed to the new municipality.

Giusto Pinzani with his wife Italia Pesci

Born into a farming family, Giusto was perhaps the eighth of ten children. As with many children of his time, studying was not a priority. He probably only attended the first two years of elementary school learning to make his signature and managing to read, albeit in a stunted way. However, he was very adept with numbers, a skill that would be used in the future in the course of his work. For the peasant families of the time, the river was an important resource that gave water for them, for the fields and for the animals. It was also a meeting place for the little ones and in fact the River Sieve was, for the young Giusto and his companions, space for encounter and play. On his shores he began to take an interest in fishing, an interest that would accompany him throughout his life, becoming his great passion, second only to the love of cycling.

Pinzani dedicated to fishing on the banks of the Sieve

Just was also a skilled swimmer, a very rare event for a little boy born of a peasant family. It is hypothesized, but we do not know for sure, that he learned and refined his swimming style precisely in his youth years when he played on the banks of the Sieve. This peculiarity led him to teach swimming to his daughters who accompanied, from an early age, to practice on the Arno, when he lived in Florence, encouraging them to swim from one side of the river to the other. As a young man he met a girl, also from a peasant family, named Italia Pesci who would become his wife and who remained by his side all his life.

The Great War

Like many of his peers, Giusto Pinzani experienced the atrocities of the Great War firsthand. It broke out in July 1914 and ended four years later, killing more than 16 million people, including more than one million Italians. He was sent to the Piave, along with the boys of ’99, as a cyclist target. His was a choice dictated by the passion and familiarity he was already cultivating for bikes.

Cyclists were a special body of targets, born in the second half of the 1800s to take advantage of new bicycle technology. Due to their speed, compared to simple infantry, cyclists were used as infantry trailblazers and strategic fast commutes. Their primary purpose was to eliminate enemies, securing the roads before the passage of the factions, thanks to the machine gun mounted on the horizontal tube of the frame. It was a very risky task that caused very high mortality. A military bicycle consisted of: a folding frame weighing 14 kg. with special bindings and their straps for shoulder transport; Small wheels for more handling and full tires anti-drilling; two shocks on the front wheel and one on the rear fork to compensate for the stiffness of the full tyres; front brake with wand, inside the frame (not to be hindered by any loads); and to finish a fixed-shot chain transmission. Precisely for this reason the training of the cyclists was very hard and only those who had excellent legs and great breath could aspire to become one. Thanks to the army that had created the bicycle target department, a young mechanic had managed to make a name for himself and in 1911 he was awarded the contract for the mass production of military bicycles. This mechanic was the Milanese Edoardo Bianchi.

The aforementioned bikes were all the same and Just, in using them, understood the importance of “putting them to size” by modifying some for themselves and for other of his comrades. To “measure” it is intended to make frames with dimensions appropriate to the different sizes of people.

The great war was traumatic for Just. Years later, he told his beloved granddaughters of the horrors and death he had seen with his own eyes, pointing out how much blood had been shed in those four years of conflict but, even more terrible, that a soldier could do us well or badly. During one of the many battles he suffered a very serious wound to his back, so that he even feared paralysis. Fortunately, the wound healed without further damage and was discharged and sent home.

The First Years In Florence And The Opening Of the Shop

After the war Pinzani moved to Florence on Via Settignanese and went to the workshop as an apprentice to a craftsman. After a couple of years and after a bit of money, he opened his workshop in Via Gioberti No.85 in 1923, a workshop that in its 50th history became a reference point for the inhabitants of Via Gioberti and for all lovers and fans of cycling in Florence.

