Rome certainly doesn’t have the reputation of a cyclist’s paradise, but don’t believe the hype—the Eternal City actually offers plenty of advantages for two-wheeled tourists. If you ride smart and stay safe you’ll find that cycling is the fastest and funnest way to get around Rome.
Rome’s infamously aggressive drivers, traffic jams, unpredictably gestural pedestrians and cobblestone-infested hills make cycling seem unlikely, if not impossible. But glass-half-full types can easily say otherwise. Those aggressive drivers are Italians, who take driving seriously and will not risk scratching their vintage Bugattis for a stupid text message. If you don’t hide they’ll know you’re there, and they really don’t want to hit you. Traffic jams are certainly an enemy of drivers, but cyclists can pedal around or through them. If you’re not sure where to go, there’s always an iconic Vespa to lead the way. Sure, unpredictable pedestrians can be a problem, but a city with this many of them has to plan for some serious pedestrian-only space. Alleys, squares and streets throughout the city are closed to cars and even scooters, but bikes can follow walkers through barrier openings of any width. There’s no cure for cobblestones, but that old-world feel is what you’re after in Rome anyway, right? Let some air out of your tyres, quit whining and enjoy the ride!
Where to Go
Grassroots activism (a la Critical Mass) is growing in Rome, and protests for new bike lanes may bear fruit in the near future. For now, the cycling thoroughfare along the Tiber River and a vast network of pedestrian-only streets are there to ease the stress of dealing with internally combusted traffic. A great way to get acquainted with the city is to take a ride down the Tiber and stop off every few clicks to look around. The Tiber bike path has been finished since 2005 and straddles almost the entire length of the river within Rome, from Castel Giubileo in the North to the Ponte di Mezzocammino in the South. Most of the path is flanked by a 5-meter wall, so safety is of the utmost, and you’ll thank Rome’s hilly terrain for giving you a first-rate scenic view along the path.
Less useful for transportation, but instead a destination in itself, is the Appia Antica greenway. To get there by bike, you can take the Tiber Highway to the Ponte De Palatino exit, where a new bike lane will take you directly to the top of Parco Dell’Appia Antica. From there, you can ride virtually unobstructed (but beware of daydreaming photographers) for over 10 km through lush greenery and statue-speckled meadows that make Central Park look like 6th Avenue.
Rome’s old-town center, where you’ll need to spend at least a few days getting your belt properly notched, is virtually devoid of official bike lanes, but the vast network of pedestrian-only streets is there for the taking. On a bike, you can weave your way from ruins to cafes in a fraction of the time it takes to walk. With the time you save, you can ride your bike to the Gladiator School of Rome for some lessons in True Sport.
Leave the map at home and let someone else take the reins for a while. You’re guaranteed to see a lot more than you would on foot, and tours are a great way to orient yourself for future solo bike trips around the city.
Top Bike Rental and Tours offers a variety of themed and location-specific tours around the city. Their City Center tour will let you get your sightsee on, and their Panoramic Rome tour might be murder on the calves, but it’s worth it for the views. If you’ve already seen it all, try one of their Unusual Rome tours and find out that the city’s a lot bigger, and more intriguing, than you thought.
Nerone Tours Italy offers the classic Rome bike tour with stops at the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and any other necessary photo ops, but they shake it up a little with their optional self-guided tours that supply you with a map and an mp3 player then set you free to get into all kinds of tourist mischief. Their sunset tour is another highlight, and can jazz up your photo albums and give you a chance to crank your ISO to 11. They give you lights and stick to the mostly car-free center, so a certain amount of lollygagging and inattentiveness is tolerated despite the lack of visibility.
Most bike tours are between 15 and 25 km total, so you’re already covering a lot of city distance, but a few companies offer bike tours that take advantage of mass transit to let you get even farther from home. Roma Bike Tour’s Train + Bike tours take you outside the capital city to see sights and breath the fresh air of the Italian countryside. You can choose from a variety of destinations, including small Tuscan towns and Caserta, in Southern Italy. Their Ferryboat + Bike tours are notably more expensive, but they’ll take you to the relatively Ventotene Island, where you can pedal between historical sites and sandy beaches.
This handy online Rome Biking Map lets you know (albeit vaguely) where the bike lanes and greenways are in the city. For information on new lanes, cyclist gatherings and other events keep tabs on Ciemmona, Rome’s own Critical Mass offshoot. The Red Bicycle tour organization selflessly offers tips on getting around Rome on a bike, but I’m sure they’d rather you just take their tour instead of reading it.
It helps to know where you’re going, but a plan isn’t a prerequisite for biking in Rome. Sometimes it’s best to do as Romans never seem to do, and just get lost. You can spend days meandering from site to sight up and down hills, through cobbled streets and around fashionable-but-wobbly pedestrians. If you keep your eyes open and your quads massaged, you’ll have a great time biking in Rome!