From a motorcyclist's point of view, Italy is among the best places in the world for riding a motorcycle. Twisty roads, close distances between sea, hills and mountains - you only need to ride a few miles and the landscape changes completely. Excellent food, good weather and reasonable costs make Italy an attractive touring place for bikers.
Riding a Motorcycle in Italy vs. riding in the US
Riding in Italy is not the same as riding in the US. I personally enjoy riding in both countries but I think touring Italy is overall more enjoyable. Some people think that it is 'riskier' due to the Italian way of driving, but I consider it a lot more fun. If you are an experienced driver you will have no problem driving through Italy - and actually there is almost no better place to enjoy a bike. The hills of Umbria and Tuscany for example are really a 'gift from god' on a bike. But it is a really big treat to bike in practically all regions of Italy.
Riding in major towns: There are really thousands of little mopeds and scooters in all the major towns - you will have to watch out for them because usually they do not know how to drive, and if you are on a larger bike with less handling they will pass you from left and right or will even pass you while you are overtaking a car ... there are no rules for those damn little mopeds; then there are large scooters - watch out for those as well since they are usually driven by former car drivers fed up with traffic and parking problems but having little or no idea of how to ride a bike. Therefore, they are quite accident-prone.
Above Italian Police force show
Another difference is that usually Italians and Europeans when they ride for fun often ride two on a bike (men-woman believe it or not!) - oddly enough, in the US I see almost all single riders. Too bad...
One more difference is that, at least here on the East Coast, people use the motorcycle mostly for fun as a recreational vehicle during the week-end. Italians use their bike everyday and the reason is simple: With a motorcycle you can cut through traffic, go first at the red light cutting between lanes, you can find easily park on the sidewalk. In the US there is no real advantage in going to work with a motorcycle : You cannot pass cars at a stop light or go through lanes, you cannot park unless there is a designated (car) spot. This is quite unfortunate for us motorcyclists who enjoyed the Freedom of Europe (or for that matter any other country in the world). I believe it is also bad for the country since motorcycles use far less gas, they do not use the same parking area as one of the most recent bus-Size SUV or Pick up track. Feel free to disagree with me however and send me a comment me on this one ...
Renting a large bike can cost some money but it is definitely worth it...There are places that also offer organized rides. If you need help / suggestions please go to the "contact us" form of life in Italy and send me a message.
For a smile you can take a look at Bob's video of riding a moped in Naples: Riding a Vespa in Naples
Riding on country winding roads: it is more or less like riding in the United States - I would expect no problem there. Riding on the Autostrada (highway): In the last few months Italy introduced the point system whereby each time that you are caught speeding you lose points on your driving record. This might slow down some drivers but until 2003 speeds were much higher than in the US - The speed limit on the Autostrada is 130 km/hr (about 80 miles/hr) but do not stay on the passing lane unless you are doing 140/150 km/hr (90 miles/hr) or you will see cars appearing at 2 feet from your tail light flashing at you, which I personally hate.