The house in Via Settignanese was a cottage with a garden where he lived with his wife Italy from whom he had his two beloved daughters, Rovena in 1923 and Miriam two years later. In those years life was very hard. Just, to go to work, he always had to wake up very early and came home not before ten o’clock in the evening, tired and fatigued, but showing that love and dedication to work that would always accompany him throughout his life. Unfortunately, the daily commute was not the easiest. Gisuto, with his trusty sidecar, he always had to waste a lot of time crossing the train tracks that separated the house from the shop. Today there is the Affrico overpass, inaugurated in 1963, but at that time there was only one level crossing and since that section was, and still is, the Florence–Rome link line, rail traffic was always high and the bar remained lowered for more than half an hour.

 The early post-war years were a period of economic crisis with rising unemployment and inflation. It was characterized by strong social tensions, especially regarding the reintegration of the veterans of the First World War, and by large manifestations of public violence, particularly in the so-called red two-year period. In these years the fascist movement led by Benito Mussolini was born and grew, which, with its nationalist ideas, became more and more forceful in the country. In 1922, with the march on Rome, King Victor Emmanuel III, preferring to avoid further bloodshed, decided to award the office of Prime Minister to Mussolini himself. With the speech of 3 January 1925 Benito Mussolini proclaimed the dictatorship, suppressing all remaining political freedom. In this political climate, Giusto began to produce his bikes by making a name for himself. The work was not lacking in the workshop since they were a convenient means of locomotion although at that time not affordable for everyone, it is evidenced by the fact that its most loyal customers of those years were bank employees. To work he had to have the party card and always had to wear the black shirt as the police patrols passed every day outside the shop, and especially on Sundays when he went with his family around the streets of the city. Like many others, Giusto accepted the impositions of fascism, also for fear of retaliation that ranged from the closure of the business and consequently to the ruin of the family, to the possibility of suffering violent acts. His wife’s family, Italia Pesci, who had always been of left-wing ideology, participated in various partisan activities and the brothers of Italy, of strong socialist creed, were beaten repeatedly by the fascist police for their political ideologies.

In the early 1930s a turning point took place, the Pinzani family managed to rent the apartment above the shop where he lived until the early sixties, in the most classic of the “door and workshop” of those years. The move, however, was not painless especially for the daughters who, accustomed to the garden and a certain freedom of movement, found themselves in an apartment that made them feel almost caged.

Also to give them breathing, the weekend hikes in the County, where the whole family went on the sidecar driven by Giusto, with his wife, eldest daughter Rovena and their dog in the wheelchair, and the second daughter Miriam remained astride in front of the driver. One of his biggest regrets was that he never had a son, even though he loved his daughters very much, of course.  Rovena was what can be called a bit of a tomboy today and Giusto enjoyed taking her on the bike by riding her in front of him and with her hands on the handlebars, as if she were driving.

World War II

The Second World War erupted on 1 September 1939 with the invasion of Germany against Poland and the subsequent declarations of war of France and England against the German state. Italy, although allied with Hitler through the Steel Pact signed only a few months earlier, did not immediately enter the war. It was not until June 1940 that Mussolini decided to enter the stage alongside his Teutonic ally. As we all know, the war lasted until April 29, 1945, the date of the liberation of all Italy by the Americans and the partisans.

In those years the shop never closed, too great was The love of Giusto for his work. Thanks to his dedication, both during the war and after, he managed to keep the whole family with dignity, which in those years was expanding with the marriages of his two daughters and the arrival of the granddaughters. The Second World War was, however, an extremely difficult period even for the Pinzani family, especially in the latter part, when they had to live continuously in the terror of the bombing.

Florence, compared to other Italian cities, enjoyed, in the early years of the war, special treatment, both by the Germans and the Allies. The cradle of the Renaissance and the world heritage of art, implicitly, the parties in battle always tried never to get to what unfortunately would happen then, bomb Florence. The Florentines until 1943, when they heard the noises of the American planes, did not break down, they raised curious heads and said: “so much they go to Pontassieve”.  What the Allies wanted to strike was in fact the railway that connected Rome with Florence and with all of Northern Italy, and so the countries of Compiobbi, Sieci, Pontassieve and S.Ellero were almost razed to the ground. But unfortunately on September 25, 1943 Allied bombs, with the intention of destroying the railways at Campo di Marte, struck via Mannelli devastating it, while other bombs hit the Stadium and Liberty Square area. That day 215 people died, the first dead in Florence under Allied bombardment. Throughout Florence, from 1940 to 1944, it suffered 325 alarms, 25 bombings and 7 heavy bombings. The death toll rose to more than 700.

