I still remember when I heard of this event & thought, ‘hmmm who would be up for this kinda adventure?’. A good buddy, whom I’ve shared many adventures with around Asia was game. Mike Lee. If you wanted to match an outdoor adventure to a person this was it. There was so much unknown. What would it be like to ride in Italy? I’ve heard the roads are legendary & challenging but did that mean everywhere? How different could they really be ? Oh yeah, what about the bike choice? I remember that the first bike I started ‘training’ on was an ’88-89 Concorde that the PDM team raced on in the World Series. Turns out, this bike was a bit to new as it had indexed shifting & the brake cables were tucked under the bar tape making it ‘aero’. Not to worry, I found an older Bianchi that I traded a few pieces from the Spandex Panda Collection for & I had a qualifying steed.
‘who would be up for this kind of adventure?’
Riding on these older bikes there are several things that you must ‘learn’. First, how to shift. Yup, they were called ‘suicide shifters’ for a reason & you had to work on both dexterity, balance & ‘knowing just by feel’ when you were in the right gear. This was going to take some practice. Second you had way fewer gears to choose from, so you had to get stronger. There weren't 28 or 32 tooth options on that poor little freewheel. Those didn’t exist on the chainrings either. If you had a 23 in the back you were sitting pretty & a 25, well that would be deluxe. But, the fun part was those 2 chain rings up front. The modern standardized 53/39 would be something to be desired. The options were things like 53/49 or 52 /42. You want to talk about learning to ride, you had to understand these steel steeds loved momentum.
They don’t have the flashy, quick response that modern day carbon has, but once you’ve put the energy into these beasts, they get rolling pretty nicely. Faster descents made for slightly easier climbs.
The clothing was next. Perks of our ‘learning from the past to design the future’ motto is that we actually had the classic knitted jerseys. What I had done though was opt for the more expensive option of making the 100% Merino compared to the more common 50% Merino 50% Acrylic. This made them lighter & more breathable but still resistant to light rain. The material thinness does, over time, start to show holes in worn areas which requires nothing more than a quick mending. Shorts. Nothing to crazy other than the tan lines you normally had were about 4 inches shy of where your new shorts would be. Helmets. Well unless it was one of the leather hairnets which constituted ‘safety’ for a brief period of time, it was that classic cycling cap & all about how you wore it. My favourite though was the shoes. Imagine taking your pair of dress shoes, leather, laces & than tacking a little piece of leather to the bottom of it with a slit in it. That way when you stuck your foot in the pedals & tightened down the toe strap, you’d become ‘one with the bike’ fairly easily.
Classic Cycling Gear. CHECK .
Steel Vintage Bike. CHECK.
Now to get there & see what it was all about. We arrived in Siena by train & the great thing about having your bike is now you have transportation. No need to find a bus or a taxi. Grab your bag, read a map & let the adventure begin. That’s what we did. Mike & I navigated the roads of Italy from Siena to Gaiole on our steel steeds & with our bags over our shoulder. We soon realized that it was a beautiful countryside & at the top of every hill there was a postcard view. We also learned that we were going to be using our ‘easy’ gears a lot to get to the top of these climbs. Upon arrival in Gaiole we picked up our packages & headed off to our accommodations which turned out to be a castle that had its very own winery. Sounds perfect. Until you realize that it’s at the top of a 5km climb. The views & the wine were worth it & we made sure to take in every minute we could at the top.
The Saturday we roll back down & realize that there is a huge marketplace in full swing with anything & everything that you can imagine through ALL era’s of cycling. We naturally were overwhelmed & found a few great souvenir items as tokens from our adventure. Now, to understand what we would be in store for the next day. Talking to others who had done the ride before, we realized that lights were going to be necessary. We would start in the dark & will probably also end in the dark. Loading up on some amazing Italian food, a good bottle of wine & pinning our numbers on, we were ready for the 5:30 AM departure the next day.
An early breakfast & a roll down to the starting area, we’re ready for whatever this day of riding across the Tuscan hillside will throw at us. Hundreds of people are bustling around the small streets of Gaiole at this hour, slurping back cappuccinos & making last minute bike adjustments. As we roll out, it’s still pitch black & our little peloton is now heading the opposite direction of the traffic coming into town to get ready for their event. An early highlight in the ride is a beautiful little switchback lined with groomed cedar trees that is candlelit. AMAZING!! From there lots of ups & downs, priceless views but the thing that stands out compared to any other event....the rest stops.
Now normally there is a selection of goo’s & bars & gels to choose from & a few flavours of some scientifically proven electrolyte based, performance enhancing drink. Not for this event. The towns we stopped in had tables of local fare like fresh focaccia or sweet treats from the local bakery, wheels of parmesan or pecorino & sticks of salami, a leg of procuitto or a block of lardo from the local butcher. My favourite though was a basket of eggs. You’d guess, hardboiled, good protein. Nope. Raw. Just crack the top off, cheers each other & down the hatch. Our hydration though might surprise you. Water. Sure there was water but what you wanted was a splash from the bottles of Chianti red wine supplied by the closest wineries, showcasing their goods. At one stop there was even Vin Santos & Cantucci, which is always an absolute treat.
After hours of riding, enjoying the view, eating a bit, drinking a bit, taking photos & chatting with some people fatigue begins to set in. We hit the dark evening hours & eventually after completing the event & getting our ‘bonus’ celebratory gift we than feasted on pasta for an hour, sipping more great wine & slowly starting to re-live the small victories of the day. Mike & I made sure that we had enough energy for our last climb, back up the 5 km to our castle for the night. Totally drained and exhausted, we crashed for the night.
Breakfast the next morning we began to recall more of the highlights & smaller accounts of the previous day. Man, what an adventure it was. 205km on the white roads of Tuscany. One for the books for sure. The SPVC Classic Merino Jersey that we had with matching classic
merino shorts stood the test. We got wet like everyone but also dried out as the weather changed. Never to hot, never to cold. Getting used to the new ‘clip in’ shoes we used was something that would take a bit more practice for sure. No major injuries or mechanicals though made for an overall fantastic event. We rode back to Siena & hopped on the train, concluding our first Italian Adventure.
EROICA IN GAIOLE CHIANTI.