Maybe this is a less well-known fact about Italy, but people here are CrAzY about cycling. Home to the Giro d’Italia, second only to the Tour de France in terms of international biking fame and notoriety, Italy is home to legends in the pro cycling circuit, and in the bike production realm.
It was only a few years ago that I decided to enter the fray when I purchased a second-hand, born in the Veneto, 2010 Wilier Triestina Lavaredo road bike for (an incredible deal) €900,00. At the time, I was still working in Livorno, living in the Tuscan countryside of Lorenzana. A friend and co-worker who was deeply committed to the cycling mania had finally convinced me to take the plunge, and upgrade from my 2004 Gary Fisher Wahoo Mountain Bike.
My Wahoo and I went way back. As a starving college student I managed to somehow scrounge up $400.00 to buy a BRAND NEW hard-tail mountain bike from Brandon Bike Works in Bloomingdale, FL. Wahoo and I tore up the single-track of Hillsborough county for a couple of years.
The first misadventure was the EPIC spill in the Balm-Boyette Scrub Preserve. At the time, I was a junior at the University of Central Florida, and epic bike fail day was also final exam day… in Orlando. The accident broke my left wrist in three places, but it didn’t keep me from picking myself up and hiking two miles back to my sweet 2000 Saturn SL2 sedan, chucking my bike (which was fine, by the way) into the trunk, and hauling my injured self home, showered, and drove an hour to campus to ACE said finals, only to be told after the fact by the professor that broken bones are a legit excuse and I would have gotten an A regardless!
I also had the honor of participating with a team from First Presbyterian Church of Brandon in the 2006 Bright House Networks MS150 bike tour and raised over $1100 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Three of us rode the 150 miles between Busch Gardens Tampa and Sea World Orlando (round trip) on our clunky mountain bikes! No fancy road bikes for us! Just mountain bikes and 150 beautiful miles of back-road Florida pine scrub.
Wahoo is still with us. Countless miles in Florida, Virginia, the Kingdom of Bahrain, the periodic 20km bike commute between Pappiana and Camp Darby past the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the rolling hills of the Colli Pisani. Lately, Wahoo has been enjoying a second life as temporary recreational bike for wifey, Alicia, as she boldly tackles the treacherous bike paths of the Riviera Berica (she’s only tumbled down an embankment once).
The second-hand Wilier Lavaredo sat in my garage in Tuscany for nearly a year. It then sat in my garage here in the Veneto for another two years! I contemplated selling it more than once, but something always held me back. For the past six years I’ve fancied myself a runner (recreational); one excuse. The real reason was my fear of clipless pedals. Feet firmly attached to the bike takes some getting used to, but once I finally got over it, there was no going back!
As a TOTAL novice, I have quickly fallen head-over-heals in love with this cycling phenomenon. 100km a week is frankly pathetic compared to the psychopath locals who dedicate their entire free-time existence to the sport. I’m talking the latest and greatest equipment, the spandex apparel, no expense spared, no moment wasted. These people are passionate about the hobby, the sport, the lifestyle. My greatest accomplishment to date has been the 300m climb up Via San Rocco, which according to strava.com 250 people have done faster than me. I thought I was going to die.
Progressing quickly, commuting every day, climbing when I can, I’m beginning to see what the craze is all about. The Veneto is made for this sport. Endless flats interspersed with abrupt topography. Gradual climbs and steep descents. The “front range” of the Alps, the Dolomites, are less than 50km to the north. Our backyard, the Colli Berici, literally right behind the house. On the 15km commute I can choose to tackle any number of great “segments”, including the (relatively) easy Strade Militare, which I did yesterday. Here I am, having first hopped on the bike at the end of May, and a rainy day brings on depression for not being able to get out and ride (but it doesn’t stop the real diehards).
The riding season will soon come to an end, but my being able to appreciate yet another cultural phenomenon makes me feel that more connected to this amazing country which keeps hurtling surprises my way. Navigating narrow country lanes in my Volkswagen is one thing, but appreciating this unbelievably scenic historical landscape from my bike brings a whole new perspective. Few if any other places on earth can I bike-commute on a Roman Road, pass a Palladian Villa, and climb a section of the route of the Giro d’Italia all on the same trip. This sort of experience makes a non-morning person excited to wake up and start the day.