This young mother in her high heeled boots, hip-hugging trousers and fur stole, with her child’s seat on the back of her bike, was one of the many Milanese who used their bicycles daily as their main form of urban transportation back in 2008.
I was highly impressed at the time, since all these dedicated daily bicycle riders had to get along with a practically non-existent cycling infrastructure. There were hardly any bicycle lanes and very few stands for bicycle parking. Motor vehicles clogged the streets and often blocked the available space so thoroughly that even bicycles had trouble getting through.
As for me, I rented a bicycle and had a fine time riding all around. Even in a grotesquely over-motorized place like Milan, cycling is still the best way to see a city.
Before going to Milan I tried searching the net for a place to rent a bicycle, but had no luck, so I posted a question in the Milan Forum of the now-defunct website VirtualTourist, saying among other things: “I’ve tried googling in various ways, but they all just want to rent motorcycles, scooters, etc., which is not what I’m looking for.”
VirtualTourist members soon responded with some good advice, and above all I learned the Italian words NOLEGGIO (= rent or hire) and BICI (= bicycle), and when I entered these two words into my search engine I immediately found what I was looking for. (So noleggio and bici are the first two words you have to learn when planning a trip to Italy, OK?)
I ended up renting a bicycle from a shop called “A.W.S. Bici Motor s.n.c” at Via Ponte Seveso 33, which is quite close to the central station. At first I was put off by the word “Motor” in their name, but they’re actually a bicycle shop, and the word “Motor” is only there to make the Milanese take them seriously.
Their rates in 2008 were 11 Euros per day for the first three days, and 2.60 Euros per day after that, so for five days I paid 36.20 Euros. I also left them 100 Euros as a deposit, which they refunded when I returned the bike.
They were very friendly and helpful, but their bikes were not all in perfect shape. On the first one they offered me the lights didn’t work, and the second one had a slight knock in the rear wheel. But in the end I was quite satisfied, and would rent from them again if the occasion should arise.
Another place to rent bicycles was the Rossignoli bicycle shop in the reduced traffic zone of Corso Garibaldi. I didn’t rent there myself, but I did stop by and ask some questions. They had mainly city bikes with no gears, because Milan is completely flat.
For a rental bike in 2008 they charged six Euros for half a day, ten Euros for a full day, 18 Euros for a weekend or 35 Euros for a full week. For an extra two Euros you could also get a child’s seat. You had to leave a deposit of 100 Euros (as at A.W.S.) and show identification.
This sign their shop window said:
does not consume, does not pollute,
does not obstruct, does not make noise,
does not create congestion.
improves traffic, improves the environment,
improves the air, improves the city.
Help Milan. Go by bicycle.
After riding around Milan on a bicycle for several days I decided to pay a visit to the folks at Ciclobby, Milan’s “cyclo-environmentalist” association that lobbies for improvements to the city’s catastrophic cycling situation.
2008 was an exciting time for Ciclobby, because after two decades of achieving only minimal improvements in the face of massive resistance, inertia and indifference, they were starting to realize that their time was finally coming. Urban bicycle use was increasing dramatically all over Europe, and Ciclobby was working to see that Milan was not left behind.
I was given a warm welcome at Ciclobby. One of the young women spoke good English, so I didn’t have to stammer around in my rudimentary Italian, but when I let on that I could read Italian they gave me lots of literature which I later read on the train on the way home.
Ciclobby is a member of the Italian Federation of Friends of the Bicycle (FIAB). Their current website (as of 2018) is: http://www.ciclobby.it/cms/
Milan’s on-street bike-sharing system, BikeMi, began operations in 2009 with sixty on-street bicycle stations in the city center. As of 2018, BikeMi has nearly four hundred stations and claims to be “the first example in the world of an integrated bike sharing system between 3,650 traditional bicycles and 1,000 e-bikes, unique in terms of size, complexity and innovation.“ Information in English is available here: https://www.bikemi.com/en/
My photos in this post are from 2008. I revised the text in 2018.
See more posts on cycling in European towns and cities.