Confessions of a Roman Cyclist

Nothing irates the average Roman driver as much as the sight of a cyclist. The fact that we are are usually infringing some fundamental human or traffic law doesn’t help: from crossing the road without “getting off the saddle”, to unbridled nose picking (not performed in a car cabin as etiquette would dictate) and the classic red light runnings, our barbarian behaviours are rightly the target of a lots of anger and frustrations. Not only does the media not seem to care about the problem – we know how powerful the cyclist lobby can be – but the dissent is also often censored on social networks, as with the case of the ironic Facebook page “run a cyclist over”, where Italian drivers were at least able to vent some of their pent up anger and frustration.

As a cyclist in a not very bike-friendly city such as Rome, I wake up in the morning knowing that will infringe a number of traffic laws during my daily bike rides. I wanted therefore to share some of the contorted mental processes and rationalizations that go through our degenerate minds, hoping to shed some light on our apparently unmotivated attacks on the otherwise civilized city life.

First of all, years and years of evolution have imprinted in us a futile instinct of survival, which forces us to try to reduce the chances of an anticipated death. We run red lights and avoid waiting for the green light, for example, because we are reluctant to become the filling of a sandwich made of racing scooters and vans (the drivers of which tend to be more interested in whatsapping than the traffic). And corrupted authorities are starting to think we may be right: cities such as Paris, Brussels, San Francisco and many other German and Dutch towns, have given in to our lobby and have freed us from this burden.

We often believe, therefore, that we are simply making up for the lack of a bike-friendly traffic laws by interpreting restrictions according to our personal views. This is of course strengthened by our well known intellectual snobbery, an inevitable trait considering our means of transportation: for the bicycle is of course just for hipsters, or the “radical chic” as Italian like to call us; no other sane person would think about using a bicycle to get around town. Given our ideological approach to life, we like to look at problems in a framework that is often too big: we may dig into history, for example, to convince people that the concept of jaywalking was invented by the car industry in the 20s, and imprinted in our minds with years of propaganda, as a response to the growing objection of Americans to the transformation of public spaces into roads for the new roaring cars. (As described in this article from the BBC, a well known hotspot for radical cyclists)

Apart from these useless speculations on the origin of a “carcentric” traffic code, the abundance of free time in our daily lives allows us to indulge in useless philosophical reflections. A fellow cyclist, possibly slightly inebriated by the excessive consumption of locally produced craft beer, once asked me: why do we have to obey rules and restrictions that have been created only because of the existence of things and behaviours we do not have? It goes without saying that, if there were no motorized vehicles, the entire traffic code could be summarized in a sentence:don’t be an idiot”. We should also bear in mind that when a cyclists infringes a rule he or she only puts his or her personal life in danger: bicycles weight less than a person and can be halted in a meter less than a meter; not so a heavy metal box at high speed.

Unfortunately this twisted thinking is becoming attractive to the rest of the populations and to legislators. The various logical requests for more regulations, ranging from the introduction of insurance and licence plates for bycicles (and excessively athletic pedestrians I guess), to obligatory crash helmets and bans on flatulence-inducing foods for cyclists, have been completely ignored, leaving our cities in the hands of us two wheeled thugs. With corrupted politicians not listening to them, and without even the comfort of innocent Facebook groups where they could express their anger, drivers can only continue to honk their melancholy horns and fling their usual colorful abuse at us.

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