“No, there are no rules.. perhaps stay on the right side of the roads?” was the sum total of advice and guidance provided by the bicycle hire shop as I rode out into the cobbled streets of Rome last week..
Thankfully, under the guise of family holiday photography, I’d been observing Roman cycling conditions all week and had put together some of my own guidelines, which I’m now going to share:
1. Don’t look like ‘a cyclist’ and act like cycling is normal
I’d been alerted to the possibility of Italian people on bikes looking ‘normal’ by a blog post from my former Chief Executive at (the then) CTC, Kevin Mayne, as he wrote about a recent trip to Verona and the delicious lack of the lycra clad there.
The cobbled, crowded centre of Rome was awash with people on bikes – shopping, delivering, sightseeing and generally getting around on two wheels. They jostled for space with pedestrians and the ever-present motor vehicles, moving together in an admirable mobility ballet. They even did it in the rain..
The Tiber cyclepath was heaving with leisure cyclists on Saturday morning; from families enjoying the sunshine to tourists out on hire bikes, some rather serious sporty types and the older generations of dapper dressers.
2. If you have a car: drive it everywhere and park where you like, particularly in front of ancient monuments.
Like many European cities, Rome has issues with air pollution levels and it’s not hard to see why when you have to squeeze between cars just to cross the road by bike or as a pedestrian. I’m not sure what attracts the Romans to drive, but the €1.20/hour parking charges I saw probably don’t deter them.
On my little potter around the city I stood for a while in this, wondering if this was normal Friday gridlock or if something more tragic had happened. It transpired that some awesome parking had blocked the junction ahead – so awesome that I had to stop and take a photo to show my husband (who I thought might be sick of photos of bikes by this stage in our trip).
3. Look out for signs, symbols or spirit guides to help decifer the rules
I displayed my desperate desire for rules, regulations and British queue forming by standing at this crossing at the end of a segregated cycle path waiting for *something* to happen that would signal my turn for a safe passage across. This didn’t happen so I watched people on bikes go round me, then weave around the cars and just got on with going where they were going. Eventually I caught on and cycled across..
I did find other signs, but unfortunately whoever owns the red pen in Rome was allowed out on their own a little too much for my liking.
If you are wondering where I went, this is an approximation of it – I’m not in complete control of my shiny new Garmin so I think some legs of the route were chopped off. Or I was even more lost that I thought.
Rome is glorious, there is no doubt. This was my third trip to the city and it was as awe inspiringly lovely as ever. I felt safe on my bike on the crowded streets and it was a great way to experience the city. However, my own bottom line for a cycling assessment of anywhere is whether I would cycle with my child there. And on that score Rome fails for me at the moment. It looks like there is significant work ongoing in installing separated paths so I hope one day more people in Rome will choose to cycle and make all Romans healthier, happier and wealthier – something we want for Scotland too