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  1. #1
    Senior Member mike's Avatar
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    Touring Italy: Does anybody actually do this anymore?

    I was in Italy last week for work. Two days of Italian national holiday afforded me the opportunity to bicycle. I brought my helmet, reflectors, lights, and even had a friend in Italy who was going to lend me a bike to use.

    Upon driving (for work) to and around Pisa, Lucca, Bologna, and Florence, though, it was obvious that the roads were much too dangerous for bicyclists.

    The roads do not have shoulders and are very narrow and very congested. Worse yet, the motorists are very aggressive risk takers who drive too fast for the narrow and curvey streets.

    I thought it maybe I had only seen the bad roads. Bicycle touring in Italy is so famous. I must have been missing something, so I asked some Italian bicycle enthusiasts who confirmed that Italian roads have become too dangerous for bicycling in recent years. For this reason, most Italian bicyclists have switched to mountain biking or travel to neighboring France or Germany for touring.

    This was a disappointment for me, having heard so much about Italian bicycle touring. I have bicycled in other parts of Europe like Switzerland, France, and Germany and had a wonderful time enjoying miles of "bicycle-only" paths which connect cities and countries as well as resonable travel on motor vehicle shared roads.

    Does anybody have any RECENT experience bicycling in Italy? Where do you bicycle in Italy? If your insurance company knows that you bicycle in Italy, will they cancel your policy?
    Last edited by mike; 05-01-01 at 05:37 AM.
    Mike

  2. #2
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    bummer to hear that, i toured through a large portion of italy in 1986 and it was awesome, my favorite area was the amalfi peninsula just south of naples, words cannot describe how beautiful, tuscany was great also and the italians were just too nice and cool

  3. #3
    Senior Member mike's Avatar
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    The good news is that the scenery is still beautiful and the Italian people are still wonderful. The food is still tops.

    From what my Italian friends tell me, the Italian government has not invested in infrustructure to keep up with the increased personal income and motor traffic.

    As a result, the roads and streets are terribly dangerous for bicyclists - or at least they are in Tuscany and between Pisa, Lucca, Florence, and Bologna.

    I am hoping that some recent traveller can tell me of the secret cache' of bicycling roads in Italy!
    Mike

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    I biked around Florence last august. The streets were clear and there was not traffic. The whole country takes holiday in august and heads to the coast. The only draw back was that most places in the city were closed but the major attractions were open. The city was cool to see this way. another drawback for you might be the heat. They have about the same climate as houston in august.
    MtbPhreek

  5. #5
    rob
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    I am in the process of planning a bike trip around Italy in September of 2002. I hope I can get some good advice from some of you. I have not specifice areas I want to see exept for Pompei. Any thoughts anyone?

  6. #6
    Senior Member mike's Avatar
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    Rob:

    The only thing I can tell you is to plan your trip wisely and talk to people who have done in recently.

    I have travelled through much of northern Italy and the Tuscany area. None of those roads are appropriate for long-distance bicycling. I asked the locals and they confirmed the same to me. Local bicycling like within walled cities (Bologna, Lucca, maybe Ferenze) might be O.K., but travel between cities looks scary.

    Italy is very pretty and the people are nice so there is much to enjoy.

    Trains are very unreliable, so if you plan to use the train system, you need a very casual attitude and a very flexible schedule.

    If you are going for the purpose of bicycle touring, I would recommend other parts of Europe.

    HOWEVER, if you find out something different, PLEASE do let me know. I travel to Italy often and would love to bicycle there. From what I have seen, though, the traffic and road conditions make bicycling far too dangerous.
    Mike

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    I did a trip in 98 (Copenhagen-Rome)and travelled from Alba to Rome, via Florence-Siena. I did ride on the Via Emilia (very busy but with a decent shoulder) and found many small neighboring roads to bring me safely to destination.

    In 99, I did Warsaw-Venice. The Brenner Pass road that goes through Bolzano, Trento, etc. and ultimately down to Venice seemed to me to be very manageable. There again, alternative smaller roads do exist and are available.

    Just out of Spain-Portugal - countries with bad reputations for traffic and road quality - and can report that Spain has a first rate road network (can you believe well maintained country roads?). Portugal however does have bad, dangerous roads in spurts. Madrid and Lisbon are nightmares for cycling...

    Having said all this, traffic is a fact of life pretty much through all of Europe. In my experience, drivers from all countries treat cyclists like scooter drivers, which means that if you don't wobble all over the road or ride at night, you're safe!

    Touring these countries sure beats the Canadian Prairies or the Bad Lands, which are very safe indeed but can be boring (and hot) as hell.

    Voilą!

    Louis Tousignant

  8. #8
    Senior Member mike's Avatar
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    Based on my experience, the best countries for bicycle touring are Holland, Switzerland, France, and Germany. They have cross-country bicycle routes. In fact, you can bicycle from Switzerland, through France, and into north Germany along a dedicated and well maintained bicycle path that goes along the Rhine river.

    This path brings you through major cities and attractions along the way. It is really magnificent.

    If you haven't tried one of Europe's well established cross-country bicycle routes, then do those first. Park you bike at the train station, and go bikeless in Italy.
    Mike

  9. #9
    rhnb
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    Well, everyone to their own I suppose.

    I've toured in Italy 3 times (1998, 1999 and 2000).
    1998 and 1999 we toured Tuscany and Umbria, and in 2000 toured the Marche region. Thoroughly enjoyed all of them with, for me, the best being the 2000 trip. We've always toured in May, so the roads maybe aren't as busy as high season (it's cooler and prettier too). We also do a fair bit of planning, and travel on the smallest roads possible.

