Sunday, 6 June 2010

Bike pride!

When asked "what's the most dangerous thing you've ever done?", a former colleague said rafting. I met people who jumped from bridges, climbed mountains, went ape and many other activities that require some degree of courage mixed with a pinch of madness and a good dose of love for danger.
As for me, the answer would be "cycling in Torino, after having spent one year cycling in China". Many don't believe that cycling can be listed as "dangerous", but that's pretty opinable from my point of view.

Since my first few days immersed in Beijing traffick, I learnt that, no matter what women say, size do matters: buses and trucks being bigger than any other vehicle on the road are the masters. They don't brake for anybody.
Then it's the turn of cars and minicars. Bicycles and motorbikes come next and if you're a pedestrian well, tough for you buddy and watch out.
Traffic lights were perceived as items of decorations: green for pedestrians was not that important. The key to cross a road was not in waiting for the green light but to gather a lot of people and then cross together. Forward, to the crossing of the popular masses!

Somewhere I still have an old photo I shot back in 1999. I was trying to cross the road and I managed to find the only moment there was nobody else crossing. I ended up walking in the middle of a busy road for about 300 metres.
Another time I  saw a bus hitting a car waiting at a junction and send it on the other side of the cross road (told you they don't brake). The fact is that back then I didn't give any thought about it: a huge red and yellow Soviet manifactured bus #454 had just sent a Volkswagen Santana on the other side of Chengfu Lu and that was ok for me, as long as I had enough space to cross the road.

That said, you can imagine that cycling was quite interesting too. I used to overtake on both the left and right side, cycle in between buses, cut diagonally the junctions... Not very sensible of me. But that was fine as long as I was within Tsinghua's walls or on the large Beijing bouleveard, as people were all driving and cycling the same way, and we knew how people would behave and Beijing surely has decent cycling lanes.
It became dangerous when I came back to Torino and forgot that most of  Italian car drivers don't aknowledge and respect any 2-wheels vehicle (whether the engine is fuelled by petrol or legs).

Years have passed and I got back to normal law-abiding cycling, but the dangers are still there, and there are times I still do believe that cycling is one of the most dangerous thing one can do in Torino.

I had the chance of thinking about it once more this afternoon, when I took part to the Bike Pride 2010: a demonstration to focus the attention on bikes, their importance in finding a solution for pollution and traffic.
But also a way to focus the attention of the problems cyclists deal with each day: unrespectful drivers and the disgraceful situation of city streets.

It may sound very similar to the Skyride (formally Freewheel) held in London, but it's quite different and now that I took part to both of them I can even tell you the difference. The Skiride is more of an event and, let's be sadly honest, better organized: maybe it's because of the huge sponsorship behind it and the fact the TFL and Mayor of London invested heavily in promoting cycling in London.
People were all aware of it taking places and even if they didn't they wouldn't be able to drive across it, because the route was sealed with tape and there was police to avoid problems at the junction.

This afternoon, in Torino, there was some police here and there, but not enough to prevent drivers trying to break through the event.
As for a sealed route where I could go and hit the 30/kph, umpfh, wishful thinking. The state of the streets of the cicy center is so shamefully dangerous that one has to brake carefully here and there (and everywhere) to avoid holes and cracks!

As much as I enjoyed this afternoon, it was very disheartening to see these drivers getting off the cars, shouting insults to the cyclist that had just told them they've been authorized to cycle there and this time around the cars were not admitted. I guess it says a lot of their IQ that, after being told over and over about authorized cycling event some of these people had the guts to menace: "I'm calling the police!"
Do it then! Do it, because today was supposed to be an ecological Sunday and no cars were supposedly allowed in the center of Torino and I would love the police to check your permit to be where you shouldn't be allowed.

God forbid that Torino gives up on cars for less then 5 hours! It would put in danger the balance of the whole world, in a butterfly effect that would put an end to the entire universe!

I could talk for hours of the coulple of morons with their effing white Fiat 500 that wanted to pass anyway and kept insulting everybody and almost run me over. But they're only morons (as previoulsy stated): I already told them off in Piazza Vittorio and there's nothing else I could add here in the event they find this post, since their shared neuron proved unable to understand spoken Italian, I'm sure it would stop completely when trying to read in English.

So, let's not talk about it. The afternoon has been really nice and I hope there will be a second edition next year and it will become a nice tradition.

I saw a lot of different people, of any age from 3 to 70, and a lot of nice bicycles too. Still, no matter how beautiful some of the bikes where, I'm more and more satisfied of having a bike like Elaine (it needs some work already, but it's more on the beauty side: I had some nice stickers I wanted to put on it, if only I could find them, and I was thinking whether or not to paint some daisies on it). 
I ate some strawberries in Piazza Castello while chatting with random people: bicycle makes people more easy going and relaxed, so I joked, discussed about politics and football, agreed with a guy giving out leaflets to tell all my friends about the Gay Pride 2010 (which will be held on June 19th). 

I tried to take some pictures while ciclyng, but multitasking on wheels is not my strong point and that's the best I could come up with:


When it was time to head back, I was lucky enough to get home just few minutes before an heavy downpour, and this made everything even better, because, even if I should wash Elaine, I had forgot the rain coat home!

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