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Bike across Italy next year, if you dare to.

A lot of the people I've been talking to are into the idea. My High School reunion last week put me over the edge.

via Appia RomeI'll be putting up a lot of information on the Bike tour of southern Italy FAQs page, including the long answers to all of your questions.

In the meantime, here are the short answers to most of the things people are asking me:

How much will this bike tour cost?

Less than you think. 😉

How long will the journey last?

Between 7 and 10 days each way (but you don't have to ride your bike both ways), with some optional site seeing days at each end.

Where are we going?

[tag-tec]Southern Italy[/tag-tec], far off the beaten path for most tourists.

When is this epic bicycle voyage going to take place?

May, 2008

If you want to know more about the trip, check out the Bike tour of Southern Italy FAQs (click here).

I shopped the idea around at my High School reunion this past weekend, and was surprised at how many people were into the idea of [tag-tec]touring Italy by bicycle[/tag-tec]. (Thanks to all of you who trust me to guide you through a foreign land, when the last time you saw me I couldn't even get a license to drive my date to the prom.)

I've done this route before, as well as several other [tag-tec]bike trips[/tag-tec] all over [tag-tec]Italy[/tag-tec], and I speak Italian fluently, so there shouldn't be any serious logistical/navigational problems. My goal is to organize and write about these tours for a living within a few years, so I'm doing whatever it takes to make sure everyone is comfortable and happy.

That said, this is Italy, so you can expect a few mishaps and surprises, just enough to make a good story when you get back home.

There are more details posted on the FAQs page, or you can leave a comment if you have any questions.

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What kind of pictures do you take when you're [tag-tec]bicycle touring[/tag-tec]?

You and your bike on a cliff edge or a rickety bridge, overlooking an ice cold torrent of swirling water? How about this instead:

Out on the 7th Street bridge where it crosses the freeway. During rush hour. I saw a group of [tag-tec]bike tourists[/tag-tec] there, taking photos of each other, making certain to get all 10 lanes of dead-stopped traffic underneath. "Now that looks scary. You wouldn't want to fall down there."

It really makes sense, after all, doesn't it? You want photos of your [tag-tec]bicycle travel[/tag-tec] to get an "Oh, my God" exclamation of disbelief. Rivers and mountains are great when you can be there, but what about the profound effects of five million commuters trying to drive home all at once? Isn't the result an emergent quality of nature, too?

Adventure is where you find it.

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The first step for beginners is just to get on the bike and go somewhere. The most dangerous part of cycling is that pretty soon you're wondering how far you can go. And you'll almost always surprise yourself.

This is good, but it's also addictive.

Soon you'll want to ride. You'll want to jump up on that shaky metal bike frame and work your gut off while the world whistles by in the hiss of wind in your ears.

You want to ride. I mean blaze down the Sunset strip in a glory of carbon-neutral velocity with the hair of little furry animals flying into your teeth.

Soon you'll wake up on a beach in Santa Barbara, crank your way over the Rockies and have fresh Maine lobster for dinner. You'll know the aroma of Roma as she throws her stale cappuccino atmosphere into the holy incense of your bulging Presta valve tires.

But you don't need to be a [tag-tec]bicycle freak[/tag-tec]. Just make your own ride. Anywhere. Now.

Even if it's just a peek into the garage to look at your bike.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Just ride.

Ride like an ant, knowing that it's just a matter of time until you become a giant.

Ride around the block. Slowly.

Pick up some sandwiches on your bike, and eat them with someone you love. Race your neighbor to the end of your street and back. Even if (especially if) you're both over 40.

[tag-tec]Beginner Bike riders[/tag-tec] Beware

The bike will change you. Once you get going, you've got all that momentum propelling you towards health and happiness and fun and adventure, and it's hard to stop, even if your best friend just adjusted your brake pads.

It's all over now. Soon you're going to fixate on fixed gears. You'll never lose your balance. You'll eat more and take the stairs, and keep going when your partner is too tired. (Unless you have a two-tired partner).

[tag-tec]Travel Italy by bicycle[/tag-tec]. Follow the historic paths of your ancestors, slaves, traders, soldiers, centurions, pioneers, priests, knights and kings and druids. Your bike will make your thighs hurt and your knees squeal, but you'll see things that a car would never show you.

Your city, your town, your country and others will never look the same. Even your favorite park, your most familiar place, or the best parking place will be completely different when viewed from the Bicycle Zone.

