Once a bicycle had metal spokes, a chromed metal bell and a heavy frame. And it was full of the spirit of adventure.
In Italy cycling was the main form of transport for many generations, until soon after the Second World War, and it was a symbol of emancipation, freedom. The bicycle quadrupled the distance and the speed with which it was possible to move and work, it doubled the network of contacts, and as a result the world was a little smaller.
It was the time in which the Italian bike-racing champions, Binda, Girardengo, Guerra, Coppi, Bartali up to the most recent Moser and Saronni, were childhood heroes. Italy was a poor country devastated by the war, and with a weak economic structure and it needed to be rebuilt from the ground up.
The bicycle was a symbol of recovery, and knowing how to ride as fast as the wind was considered an admirable talent.
Sporting heroes and champions were everywhere, highlighting the regained freedom on two wheels-You could find them in the childhood game of beach-marbles, where our heroes were encapsulated in the plastic balls we flicked across the sand, they were on stickers, in newspaper clippings stuck to the cover of our school diary.
But today, what remains of all this?
Giulietta Pagliaccio has been president of Fiab since 2013. The Italian Federation-Friends of the Bicycle is a group of 156 associations with more than 18 thousand members.
In 2015 Fiab, handed premier membership to Pope Francis – a nice way to thank him for having spoken out on the need for greater attention on how we get around in his latest speech on the future of the church.
According to Giulietta, the past is not completely lost: “The bicycle hasn’t lost any of its charm,” she explains, “it was an important tool of empowerment, even for women. It has facilitated true development. Today the bike remains unchanged, it still looks the same although the technology has changed. We are to blame for having lost our cities, and changing the way we move about in the worst possible way.. “
So have we lost our two-wheeled sense of adventure? The sense of a quest when stealing grandfather’s bicycle, the one with the big wheels, to go faster . “Our elderly members miss the way they used to enjoy and explore the city, playing in the street and riding at breakneck speed.”
Cycling towards the future
But if the past cannot return, we can at least try our best to shape the future in a way that best suits our needs. . The bicycle still has two wheels, a handlebars and a frame, but it has also changed profoundly. Now it’s made from lightweight materials, is microchipped, and has GPS connections. Is the second phase in the life of the bike thanks to these new gadgets?
“Not only unfortunately,” says Giulietta Pagliaccio, “to exploit the full potential of the bike we have to review our cities. We cannot make lifestyle changes unless we review city planning. An example of this, and a major problem for Italian urbanization, are car parks. We invade cities with our cars, almost always parked and rarely running. It would be better to exploit spaces for bicycles and increase mobility for pedestrians.”
So Italy is a large car park where cycling is dangerous? Will it be so in the future?
Italy has a varied landscape where bikes are concerned, with great paths in Bolzano and Reggio Emilia. But just as many other cities are unbearable on two wheels, such as Rome. There is no uniformity and there isn’t any national policy tackling this issue.”
A future made for cars?
“Maybe not,” explains the president of Fiab, “maybe something is moving. For example, the Ministry of Infrastructure is newly engaged on this issue. It has recently drafted the Charter of Luxembourg, a historic transition because it puts the bicycle on a level footing with other forms of transport like the train. And for Italy, the issue of cycling has always been overseen by the Ministry of Environment, while now it is a matter of infrastructure, as it should be. “
Can the bicycle still win over the younger generation?
Maybe there will no longer be beach marbles with cycling heros inside, or clippings from sport-magazines, but the answer is YES according to Giulietta Pagliaccio: “Children approach cycling with great enthusiasm, it gives them a sense of freedom unlike any other. Through the many associations that make up Fiab, we organise activities in schools and special workshops. Bicycles and kids create excitement, and the bicycle still means emancipation, independence and freedom.”