When we imagine gliding through European cities on two wheels, Amsterdam and Berlin immediately spring to mind. Florence, with its narrow streets, one-way system and uneven paving, twisting the ankles of even the most sensibly shoe-d tourist, is not a city usually associated with cycling. There are, however, four types of cyclists who have mastered, in their own way, a life behind handlebars: heard before they are seen, a metallic symphony clatters and a bell dings as these casual commuters quite literally knock you off your feet.
All illustrations by Leo Cardini
Il turista is in constant battle with their Mobike and Google Maps; clutching a smart phone in one hand and wobbling through the crowds, he or she shows little regard for anyone’s toes. The flip-flop has never been the professional cyclist’s shoe of choice but the availability of Florence’s cop and drop bike scheme means that anyone can live out their dream of being in the saddle. Whilst il turista jolts through via Pietrapiana with gritted teeth and a juddering jaw, the more experienced cyclists glide past them noting the 3,000 pedal rotations a minute our gearless, silver and orange steed riding friends exert in order to make it to the Accademia before closing.
Most likely to be seen cycling contromano uncaring of the potential 41 euro fine, still half asleep, lo studente slips through traffic untouched by any potential dangers or unwanted incontri as only youth can get away with. With almost flat tyres and the lively clang of a frame relying on non-existent suspension, lo studente’s 30 euro bike sold on Facebook didn’t include working brakes and thus requires an extra 20 metres when stopping. Constantly on the brink of being taken to the mechanic but waking up 15 minutes before class means it will have to survive just one more journey.
In any other city, such a dapper Daniele would be seen on a Vespa. However, in Florence this particular breed of cyclist opts for a bicycle as fashionable and well turned out as he is. The ochre leather of the saddle and handlebars match his leather moccasins finishing off a pristine three-piece suit still impeccably pressed at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. A Sergio Bianchi retro bici is the vehicle of choice here and a speck of oil would never find itself on the ankles of this young man. The latest mirrored Ray-Bans reflect the evening light bouncing off the Arno as he pedals effortlessly across the Santa Trinità bridge into via de Tornabuoni leaving only a whiff of exotic aftershave for us lowly pavement dwellers to remember him by.
Il ciclista invisibile
The prevailing cyclist of Florence is he who cannot be seen except by the traces left behind; an oxidised frame, melted tires, bike bodies amputated in the most severe of cases until only the torso is left to rust. Despite the city’s efforts to remove up to 200 abandoned bikes a month, arriving at an already full bike rack involves struggling to accommodate a living bicycle next to one of those left abandoned, never to be released again. Imagine the proud owner of that once tight and shining saddle who has, for whatever reason, left behind a possession unthinking of its fate, lying two-tyred in the gutter.