by Amie Weiss
Biking was my favorite sport as a child. Never very adventurous, I still loved to sail down my suburban streets and through the neighborhood flush with oaks and rhododendron. I spent hours riding back and forth, back and forth, on a long flat street perpendicular to my house. Once on vacation in Cape Cod, I rode something like 30 kilometers with my father on a bike trail, my mind free and sailing in the summer wind. I never used the bike to get places in my car-heavy and development-strewn town, so for me the bike was pure enjoyment.
Then, at age 8, I became dizzy— a recurring illness from infancy for which I’d had several surgeries. Back to the hospital… and the bike put away. Out of trepidation and doctors’ admonishments, I never took up riding again as a child, teenager or young adult. But biking was frequently on my mind, especially seeing friends and colleagues effortlessly jumping onto bikes to get around. I also lived in New York City, and then abroad, and never found a good place to relearn.
Then, in 2013 I married my wonderful Manerbiese husband and moved here, to this calm Lombardy town. He has built bikes, rides a fixed gear, and participates in the Biciclub Manerbio. Soon after moving, he suggested that we give biking a try on one of the rural paths near our apartment. We rode out on one bicycle— he driving and me riding on the handlebars. As I began to try myself, I could not remember even how to get onto the bike or how to break, and I went careening around the path like a little child. Piano piano, my husband said, many times. His gentle guidance made it feel possible again. The sensation was not as carefree as when I was a child— I was anxious and hesitant— but still, an old feeling of lighthearted joy poked at me, waiting in the wings.
Riding a bicycle again, however, won’t be my biggest challenge. What I still can’t imagine is riding in town: Italian driving and parking styles are still so… radical… to me that it’s difficult to fathom negotiating them. There is such a widespread disrespect for street laws and unpredictable driving patterns— you might be riding tranquilly along a bike path one minute and a tractor emerges suddenly out of nowhere, or turn a corner and find a car parked dead center in the path. Bikers themselves often don’t respect the one-way indications, so you might find yourself on an impossibly narrow path suddenly trying to give enough clearance to someone coming from the opposite direction!
All told, if I can’t manage the urban traffic, I won’t mind if I end up riding just to go back and forth, back and forth along the flat streets perpendicular to my apartment…