The Italian


The Italian sees the future. Where everywhere people are saying, “My customers are asking for this. My customers are asking for that,” the Italian says, “Your customers don’t know what they need. They do not think of the future. They only read magazines and stare at the television.”

The future is in Urban riding, he says. He pronounces it “Ooor-ban,” and he doesn’t mean hipsters on fixies. He means a type of riding that includes your commute, your errands, picking the kids up from school, everything. Commuting, according to the Italian, is a bad word for cycling, because it implies only one use for the bike, to get from home to work.

Even Oorban doesn’t capture his meaning correctly, but it is closer, he thinks.

Cycling needs a new vocabulary, new words to express the benefits attendant thereto. “No other machine is so perfect,” he says. “Nothing else moves you from place to place, makes you healthier, eliminates pollution, connects you to the world.” The Italian uses only vegetable based lubricants. They are not the best lubricants, but when you use them correctly, they are good, and they do not destroy the environment.

The Italian doesn’t seem to care for Italians very much. “Terrible businessmen,” he says. In Italy, we only race. No one is riding Oorban. No one is touring. He rides the white roads of Tuscany, stops at a hotel, and gets greeted in English. “I am Italian,” he says. “Why are you here,” they reply. “Here we only have Americans and Germans.”

“Since Coppi and Bartali, we have only racing,” says the Italian. “They ruined everything.” Even riding with your friends is racing, in Italy. I ask him why they don’t win more races then, and he says, “Because they are terrible businessmen.” I laugh. He does not.

In the car, on the way to the bus, the Italian explains the entire European debt crisis to me, in detail, quoting the exact value of bond issue returns. The Spanish have been downgraded, he informs me. He then explains the difference between the quality and construction of various makers of merino wool cycling gear. Again, there are specific references to the percentage of wool and synthetics in each garment, the advantages of each. “Wool is the future,” he says, “as it was the past.”

The Italian is one of these people you meet in the bike business. There is a charisma and insanity to him. You don’t speak with the Italian. He speaks TO you. And you listen, because he sees the future.

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  1. Scott G.

    If the future is urban riding, the future arrived in Switzerland a long time ago. When the trains have 1st and 2nd class bike parking, you have arrived in the future or Bern.

  2. MCH

    Personally, I’m much more interested in sub-urban or ex-urban riding. I’m trying to ride as far away from urban areas as possible.

    Perhaps if I wanted to live in a city (I don’t!), and that city had perfect weather year-round, and I had a fat trust fund to live off of, and therefore time had no meaning to me – then, maybe, urban cycling might be appealing to me.

    For those that it works for – great! I’m happy for you and wish you safe cycling. However, the utopian, urban planning vision of the future with outlawed cars, mandatory train travel, and happy, healthy people who all eat properly and like each each other! (OK, I’m really streching here) is just to much rainbows and unicorns for me.

  3. Ransom

    Riding to work already makes a lot of sense for a lot of people.

    I have to disagree about needing year round perfect weather or a trust fund. Downtown Portland is just as quick by bike as by car from our house. (No, really. We’ve done both many times and it’s pretty much a wash, down to who catches the most green lights, unless you’re leaving downtown right at rush hour, in which case the car gets hosed).

    I totally understand some days not wanting to go for a ride in the rain an falling back to the car. I’m actually a giant car nut and play with them at least as much as bikes for fun.

    But when you have the choice between getting a wee bit of exercise vs paying $11/day for parking, I don’t think you can dismiss riding to work out of hand. Not everybody’s arrangement suits it, but it’s a nontrivial number who have the basics needed, and hopefully growing where it makes sense to do so.

  4. Bart

    For the last year or so the only riding I’ve had time for is urban riding. I don’t have 2-4 hour blocks to go for long rides that take me out of the city. I commute to work and ride to the gym. That’s about it. The only time I have for riding is if that time would otherwise be spent in a car or on the bus.

    For me it works out great. I still do interval sets and hill repeats while commuting. I just do it with a backpack on.

    Someday when my kids are older (1.5 years old and second one due this summer) I expect I’ll have a bit more time to get back to riding the way I used to. But for now urban riding keeps me on my bike and is the best way I’ve found to get to and from work and the gym.

  5. CAT4Fodder

    Better than the United States…in the US we sit on the couch and gorge on bad food….and looking at the recent past…we are horrible business people!

  6. CAT4Fodder

    As for “ooor-ban” riding…why I am interested in building up a new steel bike, but with DT friction shifters and built for taking all manners of abuse.

  7. Conrad

    The age of cheap oil is over. The Italian is right, urban riding is the future. Cars are not going anywhere immediately but they are only going to become more and more expensive to own and operate as time goes on. In Seattle we have seen a slight decline in numbers of cars on the road and a steep increase in the number of bicycles in the last five years. A bicycle always has been and always will be the cheapest and most efficient form of transportation, at least for the relatively short trips that make up our daily errands. And it is so much nicer than being inside a car.

  8. Peter

    I agree, Ransom. You don’t even need decent weather or, for that matter, any money.

    I live and ride in NYC, all year round, come rain or snow or (on bad days) black ice. My fastest route to work–over the Brooklyn Bridge and into the heart of the beast–is on my bike. It even beats the subway. And maintaining my bike is much, much cheaper than buying gas, paying for insurance and parking.

    So no rainbows and unicorns here. Well, I wouldn’t bet against unicorns. This is New York, after all.

  9. DavidA

    When gas is 5.85 to 6.80 a gallon and city planners start building muti-use grocery stores and businesses close to neighborhoods where people can shop for food and houehold goods and clothing etc. etc. all within riding distance of home..20 to 30 min max I think the stigma of riding a citybike or any other bike for that matter will begin to diminish. We are a car culture and that culture is deep in the recesses of the american mind….get in your car, hit the highway and escape…reality, conflict, pain whatever it is, just smash the gas pedal to the floor and think about something else. It seems like the only thing that gets our attention to start to change is the depleted wallet and being scared to death over a health or life-style issue that has gone on far too long. We begin to become more “Urban” in our thinking and doing.

  10. spiff

    I am an urban and ex-urban rider. I ride to work and back. I run errands on the bike during lunch and pick up food from the store on the way home. I ride in the park during lunch or after work then home. I ride past the suburbs (the rich ones) to get to the country roads to the ex-urbs. The only riding I do in the suburbs is with the LBS training rides, in the hills, in the summer, after rush hour.

  11. Durishin

    The problem with too many Americans is that they are waiting for their government to save them as if they are forbidden to ride a bicycle on their own.

    1. Padraig

      Durishin: Let’s stay on topic here. This is not a political discussion. And the readers of RKP have no trouble granting themselves permission to go for a ride.

  12. Durishin

    @Padraig, not to be at all. It is just that, in most of the communities where US Open Cycling Foundation works, the people refuse to ride their bike 2 miles unless there is a dedicated bikeway. This is in old cities where there are gridded street plans and always a lesser-auto’ed route available. It is very frustrating as we work to turn around the epidemic of obesity we are dealing with here. – The attitude is much as gmknobl states above and it is unfortunate as a bicycle – IMO – is a youth’s first rite of passage to real freedom and self-reliance and should be – actually is – unencumbered by politics.

  13. Dave

    Exactly! ‘Ooorban’ cycling is what first attracted me to road cycling after growing up on a mountain bike. Just the fact that you can simply get out your front door and start cycling rather than all the effort of actually getting somewhere was a revelation to start with.

    On a side note this is the sort of cycling that the industry needs to be made aware of, because then someone can make a STI for hydraulic brakes and sell it for a reasonable price!

  14. Olddesertrat

    In southern california where I reside the roads are narrow and in many places have no sidewalks so you are putting your life at risk trying to ride. On the other hand with gasoline prices going up faster than a rocket, just maybe bicycling will be the wave of the near future.

  15. Pingback: The Goat » Blog Archive » What’s Wrong With Cycling in Italy? Perhaps that it’s not Cycling in Holland.

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