A nice summer hobby


Two weeks ago, Ollie and I were spending the weekend cycling in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy. Yesterday, wearing bib tights, and four layers up top, we regretted not wearing overshoes and thicker gloves. As we cycled through freezing fog the water formed a white layer of droplets over the fabrics of our gloves and tights. It was chilly to say the least and it’s only October. In fact, it is only the third time that we’ve worn any winter gear. The Italians don’t know what they’re missing, but we do. To quote Ollie;

This was a nice summer hobby wasn’t it! Time to find a new one…

As promised in the last post, after handing the carbon machines back, we had a week off of pedalling – though the week wasn’t without its attempts; a couple of days after returning the bikes in Sirmione we attempted to hire a pedalo but it had been an overcast day so the owner seemed to have decided it wasn’t worth opening up. We arrived in Venice, where bikes are banned, still craving some pedalling so we planned a trip to Lido. Lido is the only Island on the Lagoon which has motorcars; bikes are also allowed and they actually have a ‘Boris Bike’ scheme too. On our final day we took the Vaporetto over to Lido for a day trip with our intention being to tour the long, thin island by bike, but sadly we couldn’t work out the instructions so we had to walk instead.

In addition to being the only island which allows cars it is also the beach resort of the Venetian Lagoon; though the start of October is out of season and much of the island was closed. The hotels all close down over the winter and the beach is less accessible. We wandered along the quiet beach front, sat on the rocks, had some food in the company of some crabs and then wandered to the other end of the beach to see what we could find. What we did find was rather odd. At the end of the main coastal road, in the heart of the tourist district is a gated area, inside of which there is an infrastructure of roads and buildings. However the gate is locked, the buildings are broken and the area is deserted as if it had been hurriedly abandoned. On the gate is a sign, however with our limited Italian, we could only translate one word; Contaminated.¬†Very very eerie, but fascinating – Google didn’t provide us with any answers and Google Maps has the area greyed out, which suggests that the area was abandoned before 2005-2007 when Google did the majority of their mapping work (I think)! I doubt we will ever find out what it was, but it was like something out of a boy-film (Zombies, the end of the world etc…)

We returned home on Tuesday of last week and dived straight into trying to attack the mountain of laundry, in addition to going back to work on the Wednesday and, for me trying to catch up on my studies before lectures this week. Back into the university term means that all fun goes out of the window and there’s only time for work, study and chores (and hopefully the odd half an hour on the turbo trainer). Though after yesterday’s ride I can’t say that I am too disappointed – I am definitely back into a hating cycling phase; I really struggled yesterday, ended up frustrated and cut the ride short for my own sanity and to let the boys enjoy a faster pace. It sounds like I made the right choice, too, since there were some killer hills, although I did spend most of the hour that I was alone getting lost. My Strava map shows just how close I was to the end before taking a wrong turn and diverting away from the course to add a few extra, unplanned miles.

As we enter the school and winter period I suspect there will be less to post about, I don’t tend to have many adventures on my turbo trainer! That said – there are a series of winter sportives, which I intend to check out at some point.

An Italian vista


We are half way through our holiday ūüė¶ but on the plus side we still have quite a few adventures left!

We arrived in Sirmione on Friday and quickly explored the area; found food, climbed up the tower of¬†Rocca Scaligera for some amazing views of the lake and the peninsula and visited the tourist information for any up to date information which we may not have picked up on. It was at the tourist information that we picked up a leaflet for the Mantova bike festival. Mantova, just happens to be the village which our previous host had recommended that we visit (the one which ended up in us going to the wrong village, climbing an unnecessary hill or two and getting bitten to bits – I am still scratching); it seemed too good an opportunity to miss really – an Italian bike festival in a town which we had been recommended to visit. So, knowing that we were pushing our luck time wise we power walked and ran to the bike shop which we knew were able to rent 10 Speed, carbon road bikes. The opening hours on their website stated that they would be open until 1900, we arrived at 1852, all was dark, no one was around but the door was open. We went in and called “hello” and “Buongiorno” a few times with no reply; eventually a grumpy old guy appeared, and didn’t seem at all happy to see us. We persisted though and although he spoke no English and we spoke no Italian we were able to book bikes for the following three days (including asking for a Giant bike, preferably). Following a visit to the supermarket to buy the essentials for a picnic we mapped out our route on STRAVA and uploaded them on the the Garmins.

The following morning we traipsed out of our accommodation, in lycra and flip flops with our helmets hanging from our rucksacks, along the high-street for a mile or so to the bike shop where we had a slightly more sensible conversation with the lady of the shop. Mr Bike Shop did however remember us and pointed at me and said “Giant” which was reassuring; there’s no need for me to have a height complex any more.


Our first ride, down to the bike festival and back, was just under 60 miles – great fun, lovely scenery and fantastic bikes (mine was the Giant TCR 2.0, a bike which is now on my wish list). The bike festival wasn’t really anything to write home about, but it gave us the impetus for a fairly long ride, to visit the city and I achieved three QOM’s (Queen of the Mountains – fastest female on specific STRAVA segments). Half of the¬†route was along a canal path, picturesque and traffic free; though the drivers here really are extremely respectful of cyclists it was nice to have the peace and quiet. We stopped in a park, to eat some of our picnic on the way but apart from that kept a decent pace throughout; though it was on the way back that I really started to feel under the weather, however at this point I couldn’t tell why.

