Cycling from north to south Italy- the practicalities
We thought it might be useful to write a post about the practical side of Giro de MurrayBrown and cycle touring from Brennero in the north of Italy, to Syracuse in Sicily, what to expect/what not to expect and what might be useful to pack (and what's best left behind!)Travelling with bicycles
We took our own bikes with us, packed up in cardboard bike boxes for the flight from Manchester to Munich.
You can get the boxes from your local bike shop. We put the bikes back together at Munich airport and then ditched the cardboard boxes at the Service Centre.
There's also a supermarket at the airport which is handy to grab some food!
We had pre-booked our bikes on a train from Munich to Innsbruck over the phone a few months before leaving. We gave ourselves three hours between landing and our train departing to rebuild bikes etc... In the end this turned out to be just enough time after our flight was delayed by over an hour leaving Manchester!
We stayed in Innsbruck for the night then caught the train to the border the following morning (45 minutes.) Again we had pre-booked tickets for ourselves and our bikes online and this time collected them at Innsbruck station.
We flew home from Catania-Manchester. For the return, we chose to pack our bikes in CTC plastic bike bags which we had ordered from Wiggle and had sent out to our final accommodation in Syracuse a month before our arrival.
For us the plastic bags were the only viable option but it's a bit of a risk. Helen returned with a squashed brake while Rich's fork acquired a chip. Next time I would also put a roll of tape in to avoid a last minute panic to buy strong tape!
Here's what we took:
2x cycling jerseys
2x sports bra
2x cycling shorts
2x cycling socks
1x cycling shoes
1x cycling gloves, fingerless
Rab lightweight jacket
Ortlieb saddle pack (helen)
Tortec velocity rear rack (rich)
1x Ortlieb pannier (rich)
Garmin edge touring plus GPS
4x Italy maps
Front and rear lights plus chargers
2x spare tubes (we bought more as needed)
Gas canisters - Catherine brought these out for us on the train from Switzerland, but we learned in Manchester you are allowed to travel with two, but you must declare them.
Patch kit / Tyre boot kit
Fork spacers for packing the bikes
1x Kryptonite evolution mini7 lock
2x water bottles
1x vest top
4x pants (inc. one old pair which I threw away)
1x swimming costume
Goggles (my luxury item!)
Toothbrush, toothpaste, shower gel, life adventure fabric wash leaves, factor 50 sunscreen, razor (packed on bike!), mini moisturiser, germolene. Chammy cream (I put this in my nutrition pouch on my bike to travel out to avoid liquid restrictions.)
2x 10L compression stuff sacks
Phone and charger, adapter
1x nutrition pouch
6x Tribe bars each. I also sent some more Tribe bars and mini Soreen to Poggibonsi.
Precision Hydration sachets- variety of strengths. Had enough for one a day for 9 days.
Items I packed but didn't use
High vis gilet
Gore power GT jacket- I think we were lucky with the weather!
We were obviously not camping and travelled fairly lightweight. My Ortlieb saddle pack was superb, once you got the knack of packing it correctly.
It is quite a fiddle to attach but it gets easier once you get used to it! I put my book and flip flops at the back to keep it as straight as possible.
Rich had a heavier load than I did, taking the lock and tools. But I actually think this helped us to be able to ride at a fairly similar pace. If Rich hadn't been weighed down he would have probably gone a lot faster!
I would definitely recommend good lights if you are riding through Italy. There are so many road tunnels, many of which are unlit, so knowing you can be seen gives you a little more confidence when traffic flies past uncomfortably close and fast. I would go for lights over high-vis as it was so hot.
Our route was inspired by a blog we found from a group of friends who had ridden Italy north to south over 18 days. We spent a long time planning the ride and working out where to split it up so we could do a similar journey in 11 days with an additional rest day. Please get in touch via the front page of this website if you want our GPS files, we would happily share them.
We used Google Earth to check how safe some of the roads we would be travelling on were and made alterations accordingly! Many of the big cities have cycle paths but they don't always go where you want to go, so sometimes going on the road is easier.
They are also invariably crowded with other slower bikes and pedestrians. Negotiating Italian traffic is quite an intimidating game.
Be prepared to be beeped at ALL of the time! Italian horns range from pathetic squeaks to honking, loud beast-like noises that make every bone in your body quiver. Either way the dreaded beep of fear lets you know they are there/they are coming past you, regardless of whether there is sufficient room.
Our Garmin was invaluable! We opted for a fairly basic model because we weren't interested in too much data. We just wanted to get from A-B! Having mapped each day before we left the UK, it never let us down. The additional Powerpacks were really useful for keeping it full of juice!
