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How Cinelli Revolutionized the Art and Design of the Bicycle

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A visual history of how Italian designer Cino Cinelli shaped the standards for modern cycling.

The history of the bicycle is peppered with curious and wide-spanning cultural resonance — from powering the emancipating (and subjugation) of women to reining in incredible design innovation to serving as a manifesto for the creative life, a a metaphor for computers, and an object of art. But hardly do the bike’s dignity and glory shine more brilliantly than in an exquisitely designed and engineered specimen, and few pioneers have done more to elevate bicycle design than Cino Cinelli.

The beautifully designed Cinelli: The Art and Design of the Bicycle (public library; UK) tells the story of how, since he first began making frames in Italy in the 1940s, Cinelli set the standards for both technical quality and aesthetic elegance in bicycle design, framing the ideal for the classic bike and shaping the evolution of professional cycling.

Even with its very identity, created by legendary designer Italo Lupi in 1979, Cinelli immediately did away with convention:

The aesthetics of the Italian racing bicycle in the 1970s were still defined by a code set in place in the years before World War II. Frames were painted in beautifully applied pure colors — blacks, reds, whites, blues, bronzes and silvers. The decorations and logos were the careful creations of the great artisans of the interwar period — heraldic symbols and traditional Italian iconography combined with great skill to render the final product harmonious.

[…]

The new Cinelli logo employed a Standard Bold typeface with modified spacing to register an iconic effect. The “winged C” itself was inspired by the clean graphic art of 1950s British motorcycle brands. The colors within the wings — an orange-red, mild green, and yellow — made absolutely no reference to any cycling tradition. Lupi recollects that they were inspired specifically by the particular enamel of British locomotives, but with hindsight they seem equally a product of the irreverent postmodern aesthetics of the late-1970s and early-1980s Milanese design.

The logo immediately and starkly distinguished Cinelli from the competition and became perhaps the most imitated bicycle logo of the modern period. It was sexy, funny, ironic, and design savvy — a completely heterogenous mix of the times, but also a reflection of a confident and excited Milanese cultural industry.

Sample Cinelli: The Art and Design of the Bicycle with this teaser from Rizzoli:

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