Updated July 11, 2020
The first part of this article relied primarily on the 335 page parts catalog published by Emilio Bozzi SpA in 1950. As discussed, there was a remarkable similarity in the overall design of steel cranksets for several decades and most people would require a brand engraving to tell one from the other. The shape or pattern of the chainring webbing is one area where there were some differences and the basis for my understanding to date that it was Way-Assauto that supplied the cranksets to Legnano.
However let’s continue on to see if we can reach a more rigorous summary of which company, Way-Assauto or Magistroni, was the predominant if not exclusive supplier of cranksets to Legnano. A wild card that has popped into my mind from time to time, is there a chance that Legnano produced their own cranksets? Let’s leave that thought for a moment but keep it in mind as we move along.
For the second part of this article we are going to take a look at the images of both Way-Assauto, Magistroni and Legnano branded cranksets over the years to consider similarities, differences and the production detailing. There are a few other segues that I will pose related to relationships and production that are also worth noting. So this second part has been written as a series of ‘observations’ rather than a continuous narrative. The title of each gives the ‘advantage’ to either Way-Assauto or Magistroni as the manufacturer.
The Making of Steel Cranksets
In the discussion that follows, it may be helpful to some readers to provide a brief overview of how steel crankset are produced. The crank arms use the hot forging process as well described in this Wikipedia reference,
Forging is a manufacturing process involving the shaping of metal using localized compressive forces. The blows are delivered with a hammer (often a power hammer) or a die. Forging is often classified according to the temperature at which it is performed: cold forging (a type of cold working), warm forging, or hot forging (a type of hot working). For the latter two, the metal is heated, usually in a forge. Forged parts can range in weight from less than a kilogram to hundreds of metric tons. Forging has been done by smiths for millennia; the traditional products were kitchenware, hardware, hand tools, edged weapons, cymbals, and jewellery. Since the Industrial Revolution, forged parts are widely used in mechanisms and machines wherever a component requires high strength; such forgings usually require further processing (such as machining) to achieve a finished part.
The forging process greatly enhances the strength of the steel and also make it less brittle, two attributes that are important to a crank arm so that it does not bend or snap. After the arms are forged there is quite a significant amount of machining required to complete the crank arm. Holes for the bottom bracket axles have to be drilled and reamed for accuracy and concentricity, the same for the cotter that secures the crank to the axle. The holes for the pedals have to be drilled and threaded. And the outside faces of the crank have to be machined and ground to achieve the finished dimensions, brand images stamped and finally chrome plated for appearance and to minimize corrosion.
The steel chainrings are produced using the metal stamping process in a complex progressive die that begins with a flat sheet of steel that removes the metal in a serious of steps until the final shape is completed. Metal stamping tools must be very accurately made and as a result are expensive to build for high-quality parts. Following the stamping process there are still several machining operation required to complete the part including the thinning of the ring on either side of the chainring teeth. All of this work must be highly accurate to produce a high-quality crankset suitable for competitive use.
As time went on and production costs increased along with a more competitive market, the manufacturers of cranksets began to reduce where possible the post-forging machining operations. The quality of chrome plating also saw a quality reduction. And you will see this in the examples that follow. The steel cranks from the 40’s and early 50’s with flutes and tapers on the front and sides of the arms were simplified or eliminated altogether in the late 50’s and 60’s before coming to end with the wide spread production and acceptance of forged aluminium cranksets from Campagnolo, Sugino, Shimano, Stronglight, Zeus, etc.
I began my working life as a tool and die maker almost 50 years ago. I enjoy looking at the early steel cranksets, envisioning the many different machine setups required and counting in my mind the number of individual steps that were necessary to achieve the finished product. Traces of tool marks, fit and finish are the legacy of the many different people that performed the various machining operations. And holding these old parts in my hand I can almost hear the voices of these skilled men and women that linger in these artifacts of another time.
