Circa Early 1900's USI
USI Cycling - A Historic Club With Members From NYC and Westchester
The USI mission as stated in our club constitution and bylaws is to “promote the general welfare socially and competitively among its members and members of similar clubs in the sport of cycling, to cultivate the highest standards of fellowship and sportsmanship among its members and competitors, to develop good citizens from individuals participating in the sport, and to promote a true sense of respect, trust and integrity among its members. The purpose includes encouraging and promoting bicycle racing and to foster educational and training programs for the sport of bicycle racing among club members and the community.”
Our Club History
Founding the Unione and Racing to Prominence
The Unione Sportiva Italiana was organized in 1908 and incorporated in New York State on April 15, 1909. It ﬁrst had its home in Little Italy in Manhattan. The USI name translates as the Italian Sporting Union. As the name implies the club was not just about cycling.
It ﬁrst had its home in Little Italy in Manhattan. The USI name translates as the Italian Sporting Union. As the name implies the club was not just about cycling.
Cycling was one division, and before long became the main activity of the club, but it originally provided members a home to pursue their interests in boxing, rowing, running, basketball, etc, as well as cycling. Within the ﬁrst ten years the cycling division grew to be well known and quite competitive among the best amateur cyclists in the New York Metropolitan area.
Circa 1915, the USI maintained a space located at 410 8th Avenue at 37th Street in Manhattan. The first club cycling champion is Louis Rabbino who won the title in 1915. There are no records for what results determined the championship winner, but racers of the time competed in a variety of cycling contests from distances of 50 yards to 50 miles on public roads, indoors at armories, on hard packed tracks, cinder tracks, horse race tracks, and on board lined banked velodromes. Although we do not have the names of the founders, it is acknowledged that they were primarily new Italian immigrants and Italian-Americans. There were other similar clubs with nationality connections like the German Club, the French Sporting Club, and the Belgian Club as well as clubs that were less speciﬁc such as the Acme Wheelmen who ﬂourished on Long Island and the Century Road Cycling Association based in Manhattan. The USI naturally attracted men of Italian origin, but from these early days it also welcomed anyone who could pedal.
The USI’s second club champion was Nelson Johnson who took the prize three years running from 1916 to 1918. The first USI Cycling Club Champion Louis Rabbino who won the award in 1915, is third from the left and Nelson Johnson, Club Champion from 1916•1918 is the cylist in the USI jersey in the center of photo.
A highlight of the 1916 and 1917 seasons was the USI’s winning of the Goodrich Trophy. The trophy was presented by the Goodrich Tire and Rubber Company for excellence in sport in a given area over the course of a season of competition. The value of the all silver cup at the time was estimated at $400. The winning USI team included members Arthur Nieminsky, Elmer Mullen, Louis Benazzato, Anthony Attardi, George Harvey, and Tom La Rossa.
In 1918 the USI led by a team including Edward C “Teddy” Bendi captured the Italian Gold Cup at the Italian War Beneﬁt Meeting. Teddy Bendi was very important to the development of the USI and his involvement covered the next 50+ years of the club.
By the end of its first ten years the USI had become a recognized power in amateur cycling that attracted talented riders.
The Golden Age of Six Day Racing
It is worth noting that the USI precedes the widespread use of not only our modern clipless pedals, but also the quick release skewer and the derailleur. The original Madison Square Garden built in part to host Six Day Races and located at Madison Park at 26th Street was still in use. It saw a variety of activities from charity events, animal fairs, the circus, and of course, bicycle racing. The Garden was the site for two Six Day Races per year.
It saw a variety of activities from charity events, animal fairs, the circus, and of course, bicycle racing. The Garden was the site for two Six Day Races per year. These were among the most spectacular events staged at the Garden. Originally one rider would complete the entire race, but in a move to make the racing more humane, from the 1890’s on the Six Day Races were contested by teams of two riders each. One of the team’s riders had to remain on track at all times. Distances of 3000 miles and more were completed by winning teams and speeds of 45mph were achieved in the sprints. These races were for professional riders who were the best paid athletes in the period. Top racers were paid in the range of $10-15,000 for competing and putting on a good show in the evenings when the Garden would ﬁll to capacity to see the action. Louis Benezatto, former USI Club Champion for 3 years, was part of the races from 1924 -1926 where he placed with various team partners.
