Cycling the Lucca City Wall: Tuscany as Tipping Point

What does it take to get a reluctant 7-yr-old to learn to ride a bike? A trip to Tuscany. In addition to modeling cycling behavior as a daily bike commuter, I (and Papa Bear) have been gently nudging Sister Bear to learn by taking off the training wheels at the park and using our trail-a-bikes for local weekend adventures. Still, the way things have been going, I would have bet that it was going to take the shame of Baby Bear riding independently first to get her over the hump. All signs were pointing in that direction since BB was more willing to try (and fail). Not wanting to push too hard, I more or less let it go and acceded to SB’s request for a Razr scooter instead. As with all of my ambitions for our family adventures, including some unspecified but totally epic cycling tour in the future, I’m finding the joy in the baby steps along the way. Turns out, the scooter was the gateway drug to the bicycle. That, and seeing her friends ride to school. And a trip to Lucca.

Lucca is a walled city in the Tuscan region of Italy. Only residents are allowed to drive within the city walls, which makes the city a pedestrian and cyclist heaven. And then there’s the wall. The top of the wall is about 2.5 miles (4 km) around, and as broad as a two-lane city street in parts. One is able to circumnavigate the small city on bike or foot in a short time, enjoying indescribably beautiful and quintessentially Tuscan views around every turn. Gardens, towers, and villas both inside and outside the city walls all provide a feast for the eyes as one ambles at a leisurely pace along the flat, paved road. Along the way there are small parks, picnic areas, and playgrounds to explore. Crumbling remnants of the older walls satisfy the irresistible climbing urges of the little bears.

view from the Lucca ramparts

We rented a sprawling old apartment in the city with my parents and sisters for the week. I wasn’t in charge of planning this part of the trip but I vaguely recall reading that the place keeps a few bikes around for the renters to use. But as bicycles are available to rent for a few euros per hour, and neither of the girls is riding independently, I figured we’d go out once or twice with the girls on rented trail-a-bikes or perhaps even a tandem. When I asked the owner about the bikes he took me down to the garage and my jaw nearly hit the floor. The garage was more like an interior courtyard, and served at one time as a stable. I immediately dubbed it the Bike Barn. Instead of one or two rusty fixies, there in front of me were no fewer than 20 bikes of all sizes. I confess my first thought was, yes, the streak will live yet another week! Then I noticed the three children’s bikes. Could a trip far from home, billed for months as our next grand family adventure, be the tipping point for Sister Bear learning to ride?

The Bike Barn

To my surprise, she couldn’t wait to get on a bike. I didn’t even have to nudge. I just said, mama is going for a ride around the city to keep my streak going. I’ll be back soon. SB immediately wanted to go down and check out the Bike Barn. As it was getting late I promised we would try in the morning. The next day after breakfast she was ready to go. We put BB on the back of PB’s bike and SB mounted one of the kid’s bikes. Would this actually work? Did I know where the first aid kit was? Did the apartment even have one? Wonder of wonders, she pulled it together and after a wobbly start we were off. Slowly we made our way around the entire city, stopping twice for play breaks. She kept her cool on the crowded path, didn’t fall once, and wants to do it again tomorrow. All the requisite physical skills were there, she just had to want it. For some reason, in this place, at this time, she wanted it.

Sister Bear learns to ride

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