Borsari Cycles Heritage
The Borsari Cycles heritage began in 1941 when Nino 'Cavalier' Borsari opened up his first bike shop on Lygon St, Carlton. To this day, we have sold thousands of bikes and provided cycling advice to many satisfied customers. Nino's legacy in the Australian culture and cycling world lives on until this day.
View more pictures at the Borsari Cycles Web Gallery (new window).
Nino Borsari (1911-1996) Personal Achievements
||The Sun Tour
||The Sun Tour
Nino Borsari: 1911-1996
By Renie Beuman.
AIthough he became 'Cavalier' in Italy and a wealthy business-man in Australia, few cyclists had a more humble beginning than Nino Borsari. Born in 1911 in Cavezzo, near Modena in Italy, his childhood was marked by severe poverty. His son, also named Nino, said his father almost starved during the Great Depression. "When he took me back to Italy, he pointed out all the types of grasses that could be eaten, as this is what he had to do to survive in the depression." Even when he began his professional career, his son said his father was still very poor and ate very little, other than a porridge type food called polenta. "It was a very heavy food that bloated his stomach. But he still went on to win around 90 percent of his races." Nino Borsari started his professional cycling career after his employer a benevolent pharmacist, combined some money with that of a professional cyclist to buy Nino Borsari his first racing bike.
Nino Borsari in 1936.
"He had an old iron bike for doing deliveries for the pharmacist, who soon noticed how quickly he did his job and when pro cyclists came through the town on training rides, my father used to try and keep up with them, and invariably was able to do so. One of them noticed that this kid was able to keep up. One day they set out to lose him, but my father managed to stay with them." After quizzing Nino Borsari, it was one of those pro cyclists that joined funds with the pharmacist to get him a new bike and start serious training. His progress was stunning and he went on to become the cycling champion of Italy and won a Gold Medal in the Four Kilometre Team Pursuit at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics (even though he was a sprinter).
Whilst in the USA, he did a screen test with a Hollywood career in mind, but chose to continue cycling. After World War II, Nino was in a good financial and social position and made a decision to stay in Australia and settle in Melbourne, rather than return to Italy. Nino then embarked on a remarkable business career. He married Fanny a great Italian opera singer and opened a corner shop in Carlton in 1941, now known as 'Borsari's Corner'. As well as doing cycle repairs, Nino operated as a secondhand dealer. His business soon expanded and in 1961 moved into the premises three doors down to 193 Lygon Street Carlton.
He had many business and social achievements that included the right to bring into Australia the Bianchi bicycle range, the European game of Bocce, and various kitchen utensils, including the first Capuccino machine. A seemingly crazy idea, because Australia was essentially a tea drinking country. Now the coffee/cafe industry is huge. Before an Italian embassy was established in this country, Nino Borsari became unofficial spokesperson for the Italian people in Australia: the president of the Australian Boxing Federation, the founder of the Juventis Soccer Club and was crucial as a delegate for Australia for the 1956 Melbourne Olympic games. The Olympic Games selection committee approached him in London and asked him if Australia was up to the task of handling an event like the Olympics? He replied, "they built a continent in less than 100 years.
Australians are hard working and very dedicated. These will be the best Games ever." History shows that this was true at the time. Nino Borsari became a benevolent benefactor himself and helped many underprivileged people and clubs. "In fact he gave away most of his wealth," said his son, who recalled his father buying shoes for an entire soccer club in order to help them get started.
The wooden bicycle built in Italy in 1940.
After learning a little about Nino Borsari, and believe me, there is enough material to write a book about him, I'm inclined to feel the same way about him as his son, who quite rightly said, " I'm extremely proud of him." Nino Borsari died in March 1996. Come in and see some memorabilia of Nino Borsari. At the moment we have the famous wooden bike built in 1940. It is 90% wooden; the only one in Australia.
Obituaries: Nino Borsari
The Age, April 2, 1996.
Olympic cyclist and Italian community leader. Born 14 December 1911. Died 31 March 1996, aged 84.
They called Nino Borsari the Baron. Sleek and dapper, he strode around Carlton in the '30s and '40s like a golden Adonis.
A poor boy who had left his home town of Cavezzeo, Italy to race bicycles - and, later, cars - Mr Borsari became a gold medallist for Italy in the teams pursuit at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles.
