Hot! Chaos Theory

Or How to Ride Your Bike in Italy

To the untrained eye, commuting in Italian towns and cities may seem like one giant cluster. With a crazy mix of cars, pedestrians, cyclists and scooters navigating narrow cobblestone streets, roundabouts, parking wherever a car can fit, and lanes defined only by the size of the vehicle, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to getting from Point A to Point B.

My first weeks in Finale, I cautiously rode my bike though the gauntlet. In the United States, cars don’t see cyclists, or don’t care. I would wait before every turn and ride as fast as I could by cars parked in the road so that cars behind me could pass. Each time I paused to let a pedestrian cross the road or waited for a car to take the intersection, the person would give me an angry “Your not from here” look. Somehow I was disrupting an unspoken code.

Six weeks later, my Italian may be no better, but my riding is. The code is simple – know your place and do not hesitate.

Drivers have an awareness we don’t seem to have in the United States. They are also low in the transportation hierarchy. Bikes, pedestrians, even scooters seem to top the ranks. So if the cars have decided to park on the sidewalks and two up in the streets, go ahead and ride at your pace in the middle of the road. The cars may drive close behind you, but they won’t honk.

Cross intersections, make your turns, and establish your position in the roundabout just as any car would. If you pause, you may as well just grab an espresso at the café and watch everyone else go by. Your view would be the same, you’d have a nice coffee, and no one would honk at you.

Respect the pedestrian, but maintain your position on the road or sidewalk. Here in Italy, a bell actually has a purpose aside from a cheerful hello. A quick “ding” tells the walker to wait before stepping into the road.

And it sounds nicer than a honking horn.

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