I am in Firenze for the next couple of months, sort of a work thing, but I am trying to fit as much cycling in as I can around the work (or fit the work around the cycling...). Thought I'd write a little mini blog about it. Partly just my incoherent ramblings, but maybe some people will find it useful. I'll keep going with it if there's enough interest. I will organise it around themes so people can avoid the ramblings if they want.
I have decided to do everything as retro as practically possible. No Garmins or mobile phones or any of that poncy stuff, just a road map stuffed in the back pocket of my jersey and my dubious sense of direction to get me round. I am wearing modern cycle clothes though - wool shorts in 35 degree heat's taking the retro devotion a bit far if you ask me. Itchy.
1) Finding a Bike
Rather than risk putting my bike in the hands of the rock-apes at airport baggage handling, I decided to try to find a bike here to use. I started out looking on craigslist and e-bay.it. Craigslist sucks IMO - exclusively the domain of thick American expats.
E-bay.it was better, although very much full of rusty old Legnanos tagged as 'bici per l'eroica' (bike for L'eroica') with a ridiculous price tag. What really cracked it was when I googled one of the bikes from e-bay. This led me to a much more promising Italian second-hand site.
I found a nice looking bike for sale just round the corner from where I live, although with no size. After a bit of fannying about, I managed to meet the seller. When he answered the door, he was almost exactly the same height as me. Result! Particularly given that the average height in Italy's at least 100cm less than my 183cm. And the bike...Wow. Made by Mario Conti (a local bike shop), with a sort of flamboyant red colour, and full Campag SR, Pat 78. Droool. All it needed was new tubes.
I was originally planning to just resell whatever I bought, but this thing is coming home with me. Even if I have to ride it back to Belgium (via the Stelvio pass?).
I would say that buying a bike like this is more fun and rewarding than renting something. It only took me a couple of days to find this bike, so it could even be feasible for a short holiday of two weeks, particularly if you've got a car and a more flexible budget than I have (and you are prepared to accept that you will almost inevitably end up bringing whatever you buy back home with you). Oh, and learned my first bit of useful vocabulary: 'No Perditempo!'
Went to a fairly fancy bar the other night with some friends, and some of the trendy Italians were posing around drinking Tennent's Super. Seriously, it's sold in bottles everywhere here. I suppose some marketing smartarse realised it doesn't have the same 'Tramp Juice' associations as in the UK, and they can market it however they want.
Same as Stella Artois in Belgium - in Belgium, Stella is considered bog standard beer, not a luxury product like in the UK. In fact, my GF's brother drank Carling Black Label in the UK cause he thought it was pretty similar to Stella
And on my first trip to the supermarket, I found they sell Marston's bloody Pedigree. Well, they stock it. The bottles were a bit dusty. I do miss real ale when I am abroad, but I have to say it just tastes completely wrong when you drink it in Italy. So it will be pissy Peroni from now on...
3) Bike Shops
Florence has loads of little bike shops run from holes in the wall by tiny, grumpy little men who look like Gino Bartali in his later years. Great for a bit of local colour, but they aren't much help when it comes to replacing tubular tyres. I went to one and waited about 5 minutes while the guy carried on sorting screws into plastic buckets, then got a lot of shrugging, gurning and arm waving when I asked about my tyres. Body language is universal...
Next stop was Bici Mario Conti (Via Marconi), where my bike came from. They are quite helpful, but had run out of Mastic/tube cement.
Stop three was a shop on the Via Palazzuolo (near the main railway station). I had to climb over a partially dismantled Vespa, and there was a forest of old wheels and frames dangling from the ceiling. Every available bit of space had old bits piled up on it, there were pictures of Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi on the walls, and a really ancient looking bike hanging up. My kind of place. The owner was your typical misanthropic bike mechanic, but he had what I needed. Visit this place if you get the chance.
Later, I also found a shop called Florence By Bike (Via San Zanobi). This place is great - very professional, they speak perfect English, they have a sale section with last season's clothes at good prices, and their website has some routes mapped out. It had the feel of a youth hostel as much as a bike shop, with people coming in to ask stuff. The chap who helped me was great, he offered me some of the cherries he was eating and we had a discussion about Gilbert's form this season. And they removed my freewheel for just €3.50.
