Cycling in Italy is something every one who enjoys riding a bike or whats to access the out of the way sites and experiences should consider making a part of their vacation plan. From the mountain passes in the Italian Alps and Dolomites, to the exploring the walled cities in the old Venezian Republic to the wine areas in Tuscany. A bike tour is a great way to make your visit to Italy unique.
I first cycled in Italy in 1985 and at the time I only road the bike as a fitness tool and way to take a break from running. However, as I explored the roads and started to branch out into other regions I found that the bike offered access to areas and experiences I could never had enjoyed if I was traveling by car. This is a list of tips we have put together for those planning a bike vacation to help you have the best experience.
You might also like our suggestions for the best cycling destinations in Italy.
Get in some miles before your cycling holiday. Italy is 75% hills and mountains and each region has varied terrain. The Italian mountains and areas like Tuscany and Piedmont can be pretty unforgiving. A good training plan to develop a good base fitness level bit before you arrive will pay dividends.
Travel Tip: The new e-bikes can be a great choice for any level of rider. The bikes can extend your daily mileage and if you are riding with a less fit rider getting them an e-bike would allow you to stay together for mutual support along your routes. If you are about the vacation and not only only a ride this lets you enjoy both worlds.
Choose the right gearing. A compact 50-34 chain-set with a 11-28 cassette would be our choice - a cassette with a 30 or 32 tooth sprocket would offer even more flexibility. If you can find an old school triple is a great choice as well, yes there is more chain flap but you can maintain the smooth pedal stroke of a 53-39 and you have all the range you need for the varied profiles.
Make sure your bike is in good condition. If you’re taking your own bike, consider having it serviced before your trip. If you’re renting a bike, take a look at our questions to ask before hiring a bike.
Bring spares and know how to use them. Look at our packing list and use it! The last thing you want is to spend your time trying to source spares from random Italian bike shops! Also knowing the basics of bike repair will make sure an unexpected bike failure does not ruin your day. How to change a tire, fix a broken chain, basic fine tuning of derailleur, daily safety check.
Food. Getting your fueling right is one of the key parts of conquering the routes and enjoying your trip. As your train for your trip record your food intake and feeling so you can think ahead and plan your daily meal plan for the routes you are going to ride. Riding in Italy does not require you to pack bars and jells you can get any of these at most bike shops and super markets. I normally carry one or two emergency items incase I hit the wall unexpectedly along the route I generally stop at a coffee bar or pasty shop to grab a snack to keep up the energy levels. Also going old school and wrapping up a few panini to place in my pockets is a great option.
Also remember that when it’s hot you often don’t feel hungry, but you should continue to eat. Get the calories in before you start climbing and keep something in your back pocket.
Travel insurance. Taking out travel insurance for you and your bike is very sensible idea. Now with the issues of COVID we wouldn’t go away without it, not out of worry for COVID but in case of cancelations and need to adjust travel plans at the last minute.
Plan your cycling routes before you visit. To make the most of your precious holiday time, do a some route planning before you arrive. We offer route planning assist to make this easy - we’ve got detailed guides to climbs and routes we’ve tried and tested. We provide route profiles, descriptions, photos and videos so you know what to expect. We can provide you with GPX downloads on suggested routes, contact us. This will make all the difference to your holiday. No more reading route notes you can not see or needing to stop every 10 minutes to review so you do not end up on a busy highway or hopelessly lost!
Review the route before you ride it. Once you’ve decided on your routes, spend some time getting them onto your Garmin and actually looking at them, Google Earth is also a great tool for route review. It’s important to know what to expect before you set out. Consider your route, how long each climb should take, where you plan to refuel and any shortcuts or important sections. You never know what’s going to happen out on the road, so be self-reliant.
Pack for all weather. At any time of year, take a jacket on your ride. It might feel over-cautious when it’s sunny and warm as you set out, but you’ll be grateful at the top of the pass. Snow on Passo Gavia and Passo di Stelvio is not unusual even in August also a cold rain shower in the central regions can drop the core body temperature quickly.
If the forecast suggests poor weather, you’ll need to pack kit in addition to a jacket: arm and leg warmers and long-fingered gloves, possibly overshoes too. Check our suggested packing list which has a checklist you can use.
