Based on Luigi Bartolini's novel, a poor man with a family gets a job but loses it because his bicycle is stolen.
Many unemployed want work. Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) is called for a job because he is a brick-layer; but he needs a bicycle. Antonio tells his wife Maria (Lianella Carell), and they carry water home. She sells their sheets for 7,500 lira, and he buys a bicycle for 6,500. Antonio reports to work with his bicycle and is given clothes. Maria gives La Santona fifty lira because she predicted that he would get a job. Antonio wears his uniform and rides to work on his bicycle. He uses a ladder and is shown how to put up posters.
A man takes Antonio's bicycle, and he chases him; but the thief gets away. Antonio reports the crime to the police. Antonio meets his son Bruno (Enzo Staiola), and they walk home. Antonio goes to Baiocco for help in looking for the bicycle.
The next day they look for the parts, and Bruno knows the serial number. Antonio sees a frame being painted and gets a cop so that he can examine the serial number, but that is not the one.
On a rainy Sunday, Antonio and Bruno look. Antonio sees the thief, who runs away. They follow the old man he was talking with into a church. Antonio wants him to show him where the man lives and offers to pay him; but the old man escapes, and they disrupt the church service looking for him.
Antonio scolds Bruno, who gets upset. They find each other and go to a restaurant to eat. Antonio says everything has a cure except death. They go to see La Santona and sit up front. She says they will find the bicycle now or not at all. Outside Antonio sees the thief and follows him into a dining room. Antonio grabs him and demands his bicycle. A crowd gathers, and they argue. Bruno brings a policeman. The thief's mother says he has a clean record, and the policeman goes to search their house. They find nothing, and the policeman asks Antonio if he has any witnesses. Having none but himself, Antonio and Bruno leave. Antonio watches bicyclers and tells Bruno to take a street car. Antonio steals a bicycle, but men run after him and catch him. They want to take him to the police, but the owner says to let him go. Antonio and Bruno walk home.
Director Vittoria De Sica used amateur actors and outdoor
scenes in this neo-realistic drama about the desperate economic
plight in Italy after the war, showing how fragile making a living
can be when one lives on the edge of poverty.