One of the most enjoyable and amusing parts of our trip has been observing how different towns treat cycling.
We quickly snapped this (dreadful) photo in Lille, of a guy on a folding bike with a tiny little girl perched down low on the parcel shelf. When the lights changed, she duly tucked her feet up like a well trained passenger and off they rolled. The wheels on the folding bike were so small it was probably just like riding her childs scooter or tricycle.
We also saw two old Italian men sharing a bike; one riding, the other standing up on the rear rack and holding onto the riders shoulders. The combination looked like a very tall looking man was levitating down the road (Sadly they were going too fast to catch a photo)
Then there was the child getting a shoulder ride, and too many ridiculous tiny dogs in baskets to mention. We saw furniture being carried on a bike, and a guy cycling while pushing another bike alongside him.
None of these every day circus tricksters were wearing helmets or wearing hi-vis vests. We didn’t see a single accident and rarely heard a car horn get used. We always felt safe riding on the roads and drivers always passed giving us a huge (read – appropriate/sensible) amount of clearance.
But above all, it seems the presence of Nonnas on the roads on bicycles makes cycling safe for all riders. When the roads are full of Nonnas and Nonnos laden with groceries, and little people on bikes without helmets – drivers take care around cyclists. There is no aggression towards cyclists in Europe – at least we certainly didn’t experience any during the last 6 weeks. Maybe they’re not seen as “Cyclists” here… They’re just people. People riding bikes.
And yet in Melbourne it’s an almost daily expectation that you will get yelled at or deliberately swerved at or cut off when riding a bike – and it makes everyone aggressive. Especially the riders on the receiving end of this behavior who have only their skin between them and the cars. Maybe its just because I’m on holidays, but in the cities and towns we’ve just visited in Europe everyone seems to get along on the roads just fine (even the tractors!) Or maybe we just need more Nonnas on bikes in Australia to calm everyone down.