Italy

 
Italy is a bicycle country more than almost any other. Riding bicycles is important to a lot of Italians, along with foot ball and formula one car racing, it is the national sport. However, cycling is almost completely centered on road biking. Conquering alpine passes on a road bike is an extremely popular pass time. At almost every high pass one will encounter bands of Italians on beautiful Colnago and Pinarello frames, the Ferraris of road racing frames. 
 

With regard to mountain biking Italy is extremely varied. In some places mountain biking is regarded as very exotic, not to say outright odd, something only kids and huligans do. In other places one finds a well developed mountain bike culture. Excellent shops and mechanics, etc. Marzocchi the smoothest of all forks is in fact Italian.

 
 
 
Touring by road is varied. We entered Italy via the Umbria Pass and the Stelvio pass and came down the valleys to Bolzano, from where we made a detour to Canazei and Cortina and came down via Trento to Lago di Garda. Except for in the high mountains we cycled on small especially marked out bicycle routes. These follow old embankments, old roads, and sometimes recently paved paths. The country side is absolutely lovely, one passes through woods, orchards, ancient villages, wineyards, fields, and meets quite few other bikers. Touring can not get any better. On the other hand when the lack of a bike route forces one to ride along one of the main roads the traffic can be truyly scary. I am convinced that in hell one cycles in an endless tunnel passed by inumerable roaring cars. 

Tre Cime Laveredo
 

When we came down on the plain of Po from Lago di Garda it was hot, very hot, and the traffic was intense, so we decided at the spur of the moment to take a train to St Remo at the Italian riviera. In Brescia we booked us onto connections with bike carrying trains. It did not work out as planned but in the end it turned out all right. There were no bike compartments. Down to Milano we were directed to place the bikes in a section meant for skis and luggage. It worked fine. But when we boarded the train to the riviera a very annoyed ticket collector told us to get lost: it was not a train one could take bikes on. We temporaly forgot all languages except Swedish, loaded the bikes on to the train while he was still swearing in Italian, and somehow managed to squeze them up on the luggage shelfs in a compartment. The next time the ticket collector came we got a big friendly grin. Out of his way the bikes were ok with him.