Updated 1.13.2009                                   Click on images to see a larger view.

Excerpted from
AMBROSIO: Alloy Pioneers by David V. Herlihy
as published in Bicycle Guide magazine Nov. 1995

The Ambrosio trademark was registered in 1923 by the brothers Giovanni and Giuseppe Ambrosio, some years after the firm began operating in Turin. From the start it produced steel handlebars, stems and rims, although the latter product was not a major part of its business at first.

When aluminum alloys started to make their way into cycle production in early 1930s, the Ambrosio brothers were among their biggest promoters. As early as 1935, they produced an all alloy bicycle to demonstrate how aluminum could slash weight. And even though the alloy frame itself never caught on - the first ones showed an alarming tendency to break - the brothers made a point: Alloy parts offer significant advantages.

The brothers' own relatively bulky mainstays - stems and bars - were prime targets for alloy conversion. Even though alloy stems and bars weighed half as much as their steel counterparts, riders - especially racers - were reluctant to sacrifice perceived security/ As late as 1948, an Italian review assured its readers that a certain French alloy bicycle with steel bars represented no material inconsistency. Bars, evidently, were simply meant to be steel.

But Ambrosio would not give in. At first, it was the only Italian firm to offer alloy stem and bars. A few daring French firms, however, soon joined in production to satisfy the avante-garde tastes of cyclotourists. Slowly, racers also came around. Finally, after rival Cino Cinelli switched to alloy in the early 1960s, the Ambrosio vision prevailed - steel stems and bars quickly became all but obsolete.

Ambrosio's other product, the rim, was another obvious target for alloy application. Though relatively light, the rim is a crucial rolling part. Even a slight weight reduction here can lead to significant gains in efficiency. But building a practical alloy rim was not simply a matter of exploiting alloys developed for other parts. Since the rim is subject to particularly violent impacts from road shock, it must have special elastic properties to guard against deformation.

In this key aspect the first alloy models fared poorly compared to rigid steel. Moreover, they had to vie with yet another popular rim material; wood. Despite the propensity of wood rims to warp under wet conditions and break under extreme impacts, racers were fond of their light weight and comfort. As late as 1938, Gino Bartali won the Tour de France on wood rims.

But once again, Ambrosios persistence paid off, even though its early efforts were a far cry from today's perfected product. Within a few years of the war, all the great Italian racers like Fausto Coppi had switched to Ambrosio alloy rims. Even French cyclists occasionally selected them over their own brands.

Along with Campagnolo, Ambrosio helped establish Italy's post war reputation as the source of premier cycle parts. Demand for Ambrosio products grew so strong that its work force swelled to over a hundred employees by 1950. When Giuseppe Ambrosio died three years later, he was justifiably hailed by the Italian press as an industrial pioneer. Wrote Ciclismo Illustrato: "He must be considered the preeminent proponent of aluminum alloy in cycles."

The torch was thus passed Giuseppe's son, Gilberto. But like many family-run businesses, the new generation was unable to build on the success of the former. A combination of bad management, poor investments and difficult market conditions left Ambrosio broke and not operational by the early 1960s.

That's when the current owners, the Marsorati family, stepped in. Piero Marsorati had founded a successful bicycle rim company in Milan in 1941.

Later traded as "TTT"
See next article covering that brand
HERE

Early style aluminum stem with hex nut expander bolt

Rims, from early 1970s to 80s...

   

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