To become a member of the USI a prospective member had to be sponsored and approved by the club. This practice continued on into the post WWII era. In 1920 a young cyclist was sponsored for membership by Teddy Bendi. Otto Eisele Sr. joined the club and in 1921 volunteered to be club secretary. He was to hold the job until he passed away 55 years later in 1976. Otto Eisele, Sr. (nicknamed Spots for the spotted massed start cap he wore racing) would play an enormous role in the history of the USI and amateur cycling at the national level. (Nancy Nieman Baranet, American Bicyclist and Motorcyclist, Racing News column from February 1976) Racing in America was ﬁrst controlled by the League of American Wheelmen which was founded in 1880. There were no professional cyclists. (NYT, Melinda Tuhus, August 2, 1998) By 1893 however there was a professional organization for bicycle racing, the National Cycling Association. (NYT, February 11, 1893). Promising amateur cyclists were made professional by NCA decree whether they liked it or not and through this method the NCA controlled racing and much of the funding to support it. Just as Otto Sr. was entering the sport the movement to separate the amateurs from the professionals was coming to a head. The major cycling clubs from around the United States joined together to form the American Bicycle League (forerunner to the USCF and USA Cycling) to promote and grow amateur competitive cycling. (Nancy Nieman Baranet, American Bicyclist and Motorcyclist, Racing News column from February 1976)
The ABL ran its ﬁrst national championships in Washington, DC in 1921 and USI’s 1921 club champion Arthur Nieminsky won the title.
It was in this period that the USI moved to its most famous location at 254 West 45th St near 6th Avenue. The USI owned the building. It contained club ofﬁces upstairs, a billiard room and gymnasium in the basement, and a restaurant on the ground ﬂoor operated by the La Sportiva Italian Benevolent Society. The club headquarters also had a banquet hall for club dinners and Six Day Race Victory Banquets. The USI had as many as 200 cyclists during this period and was home for the La Sportiva Italian Benevolent Society, known as the Mutual which had in the vicinity of 600 members. (USI 50th Anniversary Banquet Brochure Article by Otto Eisele, Sr.)
There is no known documentation of the Mutual’s work, but through its restaurant it acted as a club sponsor which supplemented the annual membership dues. The Mutual also played a role in assisting Italian-American immigrants. This period in American history saw the quota system to limit the number of immigrants coming to the US. In order to immigrate to the United States a person needed to be sponsored and have employment waiting for them. It is much the same today. The USI restaurant and the Mutual helped immigrants enter the US and provided them with a means to become citizens. The Italian Consulate was involved in the banquets as a guest and supporter.
Prosperity and Depression
Willi Ferrulli: Club Champ 1933-35
Despite the years of the Great Depression things with the USI were going strong. Member Willi Ferrulli was club champ 3 years running in 1933, 34 and 35. At the time the USI had 4 divisions: Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Long Island. Meetings were held each Monday at the club ofﬁces on West 45th St.
The popularity of cycling and of the USI was such that Unione Sportiva Italiana branches were started in different parts of the country by interested cyclists. Among the ﬁrst was a USI in San Francisco which started in 1919, followed by branches in Philadelphia, San Jose and Buffalo. In 1937, the USI left its well loved and much used West 45th Street ofﬁces and moved to West 54th St.
In 1934 Otto Eisele, Sr. who served as the USI delegate to the American Bicycle League was elected president of the organization and he retained the position for the next ten years. Although the Six Day Bicycle Races continued during these years of the Great Depression their popularity was eclipsed by other sports including baseball and auto racing. With the decline of cycling as a professional sport in the United States the National Cycling Association had lost a good deal of its clout, but it still retained membership in the UCI (International Cycling Union) which meant that it had the right to organize and represent the United States in international cycling affairs.
Otto Sr. recognized that the opportunity to keep amateur cycling alive and growing lay in the American Bicycle League (ABL) taking the place of the NCA representing the United States in the UCI. The organization of the Olympic trials for 1936 serves as an example of how the depression affected cycling in the US.
The ABL organized the Olympic trials for 1936. Owing to the lean times and the amateur nature of both the ABL and the Olympic movement, racers were obliged to pay their own way if they wanted to compete at the qualifying sectional and national Olympic selection races. The American Olympic Association would only pay for the riders’ passage to and from Berlin. (The Cycling Bulletin, April, 1936)
1937 Coney Island Velodrome Brochure
A ten year struggle that included reviving the ABL National championship, an alliance and power struggle with the Amateur Athletic Union and recognition by the American Olympic Association (forerunner to the United States Olympic Committee) ended successfully with ABL recognition by the UCI in 1944. (Nancy Nieman Baranet, American Bicyclist and Motorcyclist, Racing News column from February 1976).
