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Arrivederci auto! Italy's bike purchases outstrip car sales.

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Alessandro Garofalo/Reuters

(Read caption) A woman rides a bicycle in front of the Duomo cathedral in downtown Milan, Aug. 28. Italy's two-year borrowing costs fell nearly two percentage points at an auction on Tuesday, as large redemptions and investors' appetite for shorter maturities supported sale.

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The chaos, congestion, and cobblestones can make cycling in Italy a nerve-shattering affair.

But crazy drivers, swerving scooters, and gigantic potholes have not stopped a renaissance in cycling, as the economic crisis forces Italians to tighten their belts.

For the first time since the end of World War II, the number of bicycles sold in Italy has overtaken the number of cars, according to new figures from Confindustria, a manufacturers’ association. Italy may be home to legendary brands such as Fiat, Ferrari, and Lamborghini, but 1,750,000 bikes were bought last year, compared to 1,748,000 motor vehicles.

Italy has one of the highest car ownership levels in the world – there are around six cars for every 10 people. Owning a family car became one of the symbols of the country’s post-war industrialization and economic “miracle.”

But the glory days of streaking down the autostrada or rattling down country lanes seem to have hit the skids, with driving now an unaffordable luxury for many. Gas prices recently hit two euros a liter ($9.50 a gallon) – the highest in Europe – and keeping the average car on the road costs around 7,000 euros ($9,000) a year.

Families are ditching their second cars, signing up to car pool schemes, and buying bicycles. Branches of Decathlon, an outdoor pursuits megastore often found on the periphery of big cities, are packed each weekend with people choosing between sturdy mountain bikes, sleek hybrids or, for commuters, collapsible two-wheelers.

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