1958 Legnano ‘Two Prong’ Crankset (Advantage Way-Assauto)
This ‘two prong’ design or ‘guarnitura 2 bracci’ as it is described in the 1950 Bozzi part’s catalog was described for the Legnano Roma model however it was also fitted to the Gran Premio model that came to market in 1957/58 (and I suspect the sample in the photo below was once fitted to a Gran Premio). As you can see in the second photo below, the third attachment point for the chainrings was to a threaded boss on the back side of the crank arm in lieu of a third prong or ‘bracci’.
By 1960/61 it seems that Legnano abandoned this ‘two prong’ design for the more popular ‘three prong’ design that they also produced and was more common to the rest of the industry. It is worth noting that the Simplex (Italian production) conversion kit with aluminium chainrings was a popular choice with competitive cyclists however it would not fit the unique ‘two prong’ design that Legnano had employed. This can be seen in the fourth photo below that is original to a 1958 Legnano Roma in my collection.
To date I have not seen this ‘two prong’ design on any bike other than a Legnano, including Frejus the other Emilio Bozzi brand. If anyone has a visual reference beyond Legnano, particularly if it carries the logo of a different brand, I would greatly appreciate if you could pass it along to email@example.com.
Before leaving our discussion on this crankset, it is worth noting the crankset in the 1924 Legnano catalog (two images above) also appears to be a ‘two prong’ design with the third attachment to the inside face of the arm. The 1924 Catalog also notes this crankset was common to some of the Wolsit models, both brands produced in the same factory. Perhaps this ‘two prong’ crankset design was a long-standing Legnano or Bozzi creation? Were the cranksets in 1924 made by the same factory as those made for Legnano in 1958? Were there multiple suppliers to Legnano?
1958 Legnano ‘Three Prong’ Crankset (Advantage Magistroni)
The Legnano branded crankset in the photo below is fitted to an original 1958 Roma and is worth noting. It is also fitted with the aforementioned Italian made Simplex spiders and aluminium chainrings that predated the first forged aluminium crankset from Campagnolo in 1958.
Firstly, there is no groove or fluting on the face (or sides) of the crank arms and this is a significant exception for both Way-Assauto and Magistroni in these years. This clearly is a ‘corsa’ crank arm so why would they produce one with the groove and one without the groove on the arm in the same year? Unless they came from different suppliers?
Secondly, let’s consider the cutouts on the three prongs that run off the arm to support the chainring mounting. This cutout pattern is similar (if the hole and teardrop were connected) but not identical to Magistroni or Agrati, Gnutti and F.B. And there is also a ‘crispness’ to the edges of this crankset relative to the other 1958 Legnano crankset in the prior discussion. The bottom bracket axles also exhibits details that are more similar to Magistroni than Way-Assauto. It’s a bit of a coin toss but I will give the advantage here to Magistroni.
1950|60s Legnano and Way-Assauto Crankset (Advantage Way-Assauto)
The two photos below are courtesy of a recent eBay listing that is timely to this discussion as I have not come across many images of cranksets produced by Way-Assauto that are engraved with their brand or logo. You can also see in the image below that the drive side crank carries the Legnano branding. The Legnano drive side crank is most likely from one of the better city bike models as it has 42 teeth, the common gearing for city bikes.
So here we have a Way-Assauto crank arm side by side with a Legnano branded crank arm. They appear to be identical so is this not the conclusive proof that we are looking for to confirm that Way-Assauto was the crankset supplier to Legnano? Yes, but perhaps not completely if we take a really close look at the two arms.
We know these cranks arms are mismatched and did not come from the same bike. And from the overall detailing and proportions I believe the drive side crank is older than the Way-Assauto branded crank. One of the changes over the years from the mid-40’s onward is that the steel arms started to get a little wider and also a little less ‘shapely’ for lack of a better word.
Let’s take a look at the back side of the two arms in the photo above. Here you can clearly see the thinner arm width of the Legnano branded drive side crank. And overall it is also a little ‘crisper’ and more refined looking. This more defined geometry is a function of the machining and finishing that takes place after the crank arms are forged and is more characteristic of earlier steel cranksets.
