Seemingly cycling from London to Brighton or even Paris isn’t enough these days, insistent on seeing Europe and having a proper adventure, it was destination Rome.
The trip was simple; two guys, two road bikes, unsupported, 18 days, what could go wrong. This blog is a retrospective view on a trip that I frequently get contacted about and hope this proves a useful resource.
- Kit – Bikes
- Kit – Fully loaded
- Route: France, Switzerland Italy
- Accommodation, camping and food.
Kit – Bikes
Use what you have right? at the time we were on a budget and chose to use the bikes we had. Two aluminium road bikes. They certainly did the job, not the comfiest but it was all about touring with speed and big miles.
Bike: Specilized Allez Sport Wheels: Planet X Model C Mounting: Rack with M:Part seatpost clamp Panniers: Ortlieb Back Roller Plus [saving the grammes] Frame pump, x2 bottle cages, tri bag on top tube & saddle bag Basic tools, emergency boot patch etc.
! Tip: Understand gearing. I rode a compact over the Alps with a standard 12-25 cassette. Not that hard, not until you fully load the bike. Look at the widest cassette available, a 12-27 would have made the uppy bits far more pleasant.
Kit – Fully loaded
Trying to be a weight weeny and tour fully loaded is something of a juxtaposition but we managed to keep it to essentials only.
Evening wear: beach trousers, plimsolls, tshirt, 2x boxers Bike wear: x2 jersey, 1x rainproof, 1x merino base layer, 1x socks,2x padded shorts, mtb SPD shoes Tent: Quechua T3 Ultralight Pro, a 2 man would be too cosy! Highly recommended for price to weight and is still used today Sleeping: Some old sleeping bag and Quechua roll mat First aid: Emergency foil blanket and road rash treatment Electronics: Camera, iPod shuffle and Freeloader PICO solar charger. [enough power to charge the iPod daily but you'll want beefier for a smartphone/garmin] Cooking: Jetboil and spare gas, spork and two bowls
! Tip: Emphasis was put on clothing that could be layered. The sleeping bag case doubled as a pillow. Merino can be worn for days, this was put to the test. Take some toilet roll!
In 2010 devices like the Garmin 705/800 weren’t as prevalent [or familiar to me], we kept things simple taking two paper maps, purchased from Stanfords.
The best roads generally run alongside the motorways and if you look hard enough there are national cycle networks or you can try and follow the Via Francigena.
Day Miles Finish 1 113 Calais (France) [Start TW15] 2 90 Doullens 3 135 Val de vesle 4 83 Wassy 5 70 Langres 6 112 Pontarlier 7 95 Martigny (Switzerland) 8 110 Mergozzo (Italy) 9 60 Novarro 10 70 Alessandria 11 56 Genova 12 65 Levanto 13 70 Pisa 14 64 S Vincenzo 15 64 Grosseto 16 75 Tuscania 17 52 Tiber 18 18 Rome
Largely undulating and after years of riding in London the natives give you an impressive amount of room overtaking [before trying to kill each other car on car].
Don’t be surprised when people want to offer you help the second you flash a map or give you much needed chocolate!
We packed in some big mile days in France to ease the pressure at the other end. There is plenty to take in like Notre Damn and most humbling of all what were seemingly World War I battlefields and memorials.
Switzerland and the Alps:
There was a bit of a climb out of France from Besancon and some rolling country as we made our way to Lausanne on Lake Geneva. The lake is encircled with an on-road cycle lane, makes for pleasant riding and lead us easily to Martigy.
We had originally aimed to cross the Alps via the St Bernhard pass but even in May/June this was closed due to snow. So we took plan B, cycled around 50 miles down the valley and made our way over the Simplon pass. It was a steep start but we made our way over the top to some fantastic views and an unforgettable decent. Speed wobbles on a fully loaded bike exceeding 50 mph are insane and it just kept going down and down and down..
Here is the route we did on that day.
Mentally the toughest part of the trip, the mighty Alps conquered surely it was just a flat slog to Rome? No.
When it is flat you wish for more interesting hilly bits, when you find them you wish for flat bits. By far the biggest surprise on the trip were the climbs and undulations between Genova > Pisa.
These were tough, hot, dry climbs that made the Alps seem easy. Climb out of one bay and descend into the next, repeat.
Pisa > Rome we originally planned to follow the coast but it became apparent this was largely unpleasant dual carriageways and we headed inland to Tuscania, finding various national cycle networks and onto Tiber. From here there is a dedicated cycle route into central Rome.
Accommodation, camping and food.
We winged it. End. Ok..
We lucked out arriving in Calais stumbling onto a campsite as the sun set or did we luck out? It turns out the French know about camping, finding sites was easy and they generally all had great showers, warm water, supplies and were v.cheap, around 5-10 Euro.
I miss the food. The ritualistic 6am boulangerie stop for breakfast was always fantastic, even the bread [with nothing on!] blows what we get in the UK away. Supermarché are easy to come by but be warned, they don’t do 24 hour service. Pick up food before evening to avoid a Mars bar dinner.
Expensive but we only spent 1 night. Winner of the most expensive 500 ml bottle of coke award, about £5.
The Italians don’t do camping, it turns out. Our second night spend in Novarro, the only campers in an exiled 80s resort next to a dilapidated but possibly still open men’s club getting eating by mosquito’s with cold showers and broken glass, was interesting. We left before 5am.
For the rest of the Italian leg we sought out hostels where possible, half decent camping is only found around the tourist hot spots. Like that cheesy Pisa place, where people take cheesy photos, oh.
Our last night was at the highly recommended Tiber Village, situated on the outskirts of Rome it was the perfect place to unwind before the last day. A large holiday village complete with swimming pools, hammocks, bar and TVs to watch the then football world cup. The guys at reception even gave us maps to a cycle route away from the main roads into Rome.
Camping Navarre, Langres, France
AIG Hostels, Italy
Camping Tiber, Italy
As for Rome?
Do visit, it was worth the cycle but by all means fly over.
For those those who flew out and met us at the Colosseum, it was a messy night. Turns out a jug of wine was cheaper than two pints.
Total Miles: 1,417
Riding Time: 104 hours
Avg Speed: 13.5mph
Daily Miles: 78
Would we do it the same again? No but that was part of the fun of doing it first time. If you want to go hard, fast and far consider credit card touring. The lack of camping in Italy negated carrying much of the gear. I’d happily weight weenie down to a bar bag, large saddle bag and the bare essentials.
If you want to know more, leave a comment…