May is national bike month. But, I’m stretching this national thing to an international event. We’re off to ride a bike in our favorite country – Italy!
The first time you arrive in Vicenza, Italy you will notice all the locals riding bikes. It’s a great way to get around this city. The central part of town is relatively flat so biking is not difficult like it would be in, say, Montepulciano, where you’d be a Tour de France rider if you could bike up those hills!
Upon visiting more towns and cities in Italy I noticed more and more bikes. I took note of each bike – the color, the condition of it, where it was – outside a trendy shop or against a stone wall. My imagination then ran wild, picturing the owner of the bike – stylish women looking very Audrey Hepburn-like, handsome middle aged men in well-tailored suits. I imagined older men wearing beret-style hats and young moms riding with their children. Every bike had a story. And, so I photographed these bikes, hoping to capture a piece of their history.
In Florence, I found a well-cared for bike outside of a trendy women’s boutique. Was she in there shopping? I tried to catch a glimpse. I also noticed a bike in a quiet street, parked near a wall with some interesting graffiti on it. The bike had a basket which was empty, and was in decent, but not great shape. Who did it belong to? I wondered…
Bevagna, a lovely medieval town in the region of Umbria, had me clicking away. A bike by a community board was the first one I noticed. The basket had the rider’s belongings in it. Where was he? But it was the bicycle by the water pipe under some baskets of flowers that really caught my eye – and the bright red/orange one with peeling paint in front of someone’s house with the jacket thrown over the handle bars. So many bikes, so many stories to tell.
A couple of hours wandering the streets of Pienza in Tuscany on a busy Sunday afternoon forced me to flee the hoards of people. I found myself strolling down quieter streets that lead me to… you guessed it – more bikes. A bicycle perfectly positioned near a beautiful wooden door, back tire under the mailbox (filled with mail), front tire under a plant growing out of a recess in the wall. I could barely contain my excitement. The bike, brightly colored in a pinkish-red and blue, was well-used, yet not falling apart. Was the owner inside? Why hadn’t she collected her mail?
But, it all started in Vicenza, a lovely city of about 115,000 people in the Veneto region. The first bike I photographed was a mere half a block from my hotel. I had settled in to the Relais Santa Corona and came out onto the street, camera in hand. I saw this bike – nice brown leather seat, cream-colored, in good shape – locked to a post. It was leaning against a stucco wall. I photographed it. The image of a businessman in a custom suit popped into my mind. Yes, a man like that rode this bike to work each day. Then, the pink bike – a little beat up – looking ready for a ride to the beach. It looked well-loved and I imagined a young, hip woman in sandals and capri pants as the owner. I pictured her riding that pink bike, with not a care in the world, laughing and enjoying life. Everywhere I looked in Vicenza, I saw bikes!
Italy has had a love affair with bicycles for a hundred plus years. Some of it was mere practicality as bikes were simply a great way to get around cheaply. The Giro d’Italia, which began in 1909, is the second most prestigious road bike race. Held late May into early June, this three week stage race is much like the more famous Tour de France. The Italians are out in full force to support the riders, especially the Italian riders.
In 2011 more bikes were sold in Italy than cars. With the price of petrol very high, and Italians becoming a bit more conscientious of environmental issues, bikes made a bit of a resurgence. Heres’ an excerpt from the British Telegraph in October 2012.
In a radical departure for the car-mad country, home to legendary marques such as Fiat, Ferrari and Lamborghini, 1,750,000 bikes were bought in 2011 compared to 1,748,000 motor vehicles.
More than 60 years after the making of ‘The Bicycle Thief’, a classic film about a man desperately hunting for the stolen bike that he needs for work, Italians have also hauled around 200,000 rusty old bikes from their garden sheds and attics and restored them to roadworthiness.
“More and more people are deciding to bring their old models out of the garage or the cellar,” said Pietro Nigrelli, of industry association Confindustria.
Seems the Italian love affair with bicycles is still going strong!