Florence has quite a few decent looking shops, but my top three so far is:
1) Florence By Bike (Via San Zanobi)
2) Mr Misanthropy's Cave of Wonder (Via Palazzuolo, it has no name, just a sign saying 'Bici)
3) Mario Conti (Via Marconi)
4) Local Rides
Since I live in Belgium, I'm not exactly used to 'proper' climbs, so I wanted to have a bit of practice on the more gentle local climbs. I am staying at the bottom of the hill that goes up to Fiesole, which is obviously popular, you see a lot of people going up there. I've found two nice routes on the basis of this hill: you ride up the hill to Fiesole, and carry straight on across the square and out the other side. Follow the road about 1km and it forks into two, one road leading to Olmo (anything to do with the bikes?) and one to Monte e Fanna.
Olmo ride is nice, road continues to roll gently through some nice Tuscan hills, until you reach Olmo after about 8km. Follow the road through Olmo and it takes you back towards Florence. You can turn left after a couple of km to Fiesole station. Follow the road and you climb back up to Fiesole. None of the climbs are particularly brutal, especially now I've replaced the 13-25 freewheel with a 14-28
Monte e Fanna route is a bit tougher, with several quite steep ramps (up to 10-12%) mixed with gentler sections. If you follow this road you eventually end up back in Florence.
Yesterday, I found a useful site with profiles of some of the local hills:
http://www.salite.ch/struttura/salite.a ... ze&page=1&
It's somehow connected to this site, which seems like a better version of climbbybike (I have found cbb aseless for Tuscany, not many hills, and some of the ones one there apparently don't exist)
I found this: http://www.salite.ch/11351.asp?mappa=
, and this: http://www.salite.ch/11596.asp?mappa=
The first is called the Via Vecchia Fiesolana, and is a 2km climb averaging about 10%, up to 18%. It's the steepest climb I've found near Florence, and it's quite fun to do. The last bit ramps up like a wall as you come round the last corner. It reminded me of La Redoute in a way, about the same length. Definitely worth doing if you're in Florence, the surroundings are very Italian. The second is steep but it's not that long.
Today I rode up the Monte e Fanna. Some poser on a carbon bike overtook me, but when he passed I was able to stay on his wheel and when we got to the top of the climb he broke like a dry twig, he had to stop for a breather. And his small chainring looked tiny, a 33 or something. Steel wins again
5) Long Rides
First attempt at a long ride was a bit pants to be honest. Found a route on some Dutch guy's website. Maybe if you're from Rotterdam riding round a stretch of Italian ring road then along a smelly riverbank might be the most beautiful scenery you've ever seen but it didn't do much for me.
Fortunately, I found this:
which is quite useful. Various routes with various difficulty levels, some with some decent looking climbs. I did the Giro Di Foresta Di Vallombrosa. It goes along the Passo di Consuma, then up through some towns called Pelago and Tosi. Toughest bits were a fairly steep climb to Pelago in the open sun, and a fairly steep section (10%ish) round Tosi. After that, it was a relatively gentle climb up to the weather station at Vallombrosa, then a bit more climbing to the top of the Passo di Consuma which was worth it for the spectacular view of Arrezzo.
Highlight of the ride was seeing two girls who looked like they'd escaped from one of Berlusconi's Bunga Bunga parties tottering up the steepest part of the climb in Tosi wearing 8 inch high heels. Just don't get that sort of thing in Vlaams Brabant.
Oh, and the flies. I discovered that Italian flies like the smell of sweaty man. It certainly dispelled my fantasy that the locals might see me as some sort of eroica bike hero on my shiny steel steed, as I pedalled through Pelago surrounded by a small swarm of bluebottles. Certainly got some funny looks.
This: http://www.ciclomuseo-bartali.it/web/?p ... 0&lang=ITA
is only a couple of km South of Florence!
7) Crimes against bikes
I suppose there are more classic steel frames lying around in Italy than in most places, but really, a bit of respect... Since I've been here, I've seen both a Colnago Master Olympic and a Master Piu given the grandad conversion treatment - flat bars, saddle dropped all the way down, big ugly lock. The Master Piu even had a frigging basket attached to the back. I nearly wept.