Riding in Italy
Posted by Andy Steves in on September 15, 2010.
Back at Notre Dame, I race on the cycling team. Initially, I considered studying abroad during the fall semester in order to not miss the racing season, but then I would have missed the football games. This year I also made the Irish Guard, which marches during the half-time shows of the Fighting Irish football team. In the end, I figured I could always ride after I’m out of college, but that’s not the case with the Guard. So while I’m here in Rome, my cycling teammates are back representing the Irish in the Midwest Collegiate Cycling Conference and their season is in full swing.
I considered buying a bike before coming over, and after a month without riding I knew I had to. I was tired of running on Roman streets inhaling nothing but diesel exhaust and having smirking Italians step out in front of me on the sidewalk. So, in February, I picked up a mid-level Pinarello. I did some shopping around on the internet, and found a shop on the other side of Rome. I made my way over there one afternoon to the father-son run store. On their website are pictures of the shop all the way back to when it was full with WWII-era bikes 60 years ago. I explained what I wanted: a cheaper but nice bike to ride about 50-60 miles at a time. My size, 60, is somewhat unusual for cycling and they had a 2007 model left over at a substantial discount. It was still in the box and I asked to see it. Simone took me into the back of the shop and picked out a box, opened it up and showed me a beautiful azzurro-and-white Italian-made bicycle. I fell in love at first sight, but knew I should think about it. I took what I learned home and mulled it over for a week.
The next Thursday I called back and asked them to get it ready. I made my way over that afternoon to pick it up between classes. I had to take the metro, then a bus several stops to just outside the ancient city walls. I walked out a proud owner of a new Pinarello.
I took my bike on a maiden voyage. I didn’t really have a plan worked out so I just wandered around the suburbs of Rome on my bike, which wasn’t the safest thing. That was ok with me though because this was the first time I could really lay into it and see how it responded. After I got tired of inhaling exhaust and almost getting killed in intersections, I turned back and made it to my apartment sweaty but alive.
Riding on Roman streets is a rush. In the city, a road bike is faster than cars, much faster than buses, but not as fast as the hoards of motorinos (scooters). Add rough cobblestones, unfamiliar streets, and pedestrians to the mix and you've got the Roman system. I am a foreign object on these streets and I am treated as such. No Italian cyclists are ever seen in downtown Rome and now I know that’s for a good reason. I survived though, and it was fun. I carried my bike up the steps into the hallway of my last class of the day, Theology, where instead of taking notes I just admired my new ride through the open door way.
I figured I could find a club or team and really get to know some Italians with the same interest as me. Realistically, that has not been the case. I’m usually out of town on the weekends, when the organized rides from the bike store run, and anytime I’m not, it is rare to be in riding form at 8:30 on Sunday mornings. Regardless, I’ve gone on a few rides and found a favorite route. I head north out of Rome to a lake about 25 miles out called Lago Bracciano. While Italian roads are smaller, I’ve noticed Italian drivers give me more space when passing, going far into the other lane. I’ve had a great time so far, and you’ll read more about my rides soon.
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