Fortunately for the Pinzani, the building where they lived was never hit by bombs. But the terror was always great. After the first attack Florence also equipped itself, upon the arrival of the bombers, with signal sirens and with the creation of safe places where citizens could take refuge. The Pinzani had found a cottage on the outskirts, where today is the headquarters of the sports complex the Aces. At the sound of the first siren, Just took the bikes for the whole family and, scampanelling, shouted to get away. He was aware that they only had a few minutes to escape. Strange to say, but Italy, wife of a bicycle craftsman, did not know how to ride a bike and therefore Giusto made her climb on the horizontal barrel and carried her with pedal strokes away from the bombs.

Until the 1960s

A major change in the life of the Pinzani family took place in the early 1960s. With her two daughters who had already found her husband and with the arrival of her granddaughters, Giusto bought two apartments, next to each other in Via Gioberti 62, a short walk from her workshop and left the house where they had lived for almost thirty years. In those years Via Gioberti was different from how we can see it today and had above all a peculiarity, it was a street full of artisans. The Pinzani workshop was placed in a reality where manual labor and the art of making were daily bread. From the fountain maker to the shoemaker, from chicken coop to paper mill, to the hunting and fishing shop, next to the door of the old Pinzani house, for every commodity there was his shop and in some cases there were more than one, such as the three gardeners or the two butchers who always worked in competition with each other. Giusto also had two competitors, the Morozzi store, which was located at the top of Via Gioberti and the Montelatici shop right at the beginning of the street. Morozzi was not a bicycle manufacturer but a dealer of bikes and accessories, as well as sewing machines and other items. Granddaughters often went to the windows to compare the prices of accessories that even the grandfather mounted on his bicycles and which he sold. Just, however, he did not care and did not want to sell them at a lower price because, even if they were not manufactured by him, they would still become accessories of a Pinzani bike. This rivalry also existed with Montelatici who, in order to win the competition, kept the prices lower, but Pinzani, again, felt a superior craftsman and therefore his belief was: well come that my costs more because they are the best. We can say that the commercial side of the work was not really his forte. His passion consisted solely in the realization of the bicycle. If any potential customer entered the shop Giusto behaved almost in a contrarian way because forced to abandon his creation. However, he was able to be kind if the customer was a fan, but if he was not or did not express himself in correct technical terms he liquidated it in four and four-eighth because, according to him, the people who entered his workshop had to know what they wanted, without wasting time. To stem this grueling way of treating clients, his wife Italia offered to talk to the public and managed to be kinder and more accommodating than her husband.

Pinzani, in addition to cycling, had two other great loves: engines and fishing. The latter, born from an early age along the banks of the River Sieve, was a passion very suited to its closed and taciturn character and Just practiced it throughout his life. Both after a hard week’s work and in the years when he was retired, on Sundays he would wake up very early and riding his bike he went fishing with friends. Every now and then he would wake up so early that he found his daughters or granddaughters returning from the evenings he spent with friends. He dabbled with both the rod and the scale net, a very difficult fishing technique that required a lot of strength.

Pinzani’s other passion was for engines. At first he had a sidecar but after the Second World War he managed to raise some money to buy their first car, a grey Balilla with which on Sunday he made a tour of Florence to his family. He then switched to a Lancia Aurelia. He also bought a Garden that he used to carry all the fishing gear. In the family, his two daughters also took his driver’s license, which was not usual at the time. In fact, at first Pinzani himself was skeptical of their success, but once his daughters got their license he was very proud of them.

