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Last week I posted my first video ever on YouTube. It's about a bike trip up the California coast to visit my mom in Port Hueneme.

Anyway, there's a reason most people bust out laughing when they see it. I keep my helmet on, play up the dorky aspect of biking, and try on purpose to be a nerd.

Because biking is for everybody.

All the bike magazines are filled with pictures of supermodels. Even the non-profits like Adventure Cyclist feature bicyclists who have made it a lifestyle, and tend to be in great shape as a result.

Most of the bicycle media portray cyclists as ultra-healthy athletes, and there is some truth to this.

But it's enough to discourage a lot of "normal" people who would probably like to start riding, but say to themselves, "I'm too old/fat/weak/lazy/ to ride a bike."

But the truth is, you don't have to be an athlete to start biking. If anything, biking is one of the easiest and most fun ways of becoming more athletic. You start to see this happen pretty quickly once you get into it.

I had to start somewhere, we all did, and that's the whole point. You don't have to be an athlete just to start.

I was a nerd, back in the days before it became cool to be a nerd. Then I started bike touring, and my self confidence improved even faster than my physique.

But the quirky geek is still in there, so when I make a video about biking that's the role I'm going to play.

Now I have a request for you. If you're a biker, make a point to encourage people to ride who are especially insecure about their size, weight, or physical ability. Especially if you had to deal with those issues yourself at some point in your life.

If you like to show off, then start making videos. Here's mine:

By the way, if you've ever had an interest in touring Italy by bicycle, check out the touring Italy FAQs page: http://www.bicyclefreedom.com/?page_id=19

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A lot of people have been asking what it's going to cost to trek across the via Appia from Rome to Brindisi next spring.

I posted this on a separate page that I thought would just be for touring Italy by bicycle, but I'm still learning WordPress and the FAQs page is hard to find, even for me.

So I'll be putting up answers to the questions I get every couple of days. If you have another question, just leave a comment and I'll get back to you.

Anyway, the money thing. The good news is southern Italy is cheaper than the north.Italy bike tour Capua repairs

When a mechanic in Capua charged me 5 euros to replace a bunch of broken spokes on my last trip (check out the picture!) I misunderstood and thought he said twenty-five. As I handed him a few bills, he shook his head and said, "No, non siamo a Roma." (We're not in Rome.)

Everywhere I went, I was surprised at the low cost (compared to Rome and Florence) of most things. But if you ...continue reading "The southern Italy bike tour: How much will it cost?"

If you ride a [tag-tec]bike in Los Angeles[/tag-tec], check out today's article, "On the Mean Streets of L.A."

If you're interested in getting away from this crazy place and you want to [tag-tec]ride your bike in Italy[/tag-tec], be sure to scroll down for more info.

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Via Appia is a hidden bicycle touring treasure. It's easy enough for beginner cyclists to handle, and exotic enough to prove a high adventure for advanced cyclists.

We'll be going there next spring, and you can go to the Touring Italy by Bicycle category to find out more.Italy bike tour Trajan Arch Benevento

Many sections of the original ancient Roman Appian Way, or via Appia in Italian, are still intact. The first 10 miles or so are an archeological park that starts at the very gates of ancient Rome, near the Colosseum.

After that, long sections sit unnoticed amid green fields and wildflowers. Sometimes a modern road slips by just a few yards away, but most motorists are going to fast to look closely at the flowers. That is why we ride.

In some places, the Via Appia was built so well that modern engineers have paved over it. Major highways follow the course of Via Appia, giving you easy access to fallen pillars, old ruins, charming hill towns and castles. Driving lets you cover more ground, but you miss a lot of detail and you're isolated from a lot of the sites and sounds, not to mention the people. That is why we ride.

This is an important, often neglected, piece of Western history. Via Appia was the main artery from Rome to Brindisi, the port that gave the Romans access to the Southern and Eastern edges of the Empire.

Augustus followed this route when he pursued Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Many of the indigenous tribes of the Italian peninsula made their last stands against the Romans along this corridor. Murderers and bandits did their most evil deeds on this highway. Poets and philosophers found inspiration and adventure here. Soldiers and gladiators marched to victory and doom on the Via Appia.

The ancient Romans followed the Via Appia on foot, or at best with the help of mules or horses. I want to experience this as they did. Important leaders built their monuments and tombs here. The rich lined the Via Appia with their villas. This place deserves to be remembered, honored, or at least understood. It is the key to so many other things. That is why we're following the Via Appia on a bike.

If you want to come along, leave a comment or send an email to jacob "at" BicycleFreedom.com

If you want more information, look at the other posts in the category "touring Italy by bicycle" or ask your question as a comment. You can also find out more on this page.

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.