5

Somewhere between Terracina and Formia, you'll find it. There's a stark pillar along the side of a winding mountain road. I assume it's either a milestone or the remains of one of the many monuments that line the Appian way.

Italy bike tour Appia milestone ItriThe bike ride to this pillar is phenomenal, and there are at least three good reasons to make the trip. First is the "Tomb of Cicero" at one end of the bike route. Most experts agree that this isn't the really the tomb of Cicero, but it's near the spot where he died and that's enough for most people.

Better than Cicero's tomb, the bike ride from Terracina to Formia passes through a park which includes the original remains of the via Appia, as well as several ancient Roman and Medieval buildings.

In fact, if you're riding your bike on the main road, you'll pass through the park several times. The road winds up the mountain in endless switchbacks, while the Appian Way shoots up in the classical straight line, defying gravity just as easily as she defied the Pontine marshes. You can ride your bike up this way if you choose to. I didnt.

But my favorite thing about this section of the Appian bike tour is the town of Itri. I hadn't meant to stay there, but I was intrigued by the scenery, the friendly locals, and the castle. After taking a long hot shower and stuffing my gullet with fresh pizza, I spent hours wandering around the dark, twisting alleys of the immense fortress on the hill overlooking Itri.

I can't tell you much about the history of the castle, but I'll introduce you to someone who can. On our next bike tour through southern Italy, one of my local contacts has offered to hook us up with an archeologist in Itri who can give a tour of the place. I asked him how much something like that would cost and he said, "some cafe in a bar, I assume, but not more..."

So if you're up for an expert tour of Itri for the price of a cup of coffee, not to mention a zillion other great experiences that you can read about all over my blog, get in touch with me and join us on this trip. The dates are May 15th-June 1st 2010, approximate cost is $1500 plus airfare and bike (rental, purchase, or transportation of your own rig), and I'll be happy to answer your other questions by phone or email.

3

Last week I had a conference call to hash out some bike tour details with my fellow riders. If you're on my email list you'll get a message about this. If you're not, but you'd like to be on the list, just shoot me an email: jacob "at" bicyclefreedom.com.

An actual road sign in Puglia, Italy. Which way to Corato? I asked a farmer, and he said "straight ahead."
An actual road sign in Puglia, Italy. Which way to Corato? I asked a farmer, and he said "straight ahead."

We're going to be touring from  May 16 through June 1st, 2010. On June 2nd we'll be driving a rented van with our bikes back to Rome.

This is longer than originally planned because we're not ending the tour in Brindisi. We'll head south to Lecce, which is a beautiful city with a rich history down in the very heel of the Italian boot. I've never been there, but an Italian I met on the plane during my last trip told me it's "The Florence of Southern Italy."

The longer schedule is also going to give us a lot of time for a long, leisurely trip, with a couple extended stops along the way for rest and laundry.

I'm hoping to arrange a group ride with the Terracina Cycling Club, and a couple of archeologists in Itri and Aeclanum may give us special tours. We're also going to stopover for 2 nights in the Venosa/Gravina/Matera area so we'll have plenty of time to see the sasse (beautiful caves that were used as homes and churches for centuries) and several other amazing sites that are off the usual tourist path.

After talking it over with a few people, it seems to make sense not to camp on this tour. We won't save a whole lot of money by camping, because the areas where camping is available tend to have the nicer and less-expensive lodging options.  We'll be staying in agriturismo spots most of the time.

Expect to spend an average of 60 euro per evening for lodging. This will usually include breakfast and sometimes dinner. (Keep in mind that the portions will be very small by bicycle touring standards!)

You can save money by sharing a room. I'm willing to take on a room-mate, as long as you don't snore! Let me know if this interests you.

It looks like there won't be enough people to get group discounts on anything, so I'll leave it to you to take care of your own plane tickets and bikes.

If you bring your own bike, we will have a van so you can carry it back to Rome at the end of the tour. I'm planning to either rent a bike there or buy a cheap one at the Roman flea market, Porta Portese. I'll help you with this, if it's what you prefer.

That's it for now. Keep in touch, and I'll see you in Italy!

1

One of the best parts of biking in the rain is the looks you get, and the conversations it inspires. When you're biking in foul weather, especially in a place like LA where foul weather is rare, people take notice. It gives you a chance to change their minds.

riding a bike in the rain

While you're out there pedaling through Valhalla, breathing free air and attacking the most menacing hills, the mortal masses are growing dull and weak behind electronic screens. Entire generations are hyperinsulated from the real world, and we're paying the price:

Last year's economic meltdown was caused by a potent mix of greed and laziness, the mindset that easy money should be a given, the bovine mentality that comfort is the norm and serious effort is unnecessary.

The purely physical aspects of life have become so easy for most of us that it's easy to get lost in this mindset, easy to lose touch with reality, almost impossible to do anything as our resources and freedoms slip away.

At the same time, the few people who stay active and engaged with the world are beating the trend and thriving. The courageous heroes who squarely face the challenges that life throws at them, or who seek out challenges on their own, these are the people who continue to grow and succeed.

If you're a regular bike commuter, I suspect you have a distinct advantage in your social and economic life, in addition to better health. And whenever you ride, you're a beacon to all the wandering souls behind glass panes, a reminder of the independence, resourcefulness, and work ethic that made this country great.

When it's raining cats and dogs, especially in a place like Los Angeles where it rarely rains very hard for very long, the weather separates the heroes from the common folk. If you ride boldly and blatantly where others fear to tread, you're forcing the world to wake up and take notice.

You have a choice to make. We're on the cusp of human evolution, but it's different this time. We're not going to be naturally selected by a meteor or some other environmental catastrophe. We're going to choose our own fate.

So get on your bike, especially when the storms are raging all around you.

You don't realize it, but your bottom bracket holds the future of America, and maybe of all humanity.

2

If you're commuting by bike and you live anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, you're going to ride your bike at night at some point. In my younger days (and even now, truth be told), I used to party with my bike and ride home.*

This is just to say I've bought and used a lot of bike lights over the years. I have my favorites, and I might make some recommendations in a future post. But for now, I'm frustrated by a problem that seems to happen across the board, with every kind of bike light I've ever used.

Usually the mounting wears out or breaks long before the light does. So you end up with a perfect light that you can't attach to your bicycle.

Sure, you can always figure something out with bungi cords, rubber bands and duct tape, but all of those things lead to new problems later on. As a result, I have a drawer full of flashlights that are simply retired bike lights.

My latest solution is the head lamps that you find at camping stores. It's bright, it automatically points wherever I look, but it's uncomfortable and I feel like I'm cheating somehow. Plus, this doesn't fill the need for a flashing rear light device.

I know there has to be a better way, and that's where you come in.

If you like to tinker, and you could patent some kind of universal bike light mount, you may be in a business. If your device is simple, durable, and lightweight, you're going to be a millionaire. If this sounds like you, please get on it! I won't ask for any credit or compensation. I'll be your first customer!

*Yes, I almost killed myself a few times while biking under the influence, but at least I wouldn't have killed anybody else. Don't ever try to drive, ride, or operate any vehicle--bike, motorcycle, steamroller, skateboard, pogo stick, burro, or jet ski--when your cognitive processes are compromised. If you're going to abuse a substance, let it be coffee!