Wasn't sure which sub-forum to post this, but since it is assumed that we are of an age in this sub-forum where our kids are out of the house, or nearly so, and we now have a little bit of discretionary income, (assuming we aren't paying for our kid's college education), I decided to post my experiences here.
This little "review" is about my experience on renting a bicycle for two days while in Rome last month. During the Spring Vacation from school, (I teach part-time in the evenings at the local community college), I booked a flight to Rome. I had been to Rome once before, several years ago as part of a big-bus tour that went throughout Italy over a two-week period. Those bus tours are good enough, especially if you've never been to that country before and want a quick, highlight, fast-paced tour that crams in as much as possible for the time frame of the tour.
Of course, on a tour, you are on a set schedule and cannot spend as much or as little time as you desire in any specific place. Which brings me back to last month's trip. There are some things I wanted to see in Rome that I did not have the opportunity to see on that first trip. Specifically among these is that I have had a childhood dream of walking on the Appian Way. Have no idea where I got this bug. Probably from some teacher when I was in the third or fourth grade ... and for over fifty years, that dream has never been forgotten. Just something about walking on a highway that is over 2,400 years old, and is still being used today! The other place I wanted to visit was Ostia Antica, the original seaport of Republican/Imperial Rome.
Well in advance, I booked my flight on Iberia (not recommended), my hotel, (Hotel Julia, decent budget motel, excellent location), and a two-day bike rental at Top Bike Rental and Tour (very highly recommended). First couple days in Rome I just hoofed it. Even though Rome is a very large city, the places a tourist would be interested in seeing is actually quite compact; probably within two miles in any direction from the historical center. Went here and went there, spending as little or as much time as I desired, (I went alone).
On the third day, I went to Top Bike Rental and Tour to pick up my bike. I reserved one of their mountain bikes, one level below their best. For a rental bike, I was pretty impressed at the quality of the bike and its level of maintenance. I did have to re-adjust the brakes because they were looser than what I'm comfortable with. The bike only had two front sprockets, but I didn't miss that third sprocket even once during the two days I rode the bike. I took my own pedals and shoes too, as I'm uncomfortable if I'm not clipped in.
With the basic bike rental, you get a helmet, (but I took my own along with me), an ABUS U-lock for which they will install a frame holder if requested, a spare tube, tire irons, CO2 if requested, a spare tube, a pump, and one or two panniers. The panniers are different than what I'm used to using here in the states. It is more of a kayak wet bag than a pannier. You drop your stuff inside, roll up the top, fold the top inward to click each end together. Effective for keeping your things dry. Bag material itself was a coated rubberized "bag". It worked well enough. I put my camera bag on top of the rack and held it down with bungies.
The first day, I rode south-southeast out of town to Via Appia Antica. Rode along the Appian Way to the end, until the original Appian Way, (Via Appia Antica), merged with the new Appian Way, (Via Appia Nuovo). At that point, it was just a typical, modern highway. Nothing special, we see them all over the world. The Via Appia Antica section is about 12-13 miles long, extending from just outside the Aurelian Walls to its aforementioned end, which is also the end of the "park" that contains the restored/conserved section of the Appian Way. This section has been preserved and acts as a green belt for Rome. It will never be developed with modern comerce. Along the route are numerous ruins of crypts, ancient Romans being prohibited from burying their dead inside the city. Two frequently visited catacomes area also along this route, but I did not have an interest in visiting ... this time.
On the way back to Rome, I took the modern highway for part of the route back. Riding on those 2,400 year old basalt stones and modern cobbles are pretty rough for an unsprung bike. I tried to find Aquaduct Park, an area where numerous far-afield aquaducts come together before their final run into ancient Rome. Didn't find the "park", but did see some cool aquaduct ruins. Those things were HUGE!
Kept the bike in the back room of the hotel lobby overnight and the next morning I headed out the other direction to Ostia Antica. Ostia is a Pompeii like city ruin, but a whole lot less touristy. Pompeii is like the Las Vegas of ancient Rome ... Ostia is like the San Pedro (Los Angeles working seaport) of ancient Rome. They say if you want to see how wealthy Romans laughed and played, see Pompeii; if you want to see how the lower classes worked and slept, see Ostia.
The ride to Ostia is not very direct, bicycle wise. There is one freeway, (autostrada); and one frontage road. It is very difficult to tell which one you are on. There are no "pedestrians and bicycles prohibited" signs on any of the access roads to the autostrada. Having my Garmin GPS with European maps helped a lot to keep me on track. It is not a car navigator GPS, but a handheld hiking type GPS. The European maps were purchased on a micro-SD card off eBay. It does not give turn-by-turn directions, but before leaving, I programmed in the latitude and longitude of the places I wanted to visit. The GPS pointed me in the proper direction and gave a direct shot bird-flight distance.
Ostia is about 20 miles or so outside the city center. Simple enough for a cyclist of any ability. I was a bit disappointed on the return trip because I was hoping for the ocean breeze at my back, but it did not seam that way. Still, I returned a whole lot quicker than the trip out. For about five miles, I did end up on the autostrada. It went okay until merging traffic was hindered by my slowness. A kind, older gentleman explained to me, in Italian, that bicycles are not allowed on the autostrada and I needed to "be over there". I thanked him and hopped the guard rail the first opportunity I had. They aren't easy to cross ... wide and high they are.
Cycling in Rome itself? Whoa, what a rush! You have undoubtably heard about "crazy Roman traffic". It's all true! But then, I've done enough traveling to hispanic cultures in South America, (Mexico City, Terra Caliente, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, etc.), that I knew what to expect. Also, I am a Vespa rider and understand about lane splitting, (legal in Californai), and such. A bicycle has an advantage in Rome because a lot of the streets in historical Rome are closed to automobile traffic, except for deliveries or local residents. A bicycle can go anywhere, and a lot faster than walking. On the major streets with autos, I found it quite easly to keep up with traffic. On the longer streets, they would sometimes leave me in the dust, but I'd catch up with them at the next signal. Usually, I kept up or went faster than the auto traffic.
One word of warning ... if you are at all timid around cars, then bicycle riding in Rome is not advised. You have to be agressive and ride like you own the road. Ride like you are a bicycle messenger in New York City. Suprisingly, automobiles are very respectful of bicycle traffic ... as they are with scooter traffic. I asked and was told afterward that Roman automobile drivers realize and understand that they could kill you and that knowing that, they will give you as much room as you want or need. I found that very refreshing, opposite from what I experience in this country.
However, I almost did get squeezed between two busses. I just figured that most Roman bus drivers don't expect a cyclist to ride so fast in and amongst traffic. Riding a bicycle in Rome, you have to be just as attentive as riding anywhere else, probably more so. There is actually structure to Roman traffic and it is not as chaotic as we think at first glance.
Next time? I'm definitly renting a bicycle again when in Rome ... and will seek to find out a rental place in any city I visit in Italy, (except Venice, of course). Seeing Italy on the seat of a bicycle has to be the best way of seeing the country.