Legnano 1966 (Advantage Way-Assauto)
In 1962-63 when Legnano opened their new 240,000 square foot factory on the Strade Statale 527 in Legnano, annual production was approximately 150,000 bicycles per year and sold worldwide in 62 countries. That’s a lot of cranksets for both city bikes and corsa models. And it raises the question as to which crankset manufacturer had the production capability to support that supply requirement, was there more than one supplier and is there a possibility that cranksets were produced internally at the Legnano factory itself?
There is an excellent historical account of Magistroni by Robert Cobcroft on the Velo Aficionado website that I will reference in a few discussions during this article. The history presented by Cobcroft suggests that Magistroni had several financial ups and downs after its founding in 1921, facing liquidation in 1934, internal corruption in 1942 and some stability after 1946 under the leadership of Emilio Giostra for the next 20 years until struggling in the mid 60’s to compete against Campagnolo with the end of their crankset production in the late 60’s.
The point being, did Magistroni have the scale and stability to support Legnano as a primary supplier and why would Magistroni be struggling to produce in the 60s when Legnano was producing 150,000 bicycles a year. Something doesn’t quite align here and it is one reason that has led me to believe that Magistroni did not supply Legnano or they were a very minor supplier at best.
This next Legnano branded crankset from 1966 is a common fitting to Gran Premio models through the 60s as well as some Roma Olimpiade models that were not fitted with forged aluminium Campagnolo cranksets (beginning in 1958) in order to ‘detune’ or lower the Roma pricing for some markets and customers.
The first image above is courtesy of a recent eBay listing and the seller describes it as a Legnano-branded Magistroni crankset. It is probably the two grooves or flutes on the arm that has led the seller to believe it was produced by Magistroni. The second image above is a Magistroni crankset from the same era so we can see why the seller may have made this observation however the differences are significant in both the machining/finishing quality and the cutouts on the three prongs.
We can also see the aforementioned reduction in the post-forging machining work on this 1966 Legnano branded crankset. The machining of the chainring on either side of the teeth has been eliminated and the edges around the crank arm have a simple rounding that may have been done freehand on a grinding wheel rather than precisely machined.
Also, on the back side of the Legnano-branded crank the rough surface is representative of the forging process that has not been machined or ground smooth prior to the plating operation. To the best of my knowledge, Magistroni did not take these types of short cuts in machining and finishing for as long as they remained in business.
What we can also see on this Legnano branded crankset are the two-digit numerical stampings that designate the production year, in this case 1966. This is very common to Legnano branded cranksets through the 50’s and 60’s however it is not something that I have come across with any frequency on Magistroni cranksets. I have also not come across Magistroni cranksets that did not have a Magistroni engraving somewhere (ie. back side of the arms) even if they carried a bicycle brand on the front of the arms.
So to update the assessment based on these cranksets, I remain doubtful that Magistroni supplied Legnano through the 1960’s and that it was either Way-Assauto or they ‘may’ have been produced by Legnano in there own factory. As unlikely as it may seem that Legnano engaged in hot forging, I am going to leave the door open on that possibility given the scale of Bozzi’s manufacturing operation.
Magistroni Crankset Branded for Frejus (Advantage Way-Assauto)
This is a good time for a sidebar that is curious to say the least. Frejus was the other Bozzi brand with a long history of cycling victories and champions including Guiseppe Olmo, Cino Cinelli and Gino Bartali. The Frejus brand was founded by Emmo Ghelfi in 1896 and based in Torino. In 1946 Emilio Bozzi acquired the Frejus brand and I would assume that production was moved to the factory at Via XX Settembre were the Legnano and Wolsit brands were produced.
In the first two photos above we can see the detailing that is typical of a Magistroni crankset as previously discussed. And in the last photo we see the L.Magistroni (Luigi Magistroni) brand stamped on the back side of the arms.