    Tour reports are up on the web and can be reached from...

    http://www.a-nelson.dircon.co.uk/

    OK, I've had a couple of scary moments (the first years trip where we ended up in a tunnel on an autostrada trying to get to Perugia :-(
    But, putting that in context, I cycle to work a lot, and can usually reckon on a couple of scary moments per trip.

    I'd certainly tour there again, and hopefully will be doing next year.

    Cheeers... Allan.

  10. #10
    Senior Member mike's Avatar
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    I am glad and inspired to hear that at least a couple of you have bicycled in Italy and lived to tell. I just don't see it being feasible from the roads I have seen; The roads are narrow, busy, and the drivers have some macho thing they try to prove with race-car style driving.

    However, I do travel to Italy frequently for work and would really like to try bicycling there over a weekend; if I can do it without getting killed.

    How do you guys chose your routes? Any suggestions?
    Mike

  11. #11
    Senior Member cyclezealot's Avatar
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    Have driven, but never biked through Italy. Urban areas are crazy. Friends have. Said they really enjoyed Tuscany and in the south about Sicilicy. They said they had a great time?

  12. #12
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    I spent a couple of weeks in a rented house just outside of Siena and rode almost every day around there and all over Tuscany without any problem. I would have said that it is more bike friendly than France. One of the most interesting moments was on road and with a peleton of really decked out riders approaching and a long line of cars following them patiently awaiting a chance to pass.
    Mike Latondresse

  13. #13
    Every lane is a bike lane Chris L's Avatar
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    I actually want to tour Italy one day. I want to see if they cook pasta as well as my sister does.
    "I am never going to flirt with idleness again" - Roy Keane
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  14. #14
    Senior Member cyclezealot's Avatar
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    Having driven through Italy, I suspect there are unfriendly areas to cycle, however, I think Tuscany is not one of them. I just got an email from bike tour organization. They route you over the same roads as the San Remo- Milan tour. Doing this particular ride interests me.

  15. #15
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    I am an Italian, i live in Milano. In Italy we are not so well organized for bike touring like, for example, in north europe, where they have road only for bikes. But i travel a lot in all europe and in my experience if you keep out from the very main roads, there are no problem.
    Remember that cyclism in italy is a national sport, and you can see groups of undreds cyclists on sunday on the roads.

  16. #16
    Senior Member mike's Avatar
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    Originally posted by minivip
    I am an Italian, i live in Milano. In Italy we are not so well organized for bike touring like, for example, in north europe, where they have road only for bikes. But i travel a lot in all europe and in my experience if you keep out from the very main roads, there are no problem.
    Remember that cyclism in italy is a national sport, and you can see groups of undreds cyclists on sunday on the roads.
    Minivip, I am excited to see someone from Italy at Bikeforums.com!

    How can I learn more about these bicycle roads of northern Italy which you mention?

    Is there a safe way to get from city to city on bicycle? The roads I have seen are so narrow with no shoulder and no bike lane. The drivers go so fast on those narrow roads, I would be too afraid all the time. There must be something I do not see because bicycling IS such a big sport in Italy.

    Welcome to the forums. There will be many people with questions for you about bicycling in Italy!
    Mike

  17. #17
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    I may have had an unusual experience from what you describe, but I found the roads in Tuscany and on up the coast to be a very mellow experience.

    Last summer (May-June, 2001), I rode from Florence, down to Sienna, up to Lucca, and up the coast through the Cinque Terre (never again by bicycle!#@$) to France and beyond to Spain. Of the three countries, I enjoyed the roads in Italy the most, followed by Spain, and in a far distant third, France.

    The area surrounding Florence was insane, but once I got out of the area, I was usually on quiet country roads with barely any traffic. I could usually collapse in peace on the side of the road with nothing but the birds making sound as most of the cars took the main highways.

    I used the maps by the Touring Club Italiano for my ride in Italy. The best maps I used on the entire trip. Perfect scale for biking, good indications of each and every hill along the way (not topo, but better in my opinion), and accurate down to the .1 km as I desperately struggled up and out of the mountains along the coast.

    I'd ride there again any time.

    -Sean

  18. #18
    Punk Rock Lives Roughstuff's Avatar
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    I toured in Italy many times, always in the Alpine regions. Yes the Italians are crazy race car drivers but I find that since the cars are so small they never bothered me. The roads are in poor condition and slovenly because italy is a corrupt government: many of the Alpine regions still entertain thoughts of secession and return to Austria, where they were before WWI.

    I heartily recommend all the passes between France and Italy in the western alpine sections: from the lower passes near Sospel etc in the Maritimes all the way to the mighty petit St Bernard further north. Ditto for all the passes into switzerland: the Great St Bernard, St. Gotthard, etc. The areas around Lago Lugano and Locarno can get crowded but sure is beautiful. The brenner pass is cool, but try some of the other passes near it; lonely, brooding and difficult climbs, all of them.

    But it all pales with the dolomites in northeast Italy/Austria. The limestone/dolomite is pinkish/yellow and in the late evening sun turns almost a brandywine color. The dolomitenstrasse again can be slovenly and rutted but is quite beautiful. I wish i had a map in front of me showing the names of all these passes but i don't. You'll find all of them on a "alpenlander" map or somesuch.

    roughstuff
    Electric car sales are on fire! :)

  19. #19
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    Hi Sean:

    I am leaving to cycle through Italy in a week, and I've heard of these famd Touring Club maps, but I can't seem to get my hands on these alleged maps... I tried going to their website, but it's all in Italian, and I can't read it. I checked at Border's bookstore, but they don't have those maps.

    Any suggestions? This would really help me plan my trip!

    Thanks,

    Koffee Brown

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