Where the Streets Have No Name
Italy has a reputation of being a wonderful place to cycle. Italy being Italy, dedicated cycle lanes are like hen’s tooth. Cycle lanes reek a little too much of hard and fast rules, too much of a departure from the human interaction characterised by constant negotiation as much as common sense.
Italian motorists are terrible. They drive at twice the speed limit. They tend to swerve out before going round a bend. They seem to have their mobile phones super-glued to their ears whilst driving, just like the Belgians — one can only surmise that a large proportion of Italians and Belgians are in the emergency services but never quantified in national statistics. However, they are respectful of cyclists.
Italy must be one of the best places to get lost whilst cycling. I brought a bike to Salento not so much to train but to keep my legs warm during the two-week stay here. My early morning routine has been to cycle from our base in Cutrofiano to Gallipoli and back, only about 40km. Pedalling through nameless roads along olive groves, the intermittent sweet smell of ripe figs and the energising whiff of grapefruits punctuated by charcoal notes left by field burning is not a bad way to start one’s day.
Cycling around the old port of Gallipoli in the early daylight, as the fishermen return with their catch of the day, feels like a victory run, that is, until I remember the ascent on the way back…
The motorists are mindful of cyclists, not only aware of my presence but also the fact that I am more vulnerable whilst sharing the road with them. One driver of the provincial bus tapped his klaxon gently not to tell me to move aside, because he had plenty of space to overtake me as I was very close to the pavement, but just to inform me that he was approaching from the rear — a courtesy signal.
On the way from London to Edinburgh last year, when a motorist saw Tim Everest and I enter the roundabout, the cretin accelerated and aimed at us on purpose. When I was riding in the wet between Lindau and Wangen im Allgäu about 10 days ago, I almost got clipped by a speeding chav in an Opel with Lindau number plates.
In England, Germany and Switzerland, motorists generally view cyclists as a nuisance. In Italy, particularly in Salento, motorists are respectful of cyclists.
I have been to France countless times but have never cycled in France. I hope that the motorists that we will encounter on the G2MC charity ride will be similar to Salentine motorists.