Traveling the Italian countryside in style.
March 21, 2010 3:06 PM   Subscribe

How to buy a bicycle or motorbike in Rome to use for a summer in Italy?

I am spending the summer in Italy, in a village about an hour from Rome. I was planning on buying a bicycle in Rome upon arrival and taking it with me via train, but it occurred to me how nice it would be to travel around the countryside a bit via a motorbike (a light motorcycle or motorized bicycle). My question is three-fold:

1) What would the cost be and how would I go about getting a cheap bicycle in Rome to bring with me to the village? I've always used hybrids, but am flexible.

2) What would the cost be and how would I go about getting a cheap motorbike in Rome? Would I need a special license to drive it? If so, is it difficult to get a special license? I have a U.S. driver's license. Would I be able to sell it at the end of the summer without too much depreciation?

3) Is there any reason you would recommend one over the other? Does any other option come to mind that I might prefer?

Side note: I have an electric bike here in the States but as far as I understand the airline (United) will not permit me to bring it due to weight (49# without box). I don't have any kind of case for it. I'm thinking bringing this is not an option due to the power supply and transportation issue, but that's a potential resource.

Thank you for your feedback in advance!
posted by letahl to Travel & Transportation around Rome, Italy (6 answers total)
I don't have any specifics for you in terms of where in Rome to get a cheap bike. But, lest you become discouraged and start thinking there are none to be found, I can assure you that I have purchased very inexpensive bicycles Italy on many occasions, generally in parts of town with several hole-in-the-wall bike repair shops that sold me very old bikes that had been repaired. Granted, they were pretty awful looking bikes, but they worked well and did the job, and they were seriously unbelievably inexpensive.

On the other hand, the one time that I have been in the back of an Italian ambulance was accompanying a friend who was severely and permanently injured on a Vespa. So be careful. I would recommend a bicycle over a motorcycle or moped in Italy. Why? Because Italian traffic, while exciting and very fun, is also extremely fast and difficult for an American to "read," and a motorcycle or moped in Italian traffic is likely to get an American who has never driven a car in Italy killed or worse, pretty quick. I and my bike have bounced off of a lot of Fiats in our time, and being in a small town will only reduce the risk a little bit.

But don't let that scare you away from going through with your plan one way or the other. You know your abilities and your tolerance for risk, and two-wheeled transport in Italy really is a fantastic thing. One of my most cherished memories in life is a solo bike ride I took through rural Tuscany that didn't require dodging any cars.
posted by The World Famous at 3:50 PM on March 21, 2010

You do understand that Rome, unlike other European capitals such as Amsterdam, has hills, don't you? And as an American who has frequently rented and driven cars around Rome, I think it would take more than simple panache to compete with motorized Roman traffic, on a bicycle, on a regular basis, although this writer for the NYT apparently saw few traffic problems, sticking mainly to alleys and staying off the major roadways as much as possible.

You can rent vehicles and drive in Italy on an American driver's license for up to one year, but buying and selling motor vehicles of any type requires a lot more paperwork, including insurance and perhaps a residence certificate, if you aren't buying a new vehicle. If you buy a new vehicle from a dealer, you can get a special foriegner's license plate, and the dealers are often setup to get you insurance, registration and helmets and other gear, all as a "foreign delivery" package, including help shipping your used scooter home, or selling it for you, when you leave. Sometimes, foreigners get "around" these ownership and registration restrictions when buying used vehicles by finding a private owner willing to sell them a vehicle, but keep the registration, insurance and paperwork in their name, for a few months (not technically legal, but done anyway). But be careful! You can get a stolen machine (and a lot of headaches) this way, too.
posted by paulsc at 4:14 PM on March 21, 2010

It's 3am here in Italy - on the ground,up to date coherent answers will be a while. It'd be usefull to know the village you'll be staying at as well. :)
posted by romakimmy at 6:55 PM on March 21, 2010

@ paulsc - I am not staying in Rome.

@ romakimmy - Amelia. And thanks for the comment about the time. I hadn't thought of that and I'm a bit of a compulsive checker after I post an AskMefi question.
posted by letahl at 7:00 PM on March 21, 2010

There's some good advice upthread. Especially about hills - Amelia is delightful, but look on a map (or Google Earth) at the roads zigzagging up and down the hills all around. Road cycling is very popular in Italy, but these guys are used to it (the gradients, the traffic habits) and practice for years, and usually ride in bright-coloured, highly visible groups. I suspect you'll be far happier with a scooter, and far safer: the problem with pushbikes is that their low speed forces car drivers to hang back and wait for an opportunity to pass, after the next curve (or the next, or the next) while their patieince runs out. The World Famous recommends a bike, but I suspect this is more suitable for city riding, not for out in the country where you'll be.

As for buying, I'd suggest putting an ad in good time in Wanted in Rome or, if your Italian's up to it, in Porta Portese. Both are free to read, inexpensive to place an ad. (Porta Portese, BTW, is named for the infamous weekend flea-market in Rome, to be avoided at all costs: ripoffs, stolen goods and pickpockets at the live street-market, but the paper's OK.)

To address your specific questions:

1. The cost: whatever you want to spend, a scooter from $200 up according to age/condition. It's about a 60 mile ride up to Amelia, avoiding the A1 motorway (where you're not allowed to ride a scooter anyway, unless the engine capacity is over 150 cc). You can take a bike on some trains, but I don't find any with the "bike" symbol on the timetables from Rome to Amelia (about a 1-hour trip with an obligatory change in Narni) on the Trenitalia website .

2. paulsc has it with the licence and insurance details. Your main problem will be the paperwork, unless you find someone prepared to help you out illegally. If you're looking at rental, it's legal but not cheap: from €150/week up.

Depending on what deal you have for accommodation, you might want to consider asking whoever runs the place where you'll be staying (friends? rooming house? student hostel?) if they have any suggestion local to Amelia. Again, if your Italian is up to it, you could place an ad in the Corriere dell'Umbria, the local paper for the Amelia/Terni area.

Good luck--I think you'll enjoy it whichever way.
posted by aqsakal at 1:01 AM on March 22, 2010

i hate to say this, but the cheapest bikes you can buy in rome are not in porta portese anymore but rather in malls. try panorama or auchan. For used bikes or in case you need repairs, try , which has the added bonus of being somewhat close to the train station (20 mins or so but they're uphill going back..)
posted by 3mendo at 7:32 PM on March 22, 2010

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