We asked Milan resident Fabio to tell us about why he uses a Brompton to get around his city.
How would you describe cycling in Milan?
It is more pleasant than it used to be in the past. Of course, private car traffic is still an issue and you need to be wary and cautious when you ride in the streets – same as in London or any other big city. That being said, Milan is virtually flat – no significant ups and downs – and relatively small compared to other European cities (you can cross it by cycling from north to south in 1h or less at a standard pace): a perfect environment for any urban cyclist. Maybe it is too early to award Milan the ‘bike-friendly’ medal, but appreciable progress has been achieved in making life easier in some way for local cyclists. Several bikeways and cycle paths were built in recent years, and the network is widening (although not always following a consistent plan). The bike-sharing system in Milan has also contributed to make cycling more popular, I would even say “fashionable”. I have a feeling that the number of people considering cycling as a suitable option to commute or move within the city is constantly increasing.
How do you use your Brompton bike?
It is my “all-purpose vehicle”. I use it for every transfer within the city (and even outside, sometimes): home to work and back, shopping, meeting friends, visiting places... some people still find it hard to believe that I make use of my Brompton like they use their cars or motorbikes. But I do – and without experiencing drivers’ main sources of stress: entering Area C (our congestion-charge zone), being struck in traffic, or struggling for a car park: when I decide to stop along the way for an ice-cream or a glass of wine I simply do it! Moreover, a folding bike is versatile and gives me a further advantage compared to the other cyclists. Need a lift from a friend? There is room enough in the trunk for my Brompton as well. Bad weather? Just find the nearest metro or bus stop, glad that the restrictions imposed on conventional bikes by the local transport authorities won’t apply to you.
How did you get into cycling?
I had my first introduction to cycling in my childhood and I continued riding until my university years. Then I had a break for a while, as my places of work were based downtown, easily reachable by metro or bus, and cycling became a mere summer weekend activity. When I found a new job in a company with headquarters in the suburbs, commuting was a bit more time-consuming; that was my first incentive to come back to cycling. A few years later I moved to another flat, farther off, and bike turned out to be by far more effective than any other choice: it takes me 20-25 mins to reach my office from home, whereas the public transport service requires on average twice that time to cover the same way - not to mention all the health benefits, of course.
What advice would you give to anyone considering cycling in Milan?
If you are a tourist and/or you don’t have a Brompton with you, BikeMi – that is the name of the local bike sharing service – could be an interesting experience; electric bikes are available too. All the most famous attractions (Duomo, the Castle, the Last Supper etc.) are concentrated in the historical heart of the city, but by bike you can easily extend your exploration area and discover many interesting places not known to the mainstream tourists. The whole city is accessible by bike without any major issue… except maybe “pavé”, the large stones paving some of the streets in the historical area, and tram tracks. Those two nuisances often come together and can be tricky, especially during or after rain. Just be careful and have fun!
When you’re not commuting, where are your favourite places to visit by bike?
Lombardy is rich in places to visit: some of them are very close to Milan and they are easily reachable with cycle paths offering you a safe ride and a beautiful landscape. The bikeways following the Navigli (the old system of canals around the city) allow you to reach some nice towns in the countryside. Monza is another wonderful destination: with its Park and the gardens of the Royal Palace, it is perfect for a cycle. With a little help from the railways it is quite easy to go to the Lakes Area and enjoy some of the most beautiful spots of the region at the foot of the Alps.
If you could go on one cycling adventure, where would you go and why?
Well, it is quite a hard choice! I would love to explore Northern and Central Europe by bike, starting from Germany and Denmark: their cycling infrastructures are almost legendary. Next step, I would go to Asia: I am fond of the culture and spirit of Asian countries – especially China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan. I am persuaded that riding a bike across those countries would offer a completely different view: not only for the scenery, but also for the different way to get in touch with people.