We asked Marco Massarotto what he thinks of cycling in Milano and how his Brompton fits in to his life in the historic city.
How would you describe cycling in Milano?
Milan is great for cycling as it is completely flat (the only hill is an artificial one…), relatively small (the main city center has a 3/5 km radius) and full of parks and minor quiet streets. Milan is a business city, with lots of fast-paced people into a medieval historical center. Cycling is by far the smartest way to move, but it also has some challenges. Cobblestone streets are a risky business since they tend to get slippery when wet and they have large interstitial holes. Also tram tracks are tricky and if your wheel gets stuck, it’s dangerous. On the other hand, in the past 5 years bicycle culture has been spreading as have bike paths. We are still not close to Northern European standards, as in Amsterdam or Copenhagen, but the “Milanese” are rediscovering their bicycle roots. A large bike sharing scheme is making bikes become more and more popular and stimulating people to bike to work, school etc. A large and influential bike community is launching social programs like “Massa Marmocchi” (a group of adults leading kids to school in the morning http://www.inbiciascuola.it ). Milan is also a fashion city and some high end, fashionable bike ateliers are easy to find in historical Brera or in hipster neighbourhoods (http://rossignoli.it). Some also bring their dogs for a stroll...
How do you use your Brompton bike?
I am one of the partners of a digital marketing agency and I ride everyday to work (7,5 kilometres) with my Brompton and use it during the day to go to meet clients. When I get to the office I fold my Brompton and take it with me into my office. I hope this encourages more of our collaborators to commute by bicycle. Often I travel to Torino or Rome for work and I find it very convenient to bring my Brompton with me on the high speed trains. I can reach the station more quickly and do my phone calls while riding with USB earphones while saving on taxi. Once I arrive at the destination city I can enjoy a short ride instead of cueing for taxis or figuring out buses. My smartphone is my guide. And once I’m back in Milan I am once again independent to move and go wherever I want. Train stations have convenient elevators and escalators and while you wait the train on the platform, is a perfect timing to fold your Brommie.
I also use my Brompton during my free time to go shopping, meeting friends for an “aperitivo” (night drinks before dinner) or just enjoy the city during weekends. We keep our folded Bromptons in our house (bicycle theft is unfortunately very common in Milano, but keeping our Bromptons in our home entrance is no big deal). When we go for a weekend trip we often put our Bromptons in our car, to be free to visit our destination with maximum flexibility and sometimes we even leave the car at home and travel by bike and train with a small bag in our front baskets.
How did you get into cycling?
I grew up in a small town in Veneto (Bassano del Grappa) where many of the most famous Italian bicycle producers and saddle producers are located. Bicycles are part of the history there. I learned to bike as a kid and always went to school by bicycle. We naturally think of the bicycle as a fast, healthy, convenient way of transportation. Later on I lived in London for a year and bought a city bike to move freely and explore the city and discovered that urban biking is cool, not only fast and smart.
What advice would you give to anyone considering cycling in Milano?
Wear a helmet, lights, and ride safely. But make the bike your first means of transport in Milano; it’s the most effective, healthy and fun. Try to respect both cars and people on sidewalks. Above all: be patient. At first it will seem everyone is against you, but if you approach cycling with a Zen spirit, the city will reveal to you its best sides and corners. Bring strong locks or (in case you are one of us Bromptonians) bring your bike with you all the time: it will also work as a conversation starter in elevators and as a pick-up gadget (it works better than a Dalmatian dog) in parks.
When you’re not commuting, where are your favourite places to visit by bike?
Explore the Navigli: two 75km long canals connecting Milano to beautiful medieval town of Pavia (40km south on the "Naviglio Pavese") and magnificent Lake “Maggiore” (at the north end of the "Naviglio Grande"). Along the Navigli you will find a safe bike path, lots of small towns and some amazing restaurants. Sundays are packed with bikers, couples, friends and kids.
If you could go on one cycling adventure, where would you go and why?
I would jump on a train and get off in Santa Margherita Ligure (1h30’) for the weekend. Bring with me just beachwear and ride along the beautiful Liguria’s coast to Portofino. A Brompton is perfect to stroll around billionaires’ villas and stop on small beaches for a jump in the blue waters. And hey, if you ever should get invited in a yacht, you can bring your Brompton on board…