Thursday, 8 August 2013

Get on your bike and ride!

For the first time in a quarter of a century I do not own a car.

I am, however, the proud owner of a new bicycle. Living in the north-east of Italy, in the Po delta, which is as flat as the majority of the Netherlands (if you ignore the few bumps that contribute to the Euganean Hills), it makes sense to cycle. Apart from the odd railway bridge, litte exertion is required. 




That does not mean that cycling in Polesine is an easy affair; far from it. Unlike in the Netherlands, where cyclists have priority and roads are designed with cyclists firmly in mind, cycling in Italy can be hazardous. For a start there are the Italian drivers. Many things about Italians are mythical - they are not all fashionable, sexy creatures who pinch your bottom on the metro for example - the manner in which they drive is not. Those stems that sprout from the side of the steering column - never used. The two lane method of going round a roundabout - you know, if you're turning left (remember this is for driving on the right hand side of the road), take the left lane and then move over to the right hand lane in order to exit - what's that then? There is only one lane and that's the right hand lane, wherever you may be going. Driving really close to your handlebars, using their horns for no apparent reason (other than a lazy man's doorbell - I mean why get out of the car and knock on the door, when you can blast your horn loudly until someone comes to see who it is) and driving at speeds down narrow country roads that would make any racing driver think twice, are par for the course. It makes cycling a heart-stopping affair at times, and that is without taking into consideration the other cyclists who take up the space on the edge of your side of the road by coming towards you in the wrong direction.

Parts of the area are cycle-friendly. You can gently wheel your way along the side of the river Po in the Taglio di Po area, taking in the wide river and the attractive villas that line its banks. In Rovigo centre there are some cycle lanes to help you avoid the horrible series of roundabouts, and there are loads of places to park your bicycle at no cost, allowing you to get right into the centre of the town. Cycling is not all bad, and there are few instances of bike theft of which I am aware. The latter may be down to the average age and condition of the bicycles on offer.

Not much cushioning on this saddle
but then it is the grandfather's bike
and well over 30 years' old.
My partner rides around on his grandfather's bicycle. His grandfather has been dead for 28 years. My previous bicycles were bought second hand and have to be at least 20 years old. I like the most recent bicycle, it just let me down once too often this week. It is securely chained to a lamp-post along with all the other bicycles with flat tyres and loose chains. I will recover it, patch it up and use it as a back-up bicycle or for times when a clanky, old rust-bucket is more appropriate than a shiny, purple affair. And that is what you find at the bicycle mooring points in the towns. A large number of old, tired-looking machines interspersed with the occasional gleaming number. Your bicycle should last you a lifetime, or at least a minimum of 20 years. The bikes I see the teenage girls pedalling around on now - I expect to see the same bicycle with a baby seat on it in 10-15 years' time.

We must, sadly, look at the safety aspect of cycling, and not just in Polesine. It would be decidedly safer here if the roads and cycle paths were in better condition. When my bicycle had seen fit to leave me with a several kilometre walk the other day, I came across an accident on the cycle path. I don't know how it occurred - whether the bicycle had failed, the poor cycle lane surface or another cyclist was to blame - but an old man was lying on the ground, his head having hit the kerb that separates the cycle lane from the path for pedestrians. He was out cold. A number of other cyclists had stopped to assist, call an ambulance etc. but the fact remains he wasn't wearing a helmet and his head had hit the ground. That is not a good scenario, and it can happen anywhere.

On one of my second-hand bikes,
with wide-brimmed hat




Damaging my brain is something I am concerned about, and yet I cycle without a helmet. There are two reasons for this a) as a fair skinned English girl with red hair, I burn; I need a hat with a brim to stop me getting sunstroke; b) bike helmets look shit. The only time a bike helmet doesn't look like the worst possible attire, is when the rest of the body is clad in THE worst possible attire - lycra. For someone who values her measly brain so much, you'd think I'd put such concerns aside. Sorry, but no. I have just decided to cycle slower until such time as I get to Milan....







Oh yes! To say I am excited is putting it mildly. There is a range of bike helmets that look far from shit and I'm going to get myself one. Then I am going to ask the family to get me others from the range so that I have all seasons and possible clothing combos covered. Yakkay are the chaps to go to. Soon my brain and my style will be safe again (what little I have of either).
Happy Days! Keep cycling and be safe. :)
That is a cycle helmet she's got on - who'd have thought?
This is my choice for the winter look.
http://www.yakkay.com/Webshop/50-Luzern-Black/
Smart, stylish, multi-coloured - the spring/autumn look
(I can also channel my inner Miss Marple with this one)
http://www.yakkay.com/Webshop/56-Tokyo-Pink-Jazz/
It's got a brim and it's got Swarovski crystals.
I'm thinking summer for this one.
http://www.yakkay.com/Webshop/53-Milano-made-with-SWAROVSKI-ELEMENTS/

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