Riding a bicycle is a simple form of freedom. You choose the path you take. You control the speed at which you travel. You can stop and start wherever you want. You even get that lovely feeling of the wind flowing through your hair! But what happens when the path you choose is filled with dangerous obstacles, or disappears altogether? And the wind flowing through your hair is matched by choking exhaust fumes filling your lungs? Riding your bike is no longer a liberating task but a debilitating one.
Having survived 15 years of riding around the congested labyrinths of London and Brussels, I didn’t expect the small mediterranean State of Malta to be such a challenge. Despite establishing a fairly straightforward route to work from Mosta to Sliema, a near death experience on Triq Tal-Balal had me lock my bike in the garage for good. Much like the rest of Maltese residents, I resigned myself to the stop-start-stooooopppp lifestyle of commuting by car every day. Surely other people rode bikes in Malta? The weather was good, the distances short, the landscape favourable… There were even three bike shops within a 3km radius of my house!
Something that had caught my attention when I arrived in Malta, was Fetchit – an active courier service delivering goods all over the island and raising awareness on mobility issues and the environmental impact of emissions. The delivery markets of London and Brussels are already saturated by competing services, but Fetchit are paving the way for greener means of dispatching. Fetchit rekindled the flame in me to get back on the saddle and give Maltese roads another go.
One week into my new position at Fetchit, I was still sitting behind the wheel of my diesel guzzler doing the stop-start-stooooopppp shuffle to and from home. As I sat in traffic feeling frustrated, a small handful of cyclists whizzed and weaved past me tracing their routes through the traffic jam like hot knives through butter. That was it! I had to practice what I preached. The next day I slipped on my helmet, face mask and hi-vis jacket and hit the streets on my trusty two-wheeled steed.
Unfamiliar with all the local shortcuts and country lanes, I figured I would play it safe and take the fastest route to the Fetchit office in Msida. The Birkirkara Bypass sure is fast (Mosta to Msida in under 20 minutes!) but it sure isn’t safe! Cars speed past you at over 60km/h – even though that’s the speed limit – and crossing the path of merging lanes is a case of David vs Goliath when buses and trucks are involved. I didn’t dare dance with the devil by trying to go round the skatepark roundabout and opted to turn off early and use the side-streets and underpasses. Speaking of underpasses, on the way home, it took me three attempts to find the right tunnel to exit in the correct direction and not into oncoming traffic.
Since this fast and furious escapade, I have opted for the safer side roads and scenic trails. The lack of real cycle lanes is obvious and more than a few cars and trucks on the road could do with having their emissions checked, but that feeling of freedom I get from riding my bike is alive and well. My only grief so far has been when I enjoy the steady downhill ride through Lija and end up missing my turn and keep going down into Balzan a mile off course. It could be worse – it could be raining!
Needless to say the learning curve for commuting around Malta by bike is as steep as Le Mont Ventoux. The Fetchit team face this challenge every day as they deliver, food, documents and personal belongings all over Malta. Over time we are establishing a strong knowledge base of how to get from point A to point B is the safest and fastest ride possible. If you are up for a challenge, leave a comment or get in contact.