We had all of our accommodation pre-booked. On one hand this was good because it took away the stress of having to find somewhere each night. However it added a bit of pressure every day because we knew exactly how far we had to ride in order to get a bed! Perhaps had we not got accommodation booked then we would have stayed in Garda and got my bike fixed, but it wasn't an option.
Food and drink
It was ridiculously hot for all 11 days of our ride, with temperatures in the mid to high thirties. We could pedal for about 90 minutes to two hours before we needed to fill our water bottles. The Precision Hydration sachets were perfect to help us maintain our blood sodium levels throughout the trip.
Italian village bars were a godsend, even the most rural old man ones. Turn up dripping with sweat and a bike bottle in your hand and they tend to know what you are after! Many sell things like croissants and small savoury slices of pizza so you can usually get something to eat too.
We were both so glad to have some of our own energy bars with us. Tribe bars really are delicious, full of natural yummy stuff and there were one or two days where we relied on them to get us that extra hour or so down the road.
We ate a lot of pizza. In fact we had pizza on 8 nights. There is a good reason for this! You know you will get a big plate of yummy calories!! It's also very quick and very available and pretty cheap. Pasta can be a bit of a lottery. One evening we both ordered pasta and mine was half the size of Rich's!
Our alarm time depended on the time we could get breakfast! But generally we needed about 40 minutes before breakfast to get packed up, sunscreen on etc... and about another 15 after breakfast to ensure our bottoms would survive the day! On a good day we were rolling by around 0800, sometimes with socks or tops hanging off bags/panniers to finish drying.
We tended to stop mid-morning for an espresso/small bite to eat and then again around 12-1pm for lunch. Be warned! Often places like shops and supermarkets shut for 'pausa' in the afternoon. Our gelato stop came around 3-4pm and we usually arrived at our accommodation around 5-6pm. We'd check in, wash/hang our kit and shower straight away and then go in search of food!
We were usually nodding off around 10pm.
We LOVED our Italian adventure. It was tough but so rewarding so we decided to do a blind quiz to finish off with are share our top picks:
Best day - Tonnara to Messina, day 10. It had everything - beauty, climbs, descents, boats...
Worst day - Garda, day 2. I couldn't enjoy it because of Helen's crash - I thought we'd blown it early.
Best accommodation - Agriturismo Cinque Cerri. The setting, and the awesome food.
Best food - see above!
Place you'd like to go back to - Tuscany, based in Poggibonsi.
Place that most surprised you - Viterbo. I'd no idea it was the ancient home of the popes!
Moment you wanted to throw your bike away - riding up a massive hill after the roadblock on the 124 mile day on the way to Sapri!
Favourite gelato flavour - striacchelli
Best pizza - in Sapri. It had sausage, Parma ham, egg, mushrooms and after 124 miles it was awesome.
Most rewarding anaesthetic - LaGrein red. Powerful and smooth. Purple teeth guaranteed.
Helen is the best cycling partner because - she just keeps on going, as long as you feed her regularly, which means you just have to keep going too. And that way you achieve way more than you thought you could. Plus I love her.
Item most glad I packed - chammy cream but I didn't pack it...Helen did....my bum loves her too.
Best day - day one. The excitement, the smiles, the company in riding with Rich AND Catherine, the feeling of adventure. The sunshine, the mountain scenery. The fact it was all down hill :)
Worst day - difficult one between broken bike day (day 2) when I had to ride 70 miles with one gear and the mammoth 124 mile day 8 from Pimonte to Sapri which just went on and on. I think Sapri day was mentally tougher as we had only done 30 miles by 1pm.
Best accommodation - staying with Franca and her family in Poggibonsi. So lovely to experience genuine Italian hospitality.
Best food - the pasta at 2.30pm on day 5 after an 8km climb, when I was in bits.
Place you'd like to go back to - Sapri. It was so chilled and I thought ooooooh I would love to explore this area more.
Place that most surprised you - Viterbo. Cycling in from the outskirts I was thinking urghhh this is just horrid. But wow, what a beautiful ancient city.
Moment you wanted to throw your bike away - on the 124 mile day, when there was a never ending drag on a shitty busy road, trucks flying past, heat blazing down and we were about to go through another sodding tunnel. We hadn't even got to the police encounter at this point.
Favourite gelato flavour - coconut!
Best pizza - tuna in a local pizzeria, at 10pm after the 124mile day. They even gave us biscotti afterwards once we told them we had cycled so far.
Most rewarding anaesthetic - the bottle of Peroni we shared which was in the fridge when we arrived at our final destination.
Rich is the best cycling partner because... he's a freakin' legend who just keeps pedalling and pedalling and pedalling. He's quite a handy mechanic too :)
Item you are most glad you packed - Chammy cream!