Life in War Times and Beyond
Through the 1930’s club racing and championships continued. Of note were long distance rides by member Tom Smerglio, and the feat of member Albert Marquet who rode a measured mile behind a specially prepared racing car to a new record speed of 86.95mph!
Throughout the 1930’s club’s divisions ran race series on many of the roads of New York and continued to host banquets for the Italian riders and victors of the Six Day races at Madison Square Garden. Following upon the Great Depression, the World War II years affected cycling greatly. Otto Sr. noted that at many races during the war years there were more officials than racers. In deference to the members involved in the armed services the club championship was suspended in the years from 1943 to 1946. The club moved its offices during this period to locations at 627 Lexington Avenue, W46th Street, and Bleeker Street. (USI 50th Anniversary Banquet Brochure Article by Otto Eisele, Sr.) The organizational change that came in 1944 when the UCI recognized the ABL meant the American Bicycle League would continue organizing the Olympic trials and this meant that Otto Sr. and the Unione Sportiva Italiana would be involved in their organization. Following WWII, the Six Day races were no longer as popular, and the semi-annual races moved out of the Garden to one of NYC’s armories where dedicated followers could continue to cheer their sport. In 1948 a young rider named Wendell Rollins moved to the area and stayed with the Eiseles. Wendell proved to be better than anyone thought and made the Olympic team as a member of the USI. He was the first USI member on an Olympic cycling squad. (Otto Eisele Jr.)
Post War Prosperity
Due to postwar growth in the NY metropolitan area the racing on the open roads with minimal safeguards became impossible. From the early days of the club’s founding to the 1940’s, open roads were used to stage races with club members marshaling. While searching for safe venues Otto Sr. and Jr. came upon the grounds of the pre-war World’s Fair in Queens to be unused and suitable.
The City of New York was ﬁne with letting the club stage races on the grounds – and allowed them to do so without any fees. A set of lines were painted to create an oval track and this became the site of races including Amateur Bicycle League of America championships and Olympic Trials! The 1950’s opened with Otto Eisele, Jr, taking the club championship in 1950, 51 and 53.
Reﬂecting the prosperity of the post war period the USI enjoyed a resurgence thanks to an inﬂux of young riders and continued guidance by the senior members of the club. Special attention was paid to juniors known as “Midget” Racers with support from honorary member Anthony “Tino” DeAngelis who donated prizes to the club including the all around championship and junior sized race bikes. Names in the roster of winners in 1957 included club champion Robert Frey, Alfred Patti, Jr, as USI Best All Round rider and De Angelis Trophy winner (Alfred also won the ABLA National Midget Class in 1956 and ‘57), and Nancy Burghardt, who won the Girls National Midget Class and was followed home by sister Liz in 3rd place. Albert Borghese won the 1955 ABLA Midget Class and was the winner at the ABLA Nationals in the Junior classiﬁcation in 1957. USI member from Buffalo, NY, Pat De Collibus won the 1957 ABLA Best All Round rider. Many of these young champions were second generation USI members.
In 1958 the USI celebrated its 50th anniversary as a healthy and vibrant premier club in United States cycling. It was active from the local racing scene to the national and international level. As Otto Eisele, Sr. decribed it, USI was one of America’s great cycling clubs. What helped the USI be one of America’s great cycling clubs at its 50th anniversary was both the young riders coming into the sport and the fact that so many of the members who had joined the club in the teens and twenties had transitioned from competitors to administrators. These senior members included Teddy Bendi, Rocky Borghese, Anthony Fiore, Mickey Asarisi, and Anthony Attardi. Dick Power who was a frame builder in NY and allowed the club to use his shop for meetings helped a good deal as well.
The Unione Sportiva Italiana was a city based club. The United States was in transition to a suburban society. By the end of the 1950’s the USI core was moving north toward the suburbs and the transition of the club reﬂected that of the nation.
A New Influx of Racing Talent
The end of the 1950’s and the beginning of the 1960’s saw the continued influx of new racing talent and success by the USI riders. Otto Sr. served as a member of the US Olympic Committee Board of Directors from 1957 – 1964 and oversaw the US Olympic cycling Qualifying in 1960 and 1964. He served as manger for the 1964 US Olympic Cycling team in Tokyo. In 1960 USI member Herbie Francis competed in the 1000m match sprint. In 1961 Robert Frey claimed his 5th consecutive club championship.
