In 1933, Ernesto Pettazzoni, an engineer from Bologna, Italy, applied for a British patent for his ultra=short-wheelbase semi-recumbent machine, the Velocino. It represented a wheelchair chopped in half, with the seat over the normal-sized rear wheel. The tiny front wheel was about 10 inches in diameter. The handlebar was reversible, giving the option of under-seat steering. Mussolini is said to have commissioned the Velocino as a compact, easily stored urban vehicle. The project attracted a lot of attention but was canceled after Italy entered Word War II.
– Bicycle Design: An Illustrated History, by Tony Hadland, Hans-Erhard Lessing, Nick Clayton, Gary W. Sanderson
Since Ernesto Pettazzoni’s original Velocino was launched and, unfortunately, canceled soon after, several other companies launched bicycles inspired by his design. Union of Holland introduced the ‘Strano’ in 1964 – designed by Bernard Overing of Deventer – and, a year later, inventor Emil Friedman of Germany exhibited a similar machine he called the ‘Donkey.’
In the 1960s, Raleigh brought out various bicycles featuring unusual designs, including a Velocino, but very few were made. A modern version was launched by Italian company Abici recently as a budget bicycle priced around £500, and it has had a favourable reception.
But the most interesting version is undoubtedly the ‘Bye Bike Boy’ which was the only junior size version of the Velocino. It was manufactured in Spain for a short time in the 1980s, made with the American market in mind. I first came across this interesting model at the Metz Museum in New Jersey, USA.
Unfortunately, despite its unique size (36″ long/32″ high), forward-position bottom bracket and stylish curved pedal cranks, plus practical points such as a Torpedo coaster brake, it was not very successful in sales terms. However, it achieved immediate cult status in the USA among bicycle collectors.
1980s Junior Velocino ‘Bye Bike Boy’
with coaster brake
Rear wheel 18″
Front wheel 11″
This junior version of the Velocino is in very good mechanical and cosmetic condition, and ready to ride.
1939 JOHN PLAYER CIGARETTE CARDS: No 30 VELOCINO
The way many of my friends and I learned about bicycles as youngsters was through cigarette cards. No 30 of Players ‘Cycling’ series introduced us to the ‘Italian Velocino Bicycle.’
THE 1930s ITALIAN VELOCINO
1960s UNION STRANO