The traffic in Rome is obnoxious. We all know this. It obeys no rules known to civilised drivers, goes either too fast along the river or too slow on the Grande Raccordo Anulare in rush hour. I could go on, but this blog isn’t about Rome’s car problem, it’s about the biciclette. The latter are really only for the brave (and here I mean really brave: think jumping into a swollen river to save a cat, or defusing a bomb in the dark with a pair of nail clippers).
Many Romans would love to cycle to work, but they simply can’t. The cycle lanes are badly planned and are about as joined-up as a four-year-old’s first attempt at writing. The sanpietrini make the ride pretty uncomfortable (and slippery if it rains), while the contempt with which Roman drivers seem to hold two-wheeled travellers would make your journey to work probably your last journey to work.
But never mind all that – last weekend I, together with my boyfriend and two friends, decided to give Rome’s bikesharing system a go. The chunky green bikes have been in use since 2010 and can be hired from 25 bike stands around the city – pretty cool eh? Rome’s bike fleet numbers 200 cycles, which sounds ok, until you realise that the Boris Bikes in London have 6,000 bikes available at 400 bike stands. So could Rome’s bikesharing system, run by ATAC, be a little sub-standard? Or, as this blogger calls it, a ‘unique failure’? Another blogger points out that space at Rome’s bikesharing stands is often taken up by mopeds, so it seems there is still some way to go before Rome embraces the bici as a worthwhile and sensible modus viaggiandi.
Still undeterred, we proceeded to start to figure out how to get our butts on those green hire bikes. The first thing to note is that in London, you can hire a Boris Bike either by registering online or by paying at a ticket machine at a bike stand (and paying with a credit or debit card). Easy. And sensible, too.
In Rome, that’s not how they do it.
So, as directed by www.bikesharing.roma.it, off we went to register at one of the 10 designated metro stations (we went to EUR Fermi because our friend Fede lives near there, not that it’s relevant, but it is pretty damn far away from most of the bike stands in the centre).
When we found the right window at EUR Fermi, we had to fill out a form… six or eight pages (I apologise, the frustration made my memory a little weak, but I know I had to sign my name so many times my hand got cramp). I mean, please, have these people never heard of carbon paper? Come to think of it, why not just type information into a computer like the rest of the modern world? But no… it all had to be filled out by hand.
To be fair, the gentleman who processed our forms, a very pleasant chap called Antonio, had an enviable calligraphic style. We watched him for quite some time, lovingly shaping and crossing his perfect capital letters (he must have had a lot of practice, probably with crosswords). So far we’d spent half an hour getting two so-called smartcards and we were €10 down each (€5 buys you the card and you get €5 credit).
So off we went in search of the green bikes (which involved a 3km drive from EUR down to the city centre in Federica’s car – Fede is lovely, she drives and parks like all Romans, so it didn’t take too long). It was probably our own fault for getting there a bit late on the first really sunny Saturday of the year, but it wasn’t that easy finding four bikes. We got to the stand in piazza Venezia, which had five bikes. One had a puncture and two had a red light saying ‘fuori servizio’. Still, we got two bikes, and legged it to another stand to get two more, which we found in Largo di Torre Argentina. A good three hours since we first started to register, we had got on the bikes and were ready to cycle.
And I have to say that after all that, it wasn’t bad. Because it was the weekend, there were fewer cars around (there’s limited access to cars in the centre at weekends and since it was sunny, I guess a lot of Romans had decided to exit the city) so cycling on the roads wasn’t the suicidal act I thought it would be. But cycling in the streets around the Pantheon and via del Corso turned out to be about as exhilarating as discodancing in a public phonebox – you want to go for it, but there’s just no room. The bumpiness of the sanpietrini, as mentioned before, posed a challenge – particularly for me, and I therefore, in all seriousness, urge any ladies to wear a sports bra if you’re going to take up cycling on Rome’s roads.
Once we made it to Villa Borghese, the ride became very pleasant indeed, sheltered from the heat by those fantastically tall pines. We stopped off for a coffee in the bar in the park (at largo Magnani) and saw a wonderful sunset over Rome’s domes and palazzi. As we whizzed down via Veneto’s taxi lane, the cool air in our hair, we started to feel that, overall, the cycle experience was worth it.
We’ll definitely hire bikes again, although I dread to think what happens when we need to top-up our smartcards (I fear it’ll be back to Antonio for another lesson in calligraphy).
According to www.bikesharing.roma.it, you can register for a bikesharing smartcard at these stations (some are central):
1) Stazione Termini
3) Piazza di Spagna
8) Ponte Mammolo
9) Eur Fermi