Oh man, I hate cycling in Italy. Inside cities it’s all right, but that accounts for about 5% of the time. The rest of the time I’m out cycling between cities. On these roads you might never see another cyclist. And some of the few cyclists I’ve seen have been cycling on the wrong side of the road. Idiots.
Does anyone remember this picture from the last time I was cycling in Italy?
There are a couple of things to be said about terrible roads and terrible drivers, of which Italy has unfortunately acquired both. And when I say terrible roads, I mean terrible roads for cycling.
An example of a terrible road might look like this…
Now, I’ve cycled on much, much worse roads than this…it’s just an example of a typical road here. There is no space to cycle at the side (if you’re from the UK this probably looks about right). Unlike in most of Europe, at least on busier roads, the main roads in Italy rarely give any space at the side of the road. The roads are also quite narrow, which means that at a push you can barely get two lorries side by side, but nothing else. So if you’re on this road and happen to be in the process of being overtaken by a lorry, and another lorry is on the opposite side, you’re in trouble. Here’s an example of a good road, in Spain.
Everything to the right of that yellow line is empty road space. There is so much room at the side of the road, I’ve basically got my own lane.
I like to think I’m quite high up on the “road bravery” scale for a cyclist. And so I really fear for those doomed cyclists at the other end, who will never get on a bicycle again. Many people here have told me they would cycle but don’t want to because the roads are too dangerous. And upon questioning many say if there were cycle paths they would cycle more.
Anyway, whilst sitting in a field contemplating taking the train to save my life, I noticed there was a small patch of bamboo growing at the end of the field. I had a eureka moment…
At first I was sceptical that a piece of old t-shirt stuck on the end of a stick would work but I had run out of options so it was this or the train. Not only did it work, people were giving me way more room than necessary. Perhaps it’s jagged nature induces fear of a tiny scratch? Or maybe the material is not clear when approaching at speed? Either way, I’m happy.
It reminds me of a cyclist I met many years ago who explained to me that most of the dangers of recumbent cycling (on funny looking lying-down style bikes), are myths. On a recumbent bicycle you are very low down and it is often thought that somebody might not see you and crush you. But the opposite is in fact true.
Most drivers when they see a cyclist don’t disengage from autopilot mode. They just think “cyclist”. This then engages whatever they deem as acceptable behaviour to overtake a cyclist. In some countries, such as Spain and France, where giving space to cyclists is promoted well, and with signage, people usually give a wide arc of space around the cyclist (it’s supposed to by 1.5 metres distance between cyclist and vehicle). This is considered normal, let’s say.
In other countries, like Italy, Poland, Portugal and the UK it’s considered “normal” to just squeeze past cyclists and give hardly any space; for as long as the cyclist is still alive, that’s fine right? (hint: no).
Cycling a recumbent throws everything off. Drivers don’t autopilot into “cyclist” mode; they think “what the hell is that?” It results in them giving more space: much like seeing a pile of unknown material on the road, or a dog.
So perhaps there is an element of “what the hell is that?” involved with my gypsy flag pole. Or not. What do you think?