I love bicycles. I've had them all my life, and I have one now - a Legnano city bike, a simple one-speed with handbrakes, which I ride to work when I have to teach in the mornings. My hubby bought it for me in 2004, shortly after I arrived in Italy and we married. I remember walking that bike home with my hubby (it wouldn't be fair to ride it when he didn't have one with him), feeling anxious and excited in a way I hadn't felt in years. I love my bike, and I love my hubby's Masi racing bike which he's had since a long time before we met.
I love the zing-zing of the bell when someone needs to pass, and the soft hum of the tires on the pavement. I love the jostling clatter of the frame when a bike hits a bump in the road, and the slowing whirr as the brakes are applied.
I love Italy's understanding of the needs of cyclists. I love the well-maintained cycling paths which were added when the city upgraded the phone and internet lines through the town. I love the spaciousness of the paths and the tree-lined streets they follow. I love that I can ride in the shade almost all the way to work, when the days get too hot. I love the fact that I can ride here safely, along with countless other people who ride to work or for pleasure. There are bike paths almost everywhere, and the city center is largely closed to traffic, ensuring increased safety if I venture there.
I love that most people here understand how to ride properly, and that drivers actually (for the most part, anyway) seem to expect cyclists to be on the road in the first place. I love that cyclists aren't routinely targeted by car or truck drivers out of spite.
I love seeing people of all ages on bikes, from helmeted toddlers on trikes to silver-haired pensioners on old Atala or Sparta city bikes, the latter speeding along with surprising agility and lack of fear. I love the elderly man who sings as he rides along. I love the dashing young man in his impeccably clean business suit, gliding along toward the train station with one pant leg held with a fastener to keep it from getting dirtied on the chain. I even love the women riding in their skirts and high heels (although I'd never try that myself), confident that their gown guards will keep the flowing fabric from tangling in the back wheel.
I love the riders who can steer the bike and hold an umbrella at the same time in the rain. I love the Bici Bus - a long line of little kids riding to and from school together with chaperones keeping them safe - and how excited they all look, round, perpetually delighted faces beneath comically large helmets.
I love the teenagers riding two on a bike, and how creative they can be in finding the configuration which works for them: one on the seat, the other standing and pedaling; one on the handlebars, the other seated; one riding the rack over the back wheel while the other sits toward the front of the saddle. It's unsteady and dangerous, but as long as they're on the path, they're having fun.
I love the riders in lycra, brilliant colors flashing in sunshine or gloom, male and female, young and old. Some are incredibly fit, some are pudgy, some are dreaming of races to win, while others recalling their glory days long past.
I love the fact that I can still start a prolonged debate in my lessons by asking "Who was the better rider: Coppi or Bartali?" The passions still run high even though those riders had their moment in the sun over fifty years ago. Here, it's like it all happened yesterday.
And finally, I love the fact that as I ride, I see all of these things at a comfortable pace: Not too fast, not too slow. Italy from the back of my bike is, quite simply, the Italy I know and love most, and every time I ride, I'm glad to be a part of it.