It is always good to review basic first aid skills and have a small first aid kit within your group for basic falls. Hopefully, you will have a safe and fun trip but a fall or other issue can ruin your vacation, it is always best to be ready.
Heatstroke. Use sun cream and drink plenty of water. One great thing about riding in Italy is that there are generally a water fountain in every town and village. However it’s still important to carry plenty of water and remember to drink it. Once you are thirsty you how lost 40% of your peak level and heat exhaustion can strike quickly. The best riding times in Italy is from 0930 to 1600. The traffic is slowest at these times and if you are in the mountains the change in weather is most likely to occur after 1500 hours. Look at the start times of big races none start before 10:30
Cramps. This is a common complaint and is often due to the fact you’re sweating and not replacing the electrolytes. You can take electrolyte powders for your water bottle or we find putting a couple of table spoons of sugar in one of our bottles works just as well. Also we carry two bottles in hot temps so that we can keep one fills with just water. This lets us put some water on the back of our neck or arms to cold off if we feel we are getting to hot.
12. Be aware of the Italian Highway Code and the rules for cycling in Italy before you go. One interesting difference is the requirement to wear a high-visibility safety vest when riding in a tunnel or outside town/city centres between dawn and dusk. Also if you are using a bike path you should have a bell and lights on your bike. Ride on the left side of the white line and obey the small traffic rules as cars.
13. Watch out for the traffic circles. When passing through traffic circles it is best to sit up and slow down. Ride the center of your lane and signal approaching your exit. If you ride the right side of your lane you will get cars cutting you off.
14. Know your lines. Italian drivers are very aware of cyclist in the zones where there are lots of riders. You must always be defensive and alert of your surrounding when riding in the cities, or along busy roads. Ride single file and if traffic starts to back up allow space between riders to allow passing. Also if you are turning left across the road move out into the center of the lane and signal your turn well in advance.
15. Beware the cows and motorcycles. On many of the mountain roads, cows graze freely. Hopefully you’ll hear their bells but be aware that they might well wander out in front of you. Over the past years a major problem in the mountains has been motorcycle touring groups. Groups come down from the northern countries to ride the roads of Italy.
16. Debris on the roads. The roads in Italy take a beating every year and they get paved but it is dependent on each province on when repairs get done. Rain washes gravel into the roads and Italy has always had problems with wash outs and rockslides. Remember this and do take care, especially on the downhills. Better to go a touch slower and not end up in hospital.
17. Group riding. Always ride with someone. If you can link up with a group of locals for parts or the route can be a fun experience. However, do not get carried away and enter the group it is better to stay on the back. As a minimum, make sure someone knows your route and when you’re due back.
18. Lights, phone, ID and money. Keep a small rear light fitted to your bike in case you come across a tunnel or get caught in bad weather. You may want a front light too, especially if you’re expecting a tunnel on your ride. You’d also be crazy to leave home without money, ID and your phone! Our packing list has more details.
19. Remember it’s a marathon not a sprint! At the beginning of a day/week of cycling, it can be easy to think you’re invincible and and set a pace you can’t sustain. Italy’s mountains are some of the toughest cycling climbs in the world - take it easy and try and remember this is a holiday!
20. Greetings. If you overtake another cyclist, it's normal to say ciao, salve (which means hello) or buongiorno (good day). Likewise, be aware that it's deemed pretty rude to walk into a small shop without saying hi or hello.
21. Dinner. The most important meal of the day and it doesn't happen before 7 pm in most areas. Cycling in Italy can take us to smaller towns with less food options. If you are eating at the hotel they normally follow a scheduled feed plan. If you are riding for the objective of improving your best times on specific climbs or routes it is best to do half board and find a few other food options near your base. Eating a full Italian style meal is not the best for high performance.
These are just a few of the things to consider when you are planning a Bike Tour In Italy. This is a good starting point and contact us if you have other questions.
Italy is one of the most diverse places in the world to visit but there is more to the country then Venice, Florence, Roma, Cinque Terre and a couple of other top attractions. If you plan you days well and understand how to move around within the country you can a great cost effective vacation full of activity, history, culture, and great food and wine. Contact us to get the insights to travel in Italy. We offer: