Bicycling in France and Italy: From Leisure to Competition


by Sev

La bicyclette or le vélo (bike) conjure images of carefree bike rides through the rolling French countryside and quaint village streets. While most French people rely mostly on fuel-powered vehicles in everyday life, going places and especially touring using a bicycle is still very much enjoyed. In French, people say ‘Faire du vélo/de la bicyclette’ (to ride a bike).

Following the example of countries in Northern Europe, France keeps opening new bike routes, especially in scenic regions. Click here for a detailed map of the Véloroutes in France. But bikes are also allowed a more prominent place in urban environments. Among all French cities, Strasbourg is the friendliest for bikes, with more than 1 of 3 inhabitants using bikes. More importantly, the city’s center is off-limits to regular car traffic. And with Vélib’ (operated by the city), you can visit Paris on a bike for €1.70/day!

Pédaler dur (to pedal hard): biking in France also evokes the famous Tour de France, with some of the most challenging terrain, at the same time celebrating the many charms of French richly diverse regions. The first Tour de France took place in 1903, and continues to generate great passions among its fans.

On a funny note, here’s an excerpt of Jour de Fête, a delightful classic comedy by Jacques Tati about a mailman trying to emulate the speed of the U.S. Postal Service.


by Max

Italy has long had a love story with bicycle (bicicletta, or just “bici”), It may not be a coincidence that one of the most important and famous movies is “Ladri di biciclette”. (Bicycles Thieves)

The Po Valley (Pianura padana) is flat, hence particularly adapt for biking: the Emilia Romagna’s cities of Modena, Parma, Reggio Emilia, Ferrara, and Bologna – and all the town around them – are full of bicycles everywhere.  People joke that kids learn to ride a bicycle (andare in bicicletta) before learning how to walk. Reggio Emilia in particular is nicknamed “the Beijing of Italy” because of the sheer number of bicycles running in the streets – and by the way, the screenplay writer of “Ladri di biciclette” Bicycle Thieves, Cesare Zavattini,is from there.

Italy has also a long tradition in producing bikes and accessories: Bianchi, Campagnolo, Bottecchia are world famous brands.

Finally sports: ciclismo (cycling) is the second most practiced sport after soccer, and Giro d’Italia is the most important sport event in Italy.

Pedalare! (Get pedaling!)

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons