Cycling in Italy

9 10 2008

Cycling in Italy is fun when you see the new Ferrari and the driver gives you a thumbs up

Cycling in Italy is no fun when drivers of crappy little Mercedes cars don’t see you

A Wilier like mine

A) a Wilier Triestina like mine

B) My Canada team kit

B) My Canada Olympic Team kit

I think I am noticeable with my flashy bike and cycling kit.
I tend to attract a lot of attention when I ride around town and in the country. The area where I live is one of the cycling meccas of southern Italy and there are many cycling tourists from around the world, especially in the spring, who want to chat about the local routes when we meet along the roads. Drivers will often wave from their cars as well. I have even had my picture taken by some hikers as I whizzed by.
like my Wilier, world championship Italian performance

Ferrari California: like my Wilier, world champion Italian performance

On Tuesday afternoon, I happened to come upon the road tests for the new Ferrari California. As I was pedaling home, I saw one red Ferrari after another – and not your garden variety Magnum PI models.The first driver recognized the spiritual kinship between our two examples of world-beating Italian performance engineering, slowing down on the curve to give me a thumbs up as I passed. The second driver went by at mach speed…
After all that excitement and 50 windy kms of exercise, I arrived back in town and discovered that I had become invisible. A couple of cars cut me off on the main road – one genius drove across from the other lane and parked in front of me at a 90 degree angle. Tired and irritated, I was glad to get on my quiet little street and relax for the final few metres back home…
Alas, as I coasted up to my front door, some clown in a Mercedes A-class roared down the street at full blast. There no place to hide – typical of a narrow Italian side street, there were parked cars everywhere. The car slowed down – to 30 kmh – but I was getting squeezed between the pretentious minicar and a parked Lancia. The only place to go was up.
Some gymnast like balance, honed over years of cycling, along with some choice Italian obscenities saved my skin (and attracted a crowd on the neighbouring balconies) but it was a close call. As they say, most accidents happen close to home.
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Don’t Complain, Just Run!

22 06 2008

Not much space or consideration for pedestrians in Italy

My brother, a noted coffee-mug connoisseur, had a cup that warned “If you don’t like the way I drive get off the sidewalk.” There’s no question that bad drivers are everywhere – it’s just that the proportion here in Italy seems to be higher; a consequence of the cult of the guida sportiva where every Panda owner tries to take the racing line into sharp curves on ancient roads. When she went to Canada for the first time, my wife was surprised at the high percentage of people who would crawl through deserted streets at a snail’s pace, respecting all the four-way stops, and even using turn signals.

In particular, crossing the street in Italy is always a challenge. The tendency of the average driver is to estimate your expected progress at the time they will pass the intersection so that the car is able to pass 4 cm to your left or right without stopping. The problems come when the driver is distracted, especially by one or more of their cellphones. I’ve seen people controlling their Mercedes with their elbows while speaking on two mobiles simultaneously.

With all the potential perils, I tend to be very assertive when riding my bike or crossing the street: a loud “attenzione” tends to wake up the inattentive conducente. However, such an approach seems to have its dangers. The newspaper La Repubblica is reporting this morning that a pedestrian who complained about an aggressive manuever by a driver on the outskirts of Milan was grabbed by the occupants of the Audi, carried away in the car, and beaten with a baseball bat. The lesson seems to be that if they don’t hit you, just be thankful.