A bike is essential in a city like Florence, Tuscany because once you have the privilege of a bicycle you won’t want to lose it. Walking and taking the bus is all well and good, however the bike has its advantages. Some tips you should keep in mind when beginning the bike riding adventure in the Renaissance city.
When you get onto the bike know the direction you need to go. Of course look both ways or one way (if it is a one way street), there could be a scooter coming out from your blind spot. Following the direction of traffic is a must. Note: if you are riding against traffic be extra careful where you ride. Slow down if you know the car will not make it around you. While riding look behind you twice before crossing the street to the other side. Drivers do not handle slowing down on small narrow streets lightly. Keep pedaling once you have chosen the direction you want to go in a busy piazza. Always keep your eyes forward on your target direction if you glance at the bus coming at you, that could be trouble.
Riding on the sidewalk or the street?
You are able to ride on the sidewalk as much as you want but if you know Florence, there aren’t the biggest sidewalks in the world. In the center there is, but have you forgotten the crowds of tourists that will be marching down them?
The street is the better choice to get where you want to go fast. Riding with the flow of traffic can be an advantage because on some point will you going just as fast as a Smart car. On the sidewalk you have the potential of running down innocent people and well, getting yourself hurt along the way. Now the most horrifying thing is that you will be riding your bike alongside scooters, cars, and yes, LARGE buses. You must stay calm and be alert.
Riding next to traffic
Calm and alert. The scariest part for me when I started riding alongside traffic that you could actually reach out, and touch the car next to you. Also the traffic speeds by you like you are invisible. It is not like in the States where the cars make a semi-circle around you. In Italy, you are literally part of traffic, not a Sunday afternoon rider in the park.
Once I caught myself behind a city bus on a street which he could not pass. I pedaled my heart out however still being honked at. This is normal, bus drivers seem to have a dislike for bicyclists, every time one is going a bit slow in front of a non-passable bus, they must honk to make themselves known. My advice is to keep moving, the bus will be stopping soon and then treat yourself to gelato for cheating death.
Small narrow streets
Usually there aren’t many cars on such streets but if you are riding down Via Cavour or other streets leading into, for example, Piazza Liberta, Piazzale Donetello, or Piazza Beccaria, these are where the lines of traffic come into play. If you find yourself going down a one way street against traffic be aware that on one or both sides will have parking. There is no way this car or truck will be able to swerve around you. Stop your bike behind a car or come close to the sidewalk and smile. Be courteous, they are bigger than you. Now this isn’t Naples or Rome where drivers are said to be more aggressive than here, in Florence they won’t try to run you over.
Once you get to the center…
Meeting a friend for a coffee, going to class or going to work, park your bike once you arrive in the center and walk to your destination. There is no need to ride through the chaos of picture takers, pointers at high towers, or large packs of fanny pack wearers. I usually find parking either in Piazza San Marco, Piazza Della Signoria or Piazza del Duomo. Most piazza’s or main streets like Via Cavour have bike parking along it. It saves you the struggle of parking outside the place you need to be where there is no parking.
Be aware, be assertive, and be aggressive when riding on Florentine streets. The first few times will be scary, so be patient with yourself. Then all of the sudden you will be a calm bike rider, where bike riding gets you to your destination faster and cheaper.
Picture of old bike by Katie Greenaway