Don't trip. Don't fall. And don't blame me if you scrape your knee. That's what it's all about. You'll be tougher. Faster. Maybe even poorer but wiser (and oh so much happier).

Go ahead. Take a ride.

A short one.

I dare you.

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I won't use this blog to complain about the woes and horrors of urban cycling, without offering a practical solution to whatever gripe I'm harping on. So here it is, a problem and a solution. Most people who bike around L.A. already know this, but just in case...

For the most part, the official L.A. Department of Transportation bike routes suck. I'm talking about the big streets with green "Bike Route" signs, like Olympic Blvd.

Maybe if you're riding on a weekend or the middle of the day they're OK, but during rush hour you're going to risk your life and piss off a lot of motorists. And that's when you're not stuck behind a bus that blows dust and diesel into your face, and stops every 2 blocks.

But I finally figured out that these streets aren't the real bike routes.

Secret LA bike routes that get you to work on time

The streets marked "Bike Route" are actually pointers to the best places to ride in peace. They give you clues to the secret bike routes that will get you where you're going in one piece.

The secret bike routes always run parallel to the official ones, and they're usually just a few blocks over. Motorists don't like them because they have lower speed limits and more stop signs. But on a bike, you can make better time. I can usually knock 10-15 minutes off my commute, not to mention lower stress and probably less gunk in my lungs.

Here are some of the better bicycle routes in Los Angeles:

East-West: Instead of taking Olympic Blvd, use San Marino. Instead of Beverly, use Temple or 7th Street. LADOT got it right when they made 4th street into a bike route, so use this one.

North-South: Instead of Vine/Rossmoore, use Gower. Instead of Hobart, use Oxford.

If you know of any other routes, please leave a comment.

You can get the LA Department of Transportation bikeway map at http://www.bicyclela.org/maps_main.htm

Better yet, you can get a specific route and directions at http://www.bikemetro.com


Yeah, I know it's old news now, but there's a lesson here.

Since we can't ride in the park yet (something about being attacked by disoriented squirrels), here's a photo of the blaze. I took it from Los Feliz Blvd, which looked a lot different with no cars and the power turned off.

By the way, the beginning of this month was the 70th anniversary of the destruction of the Hindenburg. This world-famous Zeppelin crossed the Atlantic 17 times, setting speed records as it withstood lightning strikes and thunderstorms.

Then it burst into flames while safe on land, close to the ground, during a routine photo op. The lesson for biking: You're never really safe. You might as well be bold and daring, because the defensive stuff can kill you just as quickly. But for g-d's sake, wear a helmet.

You should also know that almost all the people who tried to get out of the Hindenburg were killed for their trouble. But every single passenger who rode the cabin to the ground survived. Here's to being calm and enjoying the storm.

Bike Metro suggested following the bike line on Glenoaks Blvd when I typed in a route to San Fernando.

Great, except for one stretch where a vomitous stench threatens to blast you off the road. It turns out you're riding along a landfill, hidden by a tall hedge of shrubbery.

Also, there are sections where the stripe is worn away, and motorists use the bike lane for parking and passing.

Still, this is better than the remote, industrial, and sometimes traffic-filled route on San Fernando Road. I'm still looking for a better bike route. I'll keep you posted.

Now for the good part. You know the benefits of bike exercise. You get to eat twice as much as normal people and still lose weight. Food is inextricably tied in with bicycle fitness.

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If you're in San Fernando before, after, or during a long ride, refuel at Dona Mercedes. (There's a squiggly "~" symbol over the 'n' in Dona, but I don't know how to write it using this software). Fresh-squeezed carrot and fruit juices to pump you full of antioxidants. Home made tortillas to give you fuel for the road. And lots of warm, greasy, proteinacious food to gladden your heart.

Try their pupusas, that mostly go for about 2 dollars, depending on what you want in them. And their carrot juice rocks!

They're right on the main strip, 1030 1/2 San Fernando Rd., San Fernando, CA 91340. (818) 365-5058

Disclosure: I'm not in any way affiliated with Dona Mercedes, nor do I get any kind of commissions or special rewards if you eat there. I do have a weak spot for their stuffed chayote.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and any health claims about the benefits of biking, bicycle fitness, or the amount of calories burned while biking have not been evaluated by a competent medical authority. You should consult with a physician before engaging in long distance bike rides or pigging out on Salvadorean cuisine.

We have eyelashes for days like this. From downtown to Vermont Avenue I never stopped squinting, as the Santa Ana wind pelted dust and leaves and shreds of paper and plastic from every direction. Eddies and miniature tornadoes flung litter into my spokes, and my teeth were chalky with grit by the time I got home.