He was 23 when he arrived in Australia two years later to compete in a 1800 km bike race marking Victoria's centenary. It was won by Bairnsdale's Ted Stubenrauch. He was back racing in Australia when war broke out in 1939. He became an "enemy alien" and, though lucky not to be imprisoned, he was forbidden from racing. Several Sydney businessmen helped him set up a bicycle-repair shop in Lygon Street and he grew so fond of Australia that when the war ended he did not want to go home.
The Borsari name still sits in neon on the corner of Lygon and Grattan Streets, where, until 1992, Mr Borsari and his wife, Fanny, ran Borsari's Emporium (they imported Australia's first cappuccino machine). He moved his bicycle shop from the corner to 193 Lygon Street in the 1960s.
Mr Borsari's long-time bike-racing friend Bill Long, 72 (they brought out some of Italy's top boxers and cyclists), says Nino had beautiful legs and took great care of his dress and this thick, wavy black hair.
"He was a brilliant sprinter, he used to race at North Essendon board track," Mr Long said. "His wife would be jumping out of her knickers with excitement and when he'd win she'd shout 'champagne for Nino, champagne for Nino'."
Mr Borsari's son, Nino, said yesterday that his father had made an enormous contribution to Melbourne.
He received an Italian knighthood for his support of new immigrants in Melbourne; he was a founding member of Juventus soccer club and, as president of the Australian Boxing Federation, helped set up Lionel Rose's successful world title challenge against Fighting Harada in Tokyo.
Mr Borsari raised much money for Yooralla and fought the demolition of Carlton's old buildings in the 1950's and 1960's.
"He nearly chained himself to the shop's verandah when the council wanted to pull it down," his son said.
Mr Borsaris' passion for Australia and his European connections helped to secure the 1956 Olympics for Melbourne.
"Melbourne was a backwater then and many of the delegates didn't think Australia was ready for it or capable of putting it on," his son said. "But Dad said: "Don't underestimate the Australians. They've built a continent in less that 100 years'. He did a lot to convince the British delegates that we'd do it and do it well."
Mr Borsari's funeral was held yesterday at St Anthony's Shrine, Hawthorn. He is survived by Nino, by his daughter Diana, and four grandchildren. Fanny Borsari died in 1988.
By Sian Watkins.
Olympic cycling champion and Melbourne sporting identity
Herald Sun, April 2, 1996.
Born: December 14, 1911.
Died: March 31, 1996.
Former Olympic cycling champion and Carlton identity Nino Borsari died at the weekend, aged 84.
The orphan from Cavazzo, Italy, first arrived in Melbourne in 1934 to compete in a race to celebrate Melbourne's centenary.
He became stranded during his second visit when Italy declared war on the Allies while he was competing is Sydney in 1940. Declared an "enemy alien" he was unable to leave the country for the duration of World War II. But while many of his countrymen found themselves relocated to concentration camps, he was exempt because of his fame as a sportsman.
Mr Borsari made the best of his difficult situation. He sold his gold watch and bike and hitch hiked to Melbourne, where he took a job cycling on rollers at Myer.
After the war he chose to stay in Australia.
He was a fierce competitor on the Australian cycling circuit, winning most of the events he contested, and became a sporting hero for the Italian and wider Australian communities.
The 1932 Olympic gold medalist later opened a ssuccessful bicycle shop on the corner of Grattan and Lygon streets, which became Borsari's Emporium. The shop, which is still owned by his family, has become a Carlton landmark and was leased in the early '90s to operate as Borsari's restaurant.
During the 1950s and '60s, Nino and promoters Dick Lean and Bill Long brought out some of Italy's finest cyclists and boxers.
He also acted as an ambassador for Melbourne, helping secure the 1956 Olympic Games.
As president of the Australian Boxing Federation he paved the way for Lionel Rose's successful world title fight against Fighting Harada in Tokyo, and Juventus Soccer Club won at least six premierships under his leadership.
Nino's daughter, Mrs Diana Espino, described her father as a loving disciplinarian. "He was very disciplined and he had a very strong sense of who he was and a desire to help his fellow Italians, especially as he arrived in a very difficult time," she said. "He was very loving and he was a charitable person. He offered his home over the years to organisations like Red Cross and Yooralla for fundraising events," she said.
Mrs Espino said her father had never fully recovered from head injuries he received 12 years ago, when he was struck from behind by a hit-and-run driver while cycling.
Mr Borsari's wife, Fanny, died in 1988.