In 1960 Nancy Burghardt won the NY State Championship. In the club Liz Burghardt won the USI Women’s Championship, followed by sisters Nancy in second and Barbara in third.
In 1961, Liz Burghardt was the NY State Champion and 2nd at Nationals, with Nancy 3rd at both the State and National Championships. Robert Frey won his 5th consecutive club championship in 1961.
In 1962, one of USI’s most consistent and best male racers through the 1960’s, John Aschen, became men’s club champion, while Jose Nin was NY State Junior Champ and Ray Mazzilli was the NY State and National Midget Champ. Nancy Burghardt won the women’s national championship and Liz finished second.
In 1963 Jose Nin was the National Junior Champion and Herbie Francis was the USI champion.
In 1964 Nancy Burghardt was again National Champion and 17 year old USI member, Oliver Martin became USI Champ and an Olympian competing on the track in Tokyo.
In 1964 the Kissena Velodrome opened. The velodrome was built after the parking lot site in Flushing, Queens was no longer available for bike racing. The city found it was more profitable to have commuters pay to use the area than have bike racers rolling around for free. The agreement was made between the major clubs of New York and the city that if the clubs were able to raise $12,000 the city would build the track. Much to the city’s surprise the clubs succeeded.
Nancy Burghardt won more titles as the decade moved on amassing 9 national titles. Locally, member John Aschen, had great success winning the Tour of Somerville in 1966 and other victories like the 1967 National Capital Open.
Continued Success As The 70’s Began
Members Ronnie Hauser & Mike Caggiano featured in race wins and placings, but there were changes too as the old hands that had guided the club for so long began to leave the scene. The last USI National Champion was Leroy Gatto of San Jose, California who won the 1975 10 mile mass start scratch race.
The USI had been a city based club for most of its existence, but like many Americans the club moved north to the suburbs. Americans who grew up and stayed in the same town and took up the pursuits of their families including the sport of cycling earlier in the century were now moving to new parts of the country. There was less opportunity for the club to have second and third generation cyclists. In 1975 the American Bicycle League of America became the United States Cycling Federation and the name change reﬂected a change in where amateur cycling was centered in the US. Many of the older clubs from the East and Midwest had either shrunken in members and inﬂuence or simply faded away. The German Club, the Belgian Club, the Acme Wheelmen which were NY City based clubs were no more. The CRCA city based club did continue and has thrived. The Kissena club was started in 1963 at the same time as the Velodrome was being set up.
In January of 1976, Otto Eisele Sr. who had served as the USI club secretary, and so much more for 55 years, passed away. He has been fondly remembered by those who had the opportunity to work and ride with him ever since. He was inducted into the Bicycle Hall of Fame in 1994. Otto Sr.’s contribution to the USI is nearly immeasurable and his work through the years helped preserve and shape the course of amateur bicycle racing in America.
Otto Eisele Sr.
Otto Eisele Sr.
A Period of Retraction
The USI had dwindled to a handful of members, but an old friend of the USI was back on the scene to lend a hand.
After Oliver Martin had spent several years at the national level racing had moved on to coaching and headed the United States national programs for a time from the mid to late 70’s. In the early 80’s Oliver was back in New York. He owned and operated a bike shop and recruited a new group to race under the USI banner.
The Manhattan Express 1982 and 1983 USCF team rosters for the USI included old friends like Tony Fiore, veteran competitors Ronnie Hauser and Horace Green, as well as newcomers including Richie DiGiacomo. The Manhattan Express was not long lived, but a USI renaissance was just around the corner.
In 1988 Dave Marinelli, owner of the Metro Cycle Sport bike shop in White Plains requested permission to base the USI from his store on Mamaroneck Avenue.
New Members and New Growth
USI added new members including David Kliger, Thomas Savino, Abdul Kabia, Eduardo Atehortua and Efraim Rojas. All were keen racers and used Metro Cycle as their base, helping to solidify the club in Westchester.
The club soon grew to approximately 25 members, including Mark Lalloo and Karen Bauer, along with others who took turns volunteering to help organize and make the club better.
Karen deserves special credit for taking USI to heart and reaching out to as many of the old timers as she could, while at the same time nurturing the new group of members. Past members like Jack Visco, who raced beginning in the 20’s, John DeLuca and Tony Fiore who raced in the 30’s, and Peter DeBeuk who raced before and after WW II had extensive communication with Karen. They all sincerely appreciated her efforts to help revitalize the club.
