Monica Bellucci on bicycle

In the midst of economic turmoil in Europe, more Italians are turning to bikes as their preferred mode of transportation. Such is the bicycle's popularity in Italy that purchases of the pedal-powered two wheelers have eclipsed automobile sales for the first time since World War II.

According to The Christian Science Monitor, last year 1.75 million bikes were sold in Italy, compared to 1.748 million motor vehicles. Contributing to this trend are rising fuel prices and hefty costs associated with keeping a car on the road. Gas prices recently hit €2 a liter ($9.50 a gallon), and the average cost of ownership is estimated at around €7,0000 ($9,000) a year.

There is also the sheer congestion associated with driving in many parts of Italy. Narrow roads and a high level of automobile ownership (6 in 10 own cars, one of the highest rates in the world), have made for cramped streets in many Italian cities. The author of the report notes that a several-mile journey in the heart of Rome is quicker by bike than taxi.

Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne is among those feeling the heat from this trend, admitting "Anyone operating in the automotive sector in Europe today is experiencing varying degrees of unhappiness. The European car market is a disaster." Fiat released industry figures that showed September auto sales down 25 percent compared to the same period in 2011.

Antonio Della Venezia, president of the Italian Federation of Bike Lovers told Italian paper La Republica, "People who have only ever driven cars are changing their thinking. I don't think Italy will go back to the levels of car sales that we saw before 2008."

He may be right. Many families are downsizing to just one car, participating in carpool groups, and purchasing bicycles as alternatives to the rising costs of automobile ownership. It is estimated that around 200,000 old bikes have been restored for regular use. The inexpensive and convenient mode of transportation has once again caught on in Italy – just ask Monica Bellucci.