What a joy it is to ride around the streets of Rome. Cycling in this kamikaze city seems more dangerous than romantic but in fact it is both, and as one man shouted in a spirit of camaraderie it is the mode of transport of the future.

Rome does not have cycle paths throughout the centre. This means that with a bit of confusion, anything goes. You can dash in and out of thick crowds and side-streets, on and off pavements, and go either way on a one-way street. In the eyes of a pedestrian, the cyclist is not a motorised menace who pollutes the environment, and in the eyes of a car driver, a bicycle doesnt cause as much angst as a scooter. In other words, bicycles are accepted and admired.

Once convinced that cycling around town is the way forward, the next and important step is to purchase one. Brand-new bicycles are on sale everywhere. Although this is the more expensive option, the benefits are in the after-care service. If you have bought your bicycle from a reputable shop, then it is likely that many repairs will be free and new parts bought at discounted prices.

A second-hand bicycle is a good idea for financial reasons and also because brand new shiny ones come with a free invitation to be stolen. However, getting your hands on one is very difficult these days, which is indicative of the increased popularity of cycling. There are no second-hand bicycle shops in Rome, so the best way to get one is to go to a bicycle shop / laboratory, such as Di Bartolomei in Piazza S. Caterina della Rota. Here they construct new bicycles, and people who buy them often trade in their old ones as part-exchange, creating a small number of second-hand bicycles for sale. If nothing is available immediately, it is worth asking the owner to scout around for you. In this way, you are not only buying from a shop that can then help you with repairs, but you also avoid buying stolen goods. For a list of shops in your area of Rome, search in the pagine gialle under biciclette.

Flea markets around Rome are famous for being places where you can find all kinds of odds and ends including bicycles. It is worth nosing around the stands of Porta Portese off Viale Trastevere on a Sunday morning. Going late or very early is the key, as is going with a Roman to help you bargain. There is no guarantee of finding a bicycle, but you may just come across a e20 bargain to reward you for your time spent searching. You can also go on week days to the permanent bicycle shops around Porta Portese and pay e30-40 less for a new bike than in city centre shops.

Be very careful not to get your bicycle stolen for once it has gone it has usually gone for good. As the trade in stolen models increases, many are now being sent abroad to countries such as Poland and Romania. There are no magic solutions to avoid theft, but do invest in a good chain such as a D-lock that cant be torn apart with giant clippers. When parking, make sure that the fixture is a permanent one and not a pole that can be pulled out of the ground. Try also to keep your bike indoors during the evening or move it around so that it is not always in the same position.

Due to Romes hills, the city is tiring for cyclists. This helps account for the low number of bike riders and for the lack of adequate paths compared to cities such as Paris and Amsterdam. For a traffic-free ride in and near the centre, parks such as Villa Ada, Villa Doria Pamphilj and Parco Nazionale di Appia Antica have cycle tracks.

There are bike paths out of Rome too. To the north, the Tevere-Farfa reserve is very popular. The path is very flat and therefore particularly suitable for the amateurs among us, and also suitable for children. From Tiburtina railway station, take the train for Rieti and get off at Poggio Mirteto. From there you can follow a 16-km bicycle path that crosses bridges, streams and also borders the Tiber.

Another option is to go towards the sea. Take the direct train from Rome to Ostia from Piramide station. Stop at Vitinia and from there, following a 25-km route through the countryside, you will reach the Decima Malafede reserve.

For longer and more difficult rides such as the 65-km route across Parco del Circeo to the south of Rome, go with a group such as Ruotalibera or Sherwood. The railways often offer discounts if you are taking part in these excursions.

It is becoming more common to travel on the train with your bicycle. The railways call a trip with your bike treno + bici. Look out for the pictogram on the side of regional, intercity and Eurostar carriages for trains onto which you can take your ecological two wheels. In January 2004, a project in Rome called bici e binari was announced to link metro and train stations with workplaces and universities by bicycle paths. The five proposed train stations for this experiment are Ostiense, St Peters, Tiburtina, Ostia and Flaminio. Bicycle renting also has been proposed at these locations.

Bicycle utopias do exist in Italy. In Ravenna, the city council puts out two sets of bicycles, one colour for residents and one for tourists which can be used free of charge around town. This will be mimicked on a smaller scale in Rome at the beginning of this academic year, when a new initiative will be launched for the students and teaching staff of Universit di Roma Tre. Through a bicycle-dispensing system, it will be possible to travel around the campus free of charge.

The participants of Critical Mass will certainly be happy that the use of bicycles is being encouraged in Rome. This is the name of an international event that takes place in more than 200 cities around the world on the last Friday of every month. Cyclists take to the roads together to mark their presence and to force polluting cars and motorcycles to give them more space. In Rome, the meeting point is usually at Piazzale Ostiense at 18.00.

For more information on which trains you can take your bicycle

contact the Ferrovie dello Stato, tel. 892021, www.trenitalia.it.

For a comprehensive list of bicycle shops see

www.paginegialle.it.

For information on Critical Mass see

www.tmcrew.org/eco/bike/criticalmassroma.

Sherwood, www.biciebike.net, sherwoodroma@libero.it

Ruotalibera, www.ruotalibera.org