Enough people tried to kill me on my bike ride home on Thursday evening to make me completely lose faith in mankind. There's something about the sight of a cyclist that turns ordinarily calm drivers into lunatics who swerve all over the road, ignore give-ways and stop indicating. Oh, I forgot, that's just normal Italian driving. What I meant to say is that 'normal' drivers become mysteriously enraged by cyclists who obviously have no right to take up so much of the road and who are guilty of that most heinous of crimes: delaying a driver's journey by about 30 seconds. Grrrrrr.
Last week I bit the bullet and bought a cycle helmet. I know it's the right thing to do, but that still doesn't stop me from looking and feeling like an arse. Unfortunately, feeling like an arse makes me doubly mad with inconsiderate drivers. At a crossroads the other day, a guy in a Mercedes turned in front of me and almost knocked me over. I yelled at him in a mix of English and garbled Italian (Italian swearing is great and much more creative than Anglo swearing but hard to do when you can't think straight from being all fired up). Do you know what he did? He stuck his tongue out at me. A grown man. Wanker. (Which is what I yelled at him, funnily enough - if only he knew what it meant...)
Fortunately, on Wednesday morning, my other half and I met some other like-minded people at the 'Firenze In Bici' dawn bike ride around Florence. It was well worth the 5am alarm to cycle round a traffic-free city with other bike-lovers. Some of them were even wearing helmets! We finished at a bar for cappuccino and croissant at 7.30am and were back home at 8.30am, surprisingly full of energy for the rest of the day. Firenze In Bici have a lot of bike-friendly initiatives and campaign to improve things for cyclists. Their website is the first place I've seen anyone complain about Florentine bike racks which are built in such a way that you can only attach the front wheel of your bike, not the frame. Considering that someone with the mechanical skills of a five-year old (ie: me) could detach the front wheel of most bikes, it would be much more reasuring to have bike racks which allowed you to attach the frame too. Check out www.firenzeinbici.net.
Anyway, if you live in Florence and want to know who I am then just look out for the only person wearing a helmet. Actually, my colleague Elizabeth also wears a helmet, but she cycles in the Le Cure/Campo di Marte district, where I'm sure she is also the only other helmet wearer. My mother-in-law informs me that in Milan, a lot of city bikers wear helmets. This is very comforting and also confirms my theory that the further north I go, the more at home I'll be. Arse or not, I'm going to keep wearing my helmet and the next person who tells me that it won't protect me from a broken arm is going to get a broken arm themselves.
One final interesting point: the Italian word for helmet is casco, which coincidentally also means 'I fall down'. Very reassuring, isn't it?