So if Emilio Bozzi owns both brands and they are produced in the same factory, why would Frejus be fitted with Magistroni cranks and Legnano with another make? Here it comes down to timing. In 1934 Magistroni was in a financial crisis and the company re-emerged as L.Magistroni.
In 1946, Emilio Giostra takes the helm of Magistroni and the ‘Merry-go-Round’ logo (the translation for Giostra) is registered in 1947 and begins to be engraved on Magistroni cranksets. Based on this timing, the Frejus branded Magistroni cranks in the photos above would date to 1946 or earlier and prior to Emilio Bozzi’s acquisition of the Frejus brand.
I am speculating here that Bozzi’s acquisition of the Frejus brand in 1946, the same year that Giostra takes the helm at Magistroni, and the movement of Frejus production shortly thereafter to the Legnano-Wolsit factory may also have been the end (more or less) of Magistroni cranksets being fitted to Frejus bicycles.
Frejus, Torpado and Legnano Branded Cranksets
As we push towards a summary of this article, let’s take a look at three identical steel cranksets that are branded for Frejus, Torpado and Legnano that I would date in all cases to the later half of the 1950’s to very early 1960’s.
First. This beautifully restored Frejus on the Flikr site of Jonathan Stacey. The crankset is branded for Frejus however it is clearly not of the Magistroni style or the same as any Magistroni branded crankset that I have seen. However it is very much conforms to the design and detailing of the Legnano branded cranksets of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Above is the exact same crankset branded for Torpado as branded for Frejus in the first two photos of Jonathan Stacey’s bike.
Above is the identical crankset branded for Legnano on this 1961 Gran Premio in my collection.
I will continue to search the internet to see if this same crankset was branded for any of the other Italian marques however the Torpado branded model is important. Important because it would strongly suggest that these cranksets were not produced in the Legnano factory, a door that I have left open to this point in time however it is closing.
Yes, the Legnano factory ‘could’ have made cranksets and ‘perhaps’ sold them to others however it does not follow the bicycle industry practices of the time in Italy. The production facilities of Legnano were substantial, however hot steel forging is a speciality process that is very different from frame building and why would Legnano take to produce this one specialized component when every other component on their bicycles were made by others. Door closed.
‘Movimento Centrale’ or Bottom Brackets (Advantage Way-Assauto)
This is the last touchpoint before summarizing this article however it is an important one. Cranksets and bottom brackets have always been a ‘package’ on older Italian bicycles (as well as other countries) to the best of my knowledge. Magistroni cranks used Magistroni bottom brackets. FB with FB, Gnutti with Gnutti and so on. And of course this was also the case with Campagnolo when they introduced their first forged aluminium crankset in 1958 and it remains that way today.
The first photo above is a complete Magistroni bottom bracket that that may well have been paired up with the L.Magistroni crankset that was shown earlier in this article. The next two photos show both the drive side and the non-drive side ‘cups’ of another Magistroni bottom bracket fitted to the same bike.
The significance here is that I have never come across a Magistroni bottom bracket or their parts that are not branded Magistroni in one way or in some place or the other. In contrast, of all the Legnano bicycles that I have disassembled, restored and reviewed over the years I have never come across a Magistroni brand on a single bottom bracket cup or axle.
Magistroni was ‘a brand’ that was known for quality and well respected by the cycling community. Everything they produced including headsets, cranksets and bottom brackets were engraved with the Magistroni name. This is not dissimilar to the brake sets from Universal that dominated the market and competitive cycling until Campagnolo arrived with their first sidepull brakeset in 1968. And every set of Universal brake callipers were engraved ‘Universal’ for upwards of 50+ years and if they did brand their brakes for any of the Italian bike brands, they never did it for Legnano if they did it at all.