Riding in the rain can be a dangerous adventure, but riding in the wind is just sheer misery.

I guess I could just wear goggles, look like a geek, but keep my vision. Or does anybody have a better solution?


We're on a big nexus of "roads" that lead through early California, called the Royal Highway or El Camino Real. Most of the original route is covered by freeways now, but you can still get from mission to mission and sometimes city to city on paths and bikeways that are more or less faithful to the actual routes the missionaries took.

Last Saturday I retraced a few segments of the old Mission Trail, from the San Gabriel Mission to LA to the San Fernando Mission.

It mostly follows river paths along Arroyo Seco and the Los Angeles River. That makes sense because the "Pueblo" of Los Angeles was founded at the site where these two waterways merge. (Check out the photo). Plus the city was established by people from the San Gabriel mission, which was thriving because of the abundant water supplies.

That's another thing about cars and pavement. Most people think of Los Angeles as a desert, but it was really teaming with shrubs and chaparral. The vegetation and soil acted like a giant sponge that held onto water from the rainy season and slowly released it during the long dry summer.

Today all that water just runs off the pavement into the ocean, taking a lot of trash and oil and other stuff with it. Imagine if enough people traded their cars for bikes, shrinking their concrete footprints. Even if only 5% of us did it, couldn't that allow a lot of parking acreage to return to fields and gardens?

Drop a comment or an email if you want to know the bike route to the missions. Eventually I'll take 3 weeks off and bike the whole Camino Real, from north of San Francisco down into Baja.

Just a question: Does anyone else out there use their bike to study history?

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In this picture I'm with the beautiful Cristina Ottaviani in front of the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. (Sorry guys, she's taken. And not by me).

This was at the end of a 2-week ride tracing via Appia, the Appian Way, ancient Rome's highway that crossed half the length of Italy from Rome to Brindisi.

I can't even tell you how much fun it was, the amazing food I ate, all the times I followed muddy trails through the forest to find old Roman ruins, the wonderful people I met, the food, the wildflowers sparkling on the meadows, lots of great food, all the things I learned about people and history and human nature, and all the amazing food, especially gelato.

Nothing beats Italy cycling tours. And did I mention the food?

Anyway, I'm not saying all this to make you jealous, but hopefully to inspire you to be part of a much bigger adventure.

One of my dreams was to bicycle around the entire Mediterranean on a bicycle before I turn 40. I've still got a couple years, but now I'm probably going to postpone the trip to take advantage of some new business opportunities, and wait for (hopefully) the current wave of violence in the Levant to blow over.

But in the meantime, I'm bicycling across Italy again in the spring of 2008. If you've ever thought about taking a bicycling tour of southern Italy, this is going to be a blast! I'll be posting more information as the date gets closer, or you can leave a comment and I'll email you if you just can't wait to hear more.

As far as the Mediterranean bike tour, we've got a few more years to plan, organize, get in shape, and above all dream.

I say "we" because if you're actually reading this blog you may have some interest in coming along. Either for the whole ride or any part of it that fits your dreams and your calendar. Leave a comment if you want to ride.

Any takers?

I wanted to see if I could do it, and I found out I could.

I had a business meeting in Newport Beach, probably a good 30-40 miles away. But it was early morning, and most of the route was along the ocean, so I figured I could bike there without being cooked by the heat.

Piece of cake, as it turns out. I only “cheated” in a few ways:
• I stuck my bike on the metro and rode public transit about a third of the way
• I brought a change of clothes, and when I got to Newport Beach I put these on and “freshened up” in the restroom of a Starbucks.
• This meeting was a casual brunch, so I didn’t need a suit and tie.

I got there early. I was all pumped up with endorphins, and amazingly relaxed. This is unusual when I'm going into a situation where I need to impress people.

And people were impressed.

The ride home was harder, because I was tired and had a strong coastal headwind slowing me down. But I took a few dips in the ocean along the way, and had time to brainstorm on some of the issues that came up at the meeting.

The lesson: There's nothing like the rush of trying out something radical. Most people gladly go out on the weekend for a bike ride on the beach. But when there's work/money connected, it's more comfortable to retreat to the haven of your car.

And there's a lot to be said for air conditioning.

I challenge you to try riding your bike somewhere that you have to go. You could revolutionize the world. It's a great way to be healthier and more relaxed, not to mention all the money you'll save on gas.