The pros and cons of riding a scooter

Melissa Wright
September 8, 2005

My relationship with Trenitalia is one of mutual suspicion and distrust.  They suspect me of not having the correct ticket and I don’t trust them to get me anywhere on time.  Anyone like myself who travels a short distance in or out of Florence everyday for work will have a fair few stories to share about being crammed into trains that invariably arrive late or that simply don’t arrive at all.  You might try cycling, although riding a bike in Florence is not the same as riding a bike outside Florence. Your legs won’t thank you for it and the lorries that clog the road between Sesto Fiorentino and Calenzano will use you as target practice. The solution for us pendolari?  Get a scooter.  Since I’ve been travelling the fourteen kilometres to Prato and back everyday on my (borrowed) Vespa, a weight (and a ‘wait’) has been lifted from my shoulders.  I realise how tense running for the train everyday was making me, not to mention how much time I was wasting on crowded platforms full of Italians complaining loudly to anyone who would listen and gesturing with operatic exasperation at each announcement of further delays.


It hasn’t all been smooth scootering though.  The first day I was so terrified of falling off that I dressed up like the Michelin man and didn’t drive faster than twenty kilometres an hour.   I slowly got braver, until the forth or fifth day when I discovered what happens if you sneeze inside a helmet.  You quickly realise why all those gangly Italian teenage boys ride with sunglasses on and the visor up- it’s got nothing to with smoking or looking cool and everything to do with surviving summertime allergies with a minimum of street cred intact.


A few days later still and my confidence was rocked again by an even more unpleasant experience.  I was riding home one sunny afternoon and what has to have been a baby elephant hiding in the tree tops relieved itself just as I was passing.  It must happen to other people all the time, but I’ve never seen anyone else on a scooter with that much bird crap on them.  It hit hard and I quite literally skidded to a halt whipping all the tissues I had out of my bag in attempt to clean it up (I suddenly appreciated being made to buy a multi pack of tissues at the traffic lights).


With hindsight though, that was just a warm-up exercise in comparison to what I was going to face: riding to work in the rain.  Now, the British tend to look at Italians in their long quilted duvet coats in October and think, “pah, I’m made of stronger stuff than that, bit of wind and rain never hurt anyone” and stride around in short trousers and T-shirt until they have icicles forming on their knees.  That was more or less the attitude I adopted when I woke up one morning to torrential, cats and dogs, Armageddon-style rain.  Wearing two splash proof raincoats and with a spare pair of trousers under the seat I set off on what was to be the most epic and soul-destroying fourteen kilometres of my life.   I discovered that riding a scooter in the rain is actually an extreme sport and should only be practiced by experienced professionals.  I was still attempting to dry my underwear at work an hour after I’d arrived, trying not to imagine what I would have done if I had been faced with paper towels instead of a hand dryer.


Despite all this, travelling by scooter is still a much, much more pleasant experience than taking a regionale and after all, it is undoubtedly one of the most Italian things you can possibly do. It’s up there with wearing sunglasses in the supermarket and being an expert on different types of tomatoes. Yes, the scooter will break down at some point; yes, I will have an accident sooner or later; and yes, my mother would have a heart attack if she knew that I don’t wear a reinforced suit of armour when I ride it, but you couldn’t pay me to give it up and start getting the train again.   

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