Mark has been a key contributor since he joined. He’s led just about every Monday night ride the club has had since 1995 and been Race Director for almost the same amount of time.
The club bylaws were revised in 1995, and USI established itself as a not for profit organization in NY. From 1995 the club grew steadily to over 100 members.
Working with High Caliper Bicycle Company brought the club into contact with store co-owner, Ed Cangialosi, who had done his first rides with the club out of Metro a few years earlier. The club started a monthly time trial series and revived the club championship with a points program designed to give both racers and nonracers the opportunity to compete.
Aside from the lovable mess known that leaves from Cross County Shopping Center and heads up towrds Armonk before turning back south and finishing in New Rochell -- which grew out of the USI ride leaving the Bronx down the street from Otto’s place -- rides were available every day or evening of the week, except Friday.
A new ride was born when Otto and Hilda Monaghan began going out on Tuesday and Thursday mornings on what was quickly dubbed the Unemployment Ride. (It’s amazing how many unemployed members there are when the weather is good.)
The USI was able to stage USCF races at FDR Park in Yorktown Heights, but ironically the success of the race has since made the venue unsuitable with too many racers entering the race for the park to comfortably handle.
During this period the club had its first overall women’s champion in Shari Stillman who competed successfully, and also worked as a USCF coach.
The New Millenium - Celebrating 100 years
The revitalized USI with a growing membership is doing great. We are fortunate to have a wonderful history and great resources at hand.
In 2004, Martin Oliver became the second USI member to be elected to the National Bicycling Hall of Fame. In 2007, Oliver was joined in the Hall by Nancy Burghardt. USI’s Hall of Fame members, Nancy, Oliver and Otto Sr. are typical of USI and reﬂect some of the best aspects of USI’s story.
In the mid 2000s, the women of the club brought home local and National medals. In 2006, Gloria Deucher placed 3rd in the road race at the USA Cycling Masters Road Championships and 5th in the criterium. In 2007, Dale Malkames reversed those results by taking a bronze in the crit and 5th in the road race. Dale upped her game and came back in 2008 for two podium finishes, a silver in the crit and bronze in the road race.
In 2007, the Hudson Valley region hosted the 30th annual Empire State Games during which most of the cycling competitions took place in locations throughout Westchester County. Club member Mark Lalloo, who for several years had served as the Assistant Cycling Coach for the Hudson Valley Region Team, was tapped by Game organizers to coordinate all of the cycling events that year. Mark’s familiarity with local roadways, racers, volunteers and town/county government officials made him the natural candidate for the herculean task. With the help of a huge group of USI member volunteers, the cycling events went off without a hitch. Once again, Dale Malkames brought home medals, taking a gold in the Women’s Masters 45+ Criterium and silver in the road race.
In 2008, USI celebrated 100 years of cycling with a grand centennial banquet at the Roosevelt Ballroom in Yonkers, NY. Over 200 attendees- current and former members, past and present cycling phenoms, families and friends- gathered to look back and celebrate the achievements and contributions that USI and its members have made to the sport of cycling.
2010 saw a resurgence of interest in racing among club members. Those racing in USI blue took wins on the local scene and delivered top ten placings in Central Park, Wantagh, and Prospect Park and various triathlons.
Nancy Burghart at 2008 Centenial Gala
Otto Eisele Jr. at 2008 Centenial Gala
Rob Leggiero Toughman Race 2011 1st-place in our group coed relay team
Nancy Burghart at 2008 Centenial Gala
In more recent years, as members come and go and interest in racing has waxed and waned, USI’s members’ focus has gravitated to recreational (although often race paced!) group rides and volunteer opportunities such as the Jill E. Solomon Bike Helmet Day and marshalling the Sleepy Hollow triathlon. Make no mistake though, there are members who continue to hunt for podium finishes while wearing the USI colors. Charles Seward is a perennial podium presence at Masters races in Georgia. Gil Marrero enjoys track racing in Arizona. Locally, Jay Campbell, Marisol Ruiz and Polly Wright enjoy the challenge of multisport races.
No matter how we spend our time on the bike, USI members are proud to wear the USI colors and to be part of the USI tradition.
A Visual History
Nancy won the National Championships, with her sister Liz, coming in second. St. Louis MO