The point being, if Magistroni was the primary supplier to Legnano of cranksets and bottom brackets why would they remove their branding given their strong reputation and why would Legnano want to have it removed for the same reason. Cinelli steel stems were branded for Legnano and fitted to both Roma and Gran Premio models however the stems were also engraved with the Cinelli logo. The same was true of Campagnolo branding the barrels of the first record alumunium hubs for Legnano (and others) however the quick-release levers still carried the Campagnolo branding. It just isn’t plausible.
The Summary at Last
We have covered a lot of ground in this two part article and it may not have been quite as linear as I would have liked however the topic is a bit of a tangle to be sure in the absence of clear records and the passing of time. So ‘who done it’ as a mystery novel would put it? The ‘wild card’ was the possibility that Legnano produced their own cranksets however was not the case or so highly unlikely to not be a plausible result.
Prior to beginning this article it was my opinion that Way-Assauto supplied the cranksets to Legnano and after doing my best to further unravel the question once again, I have returned to that conclusion.
Way-Assauto was founded in 1906 as a partnership between Luigi Way and Alberto Assauto. A brief sketch of the history can be found here on this website. W.A. as it was also known was a large manufacturer that produced a wide variety of mechanical, automotive and bicycle components. The picture below of W.A. in 1915 with the factories converted to wartime production and worked by women gives you some sense of their scale.
Way-Assauto remains today as a manufacturer of shock absorbers however the production of bicycle components came to an end in 1971. It was also about 1971 that many things were changing and winding down at Legnano as competition from Japanese companies such as Shimano, Suntour, Sugino, etc. eroded the traditional base of business that Italian makers had dominated for decades.
With the passage of so many years, it is always difficult to be definitive and it is no different with Legnano. It may well be that that Magistroni, F.B., or Gnutti cranks were fitted to some Legnano bicycles. I have come to find that exceptions abound to be sure and I have also seen Legnano road bikes fitted with Nervar cranks however I have never been able to verify if these were factory fittings or modifications.
As the 1970’s moved on, Legnano road bikes began to be fitted with OFMEGA cranksets on mid-range corsa models. Campagnolo Nuovo Gran Sport cranksets were fitted to the Gran Premio model as it struggled to hang on to an audience. And Campagnolo Nuovo Record cranksets were standard on the Legnano Olimpiade Specialissima model throughout the 70s. Come the 1980s Legnano was a shadow of its former self, it was acquired by Bianchi perhaps as a final competitive victory, if not on the road then in business. And the rest as they say is history.
p.s. If a reader should come across a crankset bearing the Way-Assauto brand, I would be very appreciative if they could forward a photo along to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Prior to 1946, Frejus depended mostly on Siamt for there chainsets as Ghelfi favored other Torinese manufacturers. That said, I do not believe Frejus, or any other bicycle brand for that matter, relied on any one OEM supplier. Single-sourcing, then, like now, makes little sense in running a business, there is too much risk in supplier disruption. So my personal belief is yes, Magistroni, Way-Assauto and even Legnano in-house production is likely until there is definitive proof to say no, it didn’t happen. And on a side note, side by side comparisons may or may not be helpful in that Legnano certainly commanded enough volume for their own dedicated tooling at an OEM. There is no reason that the design for the Legnano dedicated tool needs to be the same as a different brand.
You make a very good point particularly when one considers the scale of production and the wide range of models from children’s bikes to city bikes and road bikes that Legnano produced. It would seem somewhat logical (perhaps) that if there were different chainset suppliers to Legnano (as well as in-house production) it may have been outsourced around model types rather than different chainset suppliers for a specific model or model group. This strategy would also facilitate costing/pricing structures.
Now having said that, history would show that Bozzi was very committed to many suppliers for decades including Campagnolo, Universal, Fiamme, Regina and Way-Assauto across many of the model lines for many years. That commitment would appear to have waned in the late 70’s with the need to reduce production costs and remain competitive (or try) with the Japanese manufacturers that were changing the industry. In the end Legnano and many other historical Italian brands lost that battle or survived in name only.
Thanks for posting,