Rome, like Paris before it, has a green bike scheme in the centre of the city. Lots of bike racks, lots of bikes, and you pay 50 cents for each half hour or part thereof. Nifty. Of course, it isn’t quite that simple. You have to have a special smart card to unlock a bike and return it to a rack, and to get one you have to trek to one of three Metro stations, fill in a form in triplicate, sign away your first-born and hand over cold, hard cash. But I was at Termini anyway, so what the heck.

Armed with my card I jumped a bus downtown and sought out the first rack I could find. Checked the tires, unlocked it, adjusted the saddle height, mounted, stood on the pedals and came to a screeching halt. The tires were fine. But one of the nuts on the rear axle was loose, so the tire immediately slammed into the back stay and the chain leapt off the front gear. Of course I didn’t have a spanner with me. And of course the nifty built in chain guard prevented me getting the chain back on. Bummer.

I cursed mildly, returned it to the rack -- bang goes 50 cents -- and ran to my appointment, pleased that I had tried but mighty peeved that this first experience was such a let down. At the very least, there ought to be some kind of button on the bike rack that alerts HQ that there’s something wrong with that bike. If they can track me and the bike to know how much to charge me, they can track the bike to fix it.

Of course there’s a whole ’nuther discussion to be had, about whether such schemes aren’t just a red-rag to the bulls of the banlieus, which may not be nearly as bad a problem as it is cracked up to be. As far as I am concerned, anything that makes it easier to cycle around in the city centre gets my vote. And my cash. Fifty cents at a time. I can’t wait to try it again, and I’ll try to remember to slip a box spanner in my bag.

2022-01-18: Totally died a death, of course. Rugged Roman individualism saw to that. Now the streets are littered with three flavours of e-bike and scooters up the wazoo. I hope the city gets something from them.

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