In the region of our bike tour, there were many sport cyclists, and they were more fanatical than just about any I know here in the states. But in all parts of the country you see a different type of cyclist - people of all ages and body types, riding inexpensive bikes for real transportation. They are far more abundant than I've seen anywhere in this country.
It's certainly not because of better cycling facilities. In fact, the roads there are much less friendly to bikes than the roads here in Boulder. They are narrow, with no rideable shoulders or bike lanes, and lots of cars.
But generally the drivers and cyclists seem to get along. Drivers slow down for bikes and wait until it is safe to pass. They don't honk or yell at them to get off the road. The difference? Bikes are so ubiquitous. Everybody bikes, so you just expect them.
Why does everybody bike? For one thing, it's often just easier. With the narrow roads and traffic, sometimes it is just simpler to get on a bike. Some cities, such as Florence, have restricted cars. Plus, the price of gasoline is almost three times what it is here.
It's not perfect there. I've never been hit by a car while on my bike before, and while riding a country road my arm was struck by the side mirror of a driver who obviously tried to pass when he shouldn't have. But he did stop to make sure I was ok. (I was -- thanks to break-away mirrors.)
One other difference that I think helps cyclists and drivers get along is a cultural difference. It's hard to put my finger on it exactly, but when the government tells people the way things are going to be, Italians seem more likely to accept it than Americans.
Is there a take away for us? Perhaps it's as simple as getting more bikes on the road in order to get drivers more accepting of cars on the road.
So go out and ride!