The Year of Flood

1966 is a nefarious year for Florence and for Florentines who have lived it that will never be forgotten.  In fact, November 4th is remembered as the day of the flood of Florence.   The Arno overflowed early in the morning and, like many citizens, the Pinzani family did not immediately notice what was happening. When Just went to the shop he realized that something strange was happening and, opening the living room windows, he realized that outside, instead of the street, there was a river flowing impetuously at the level of the window. For a whole day they were all stuck in the house suffering from the cold, the wet, without electricity and without heating. Fortunately, the rescuers arrived, handing over the essential straits such as food, water and blankets. In addition to these inconveniences, the water gave off a pungent odor due to sewers and naphtha; in fact, think that the boilers for heating were then almost all diesel. The water also carried other substances and various debris, making it even more difficult for hundreds of families to survive.

The shop was one of the many shops to be almost totally devastated by the flood. In the store, the most damage was done to the elements of leather such as clothing, gloves and saddles, but the bicycles also suffered a lot of damage. One of the reasons why the Pinzani are rare bicycles is because the Florentines left them in the basements, the first to be flooded and the last to have been emptied; so they were almost all worn out and destroyed. Pinzani, however, did not give up and, together with his aide Osvaldo and also supported by the family, he dismantled the bikes he had in the workshop and began to dip the various metal components in the oil, to try to clean them up and thus slow the degradation of the material. In this way he managed to save a good part of it. After the flood, many merchants put the flooded products for sale at a low price because they were spoiled. But not Pinzani! In a somewhat arrogant way, we might say, he never admitted to having suffered as serious damage as everyone else, and therefore never sold his creation at a low price, even if in fact flooded; behavior that emphasizes a certain stubbornness but also and above all the awareness of the value of his work and his creations that he did not want to sell off even if damaged.

The Last Years

Pinzani has always remained attached to his childhood places, especially in Shire. His home country became the place of the holidays over the years. Just took vacation only in the week of August and booked some rooms above a village eatery, spending the holidays with his daughters first, and then nieces. This became a pleasant habit both because he could devote himself to fishing, his great passion, and because it was an opportunity to see friends and family again. In early 1972 he managed to buy the house where he was born and raised in the early years of his life, that is, at apparita, where he hoped to live once he retired. The first to live in the new/old Family House, however, were his daughter Miriam and granddaughter Patrizia, who graduated in April of that year. Because of her studies, her granddaughter had arrived at her now tired and exhausted degree, and her grandfather proposed to her to rest in her new home, which soon became a place loved by her too. In the summer of 1972 Giusto Pinzani retired leaving the workshop in the hands of his workman Osvaldo, although in the following years he did not disdain to make some frames as in the old days, and moved with his wife Italy to the house at The Apparita, where he loved to spend the spring and summer months. He returned to the city in the first cold, in November, and stayed there until February/March. In those years, on Sundays, he always invited his family and relatives of County to have lunch in the most famous clubs in the area, such as the rotish of Pontassieve or Dicomano, where he was always recognized and treated with admiration by all.

Gruff man and all in one piece he has always shown love for his family more with gestures than words. A very important anecdote remembered by her granddaughter Patrizia occurred during a hot summer day in The County. Giusto, along with his wife Italy and granddaughters, he was enjoying a quiet afternoon by the river. While fishing on the shore, his wife, who was near him on a small group of rocks, stumbled and fell into the river, and not knowing how to swim was heading for certain death. Amid the cries and dismay of the rest of the terrified family, Giusto did not panic, abandoned his fishing rod and dived into the river without thinking twice, managing to reach his wife and save her life.

He lived his last years in County, alongside his wife, until his death on December 14, 1986. When he died it was clear to most that with him there had been not only a piece of “romantic” cycling but an important part of the old Florence: three generations of young people, not necessarily passionate about cycling, at least once, stopped in front of the shop of Giusto Pinzani, especially on Monday when he exhibited the racing bikes that the day before had triumphed in some cycling competition.