When we committed to having the bikes for three days we had planned that we would do the 60 mile ride on the first day, a short ride on the second day and a long ride to finish up. During the evening on the first day my brother sent us a message suggesting that we should visit a bar, not too far away, which had a loo with a view.¬†So we planned Sunday’s¬†ride to include this.

You’ll never have a better view while having a wee.

Unfortunately it was overnight that I really started to feel poorly with my previously mentioned cold/ear/nose/throat type infection and didn’t get much sleep due to worrying about the wasted investment in the bike hire, and a potentially ruined holiday from illness (though I would like to stress that the holiday hasn’t been ruined, the pace has simply been moderated and I have had to make slightly more sensible decisions about what I can manage – oh and a whole lot more Gelato has been consumed due to its throat cooling effects). So the ride was slow, averaging about 13.5 mph, and cut out a huge climb but the view was a good one and having completed another 40 miles I began to feel a little happier about my bike hire expenditure.


On Saturday evening, Ollie stated his desire for us to cycle the entire coast of the lake, but was understanding that I might not be up to it. There were several options and in the end we decided that we would cycle to the North of the lake, take a ferry to the South West and finish the last 15/20 miles by bike – cutting 90 miles down to a more reasonable 60 or so, with a ferry ride in the middle. However overnight (another not particularly restful night) I made the disappointing and frustrating decision that I would be stupid to cycle with such a heavy cold. I did similar last winter and ended up with a chest infection, or certainly made myself a lot worse and prolonged the illness. In the morning I sent Ollie off and I spent the day relaxing and scaring the cleaner. Somewhat stubbornly though I told Ollie that I would meet him at the South Westerly port and cycle the final bit with him; it¬†turned out to be a 43 mile round trip for me, which is more than I should have done really, but at least I can’t say that I wasted my money on hiring a bike. Ollie, without me slowing him down, managed to cycle to entire lake in an amazingly fast time, and got his first KOM. I am slightly jealous, but of course very proud!

We returned the bikes (this time in proper lycra attire rather than the maxi dress of earlier in the week) and will now be having at least a week off of pedalling! In fact, since returning the bikes we have done absolutely nothing! Yesterday a visit to the beach, and today it rained so I studied on the veranda.

So having concluded our Italian Cycling adventure, it’s about time I commented on a few of the differences between British and, Italian or more specifically, Lomardian (of Lombardy?) cycling:

  1. Squirrels vs. Hedgehogs- Some weeks ago I posted about Squirrels and the unenviable position that they find themselves in on the British roads. In Lombardy it is¬†Hedgehogs that find themselves in this unpleasant situation – though I feel that they have a better case than Squirrels. a. They can’t climb b. They are slow c. They have bad eyesight. However¬†in terms of animals running in front of cyclists as they descend a hill, no longer are squirrels the bad guys; Lizards are far more common culprits in this part of the world. A collision would be messy I guess but far less damaging to the cyclist.
  2. Large vs. Small – I am talking bottle cages. Bottle cages in Italy are too small. Never before has my bottle popped out of the cage as I am moving, nor have I ever dropped my bottle instead of securely returning it to its cage. Whilst over here, the bottle cage on one occasion squished my bottle so much that it fell out of the cage and on two occasions I have failed to secure the bottle and it has rolled into the road. Which leads me to point three.
  3. Road Rage vs. Respect РDrivers and pedestrians in Italy have the utmost respect for cyclists. On the second occasion that my bottle rolled into the road there was a car coming; the driver immediately stopped, waited for me to get off of my bike to fetch the bottle and get back on safely. The likelihood of that happening in Britain; slim to none. In Britain the driver would more than likely have blared his horn, shouted abuse and crushed my bottle while I watched on. Road rage Italy: Drivers vs. Cyclists is a programme which will never air (American Readers РRoad Rage Britain did air this very subject recently).
  4. Roundabouts vs. Traffic Lights – In Britain we¬†love roundabouts; in Italy they haven’t gotten them quite right. There’s the old system and the new system and then there is a mix of them both. Does anyone actually know what the roundabout rules are? ¬†The Old Rule:¬†Traffic on roundabouts always has to give way to traffic entering it (crazy!)¬†The New Rule:¬†Traffic on the roundabout has right of way and traffic entering it must give way.¬†The Problem/Mix of them both: Many Italians learnt to drive when the law was different – many haven’t caught up – thus they enter roundabouts without pausing. Furthermore, some of the road signage hasn’t been updated and therefore instructs drivers on the roundabout to give way. Add into the mix the typical Italian driving style and you can see why Italy doesn’t have roundabouts totally sewn up.¬†Traffic lights on the other hand; the right on red rule, which is applicable in many US states, appears to be in use here (or they simply ignore red lights) and is a rule I like a lot – it doesn’t cause a hazard and it keeps the traffic moving nicely. Very sensible.
  5. Any old kit vs. Team kit – Generally in Britain we wear some decent jerseys, there’s a nice selection, we don’t tend to limit ourselves to a specific colour scheme to match our bike or a certain team kit; we mix and match. In Italy they seem to wear team kit, or at a push a generic kit as long as it perfectly matches the colour scheme of the bike. Fashionistas to the extreme. I felt like a scruff with my pink and red clash and my supermarket knee supports!

To finish, I don’t have a British comparison for the guy we saw drafting a moped. Was he desperately trying for some KOM’s (Outrageous!) or was he, as my brother suggested, a pro doing a motor pacing session? With all the team kit out here it was impossible to tell, so we will never know – but I wouldn’t mind trying it myself!