Category Archives: bicycle

Brief Update: Safe Return Home

We arrived safely back home at around 11:30pm Toronto time Monday the 18th, after 2 stopovers (one in Frankfurt, the other in Washington, DC), and a lot of confusion in the Naples Int’l Airport. Certainly a bad experience with staff, which lead to us both nearly missing our flight, and also damage to our bicycles. But more on that will come with the Naples posting later.

Internet from Rome and south of there had been extremely spotty, and expensive at times (5 euro per hour at a few of our hotels – and still slow by N. American standards), so we haven’t yet posted about our visits from Siena onwards. Besides, making time for blog-writing was difficult, what with all the sights planned.

For the next few days, I will be writing-up the log of the rest of the trip. So, expect Montalcino’s write-up tomorrow, then that of Montepulciano on Friday, followed by posts for Orvieto, Viterbo, Rome, Pompeii, and Napoli and our returning flight in the next week-and-a-bit.

After a GIANT lazy spell, I will (finally!) be posting the rest of the trip, and updating the blog. Stay tuned.

Day 6 & 7: Siena

Since we arrived late in Volterra the previous day, we had a quick walk around the town before we packed up and hit the road to Siena.   Starting with a height advantage helped, but the overall trip was still long, and it was a brutally hot day at times.

We stopped for a break at the medieval fort of Monteriggioni halfway along the route to Siena. The road up and through the town gate was so steep that it had ridges created by interleaving the paving stones to give extra traction!

One of the gates into Monteriggioni.

The fort/town is one of Siena’s defensive structures built around the 13th century to protect trade routes against attacks from their rival Florence. In fact, this is where the Dante Alleghieri hid out after he had angered some powerful Florentines with his caricatures of them in his Inferno. It still has all of its tall walls and 13 turrets intact.

Main square of Monteriggioni

Siena is possibly a challenger to Florence, in terms of having impressive structures. Siena has wide streets line with 4, 5 and often times 6 story stone buildings, whereas Florentine streets are smaller and jam-packed with shorter buildings (which rarely surpass 3 stories), and aesthetically are less pleasing.

A square lined with the former homes of the Sienese elite.

Conversely, while Florence’s grand cathedral is monstrously sized, the smaller Sienese counterpart is far more refined, with very accurate stonework and an ornate floor – complete with tricolour stone engravings of saints and some scenes from the life of Jesus. One can only imagine the time and resources put into such art work.

Interior – Siena Cathedral

Exterior – Siena cathedral

Surely one of the highlights of our two days in Siena was the town square, il campo, which is a huge semi-circular piazza with a concave brick centre. We ate dinner in one of the trattoiri of the square on our first night.

Town hall and the surrounding Il Campo piazza.

In Siena, we were lucky to have our hotel right beside a camping store and a grocery store. We bought a gas cartridge for my camp stove and then some pasta, and made our own dinner the second night.

Mmmn… 

We (*Steve*) accidently bought some bad beer for our dinner aperitives; it had a gross after-taste! If you look carefully at the bottle, the monk seems to be holding his stomach in protest:

Stay. Away.

Here are some more pics of our stay:

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Cathedral from nearby wall.

Old city gate.

In the bapistry.

Medieval songbook from cathedral library.

The sienese tried to copy (and best) Florence’s city hall with theirs.

Day 5: Volterra

We had a good ride from San Gimignano to Volterra.   We were mentally psyched because we knew the ride up to Volterra itself would be very steep.  We stopped by the Super Mercato located just outside of the walls of San Gimignano and bought some fruit, pane, formaggio and salami just before we left for our ride. This worked out well because there weren’t a lot of little towns between San Gimignano and Volterra.

 The first leg of the day was very ejoyable. It was fairly quiet with few cars. We did have the company a lot of little green lizards who were sunning themselves every few meters along the roadside. They would scury under the scrub brush and grass as we approached them. At one point we road along a gravel road with beautiful vistas of colourful Tuscan hills with rich olive groves, vineyards and grain fields.  Small volcano-like mountains jutting out of the hills in the distance; very picturesque.

Riding along an old country road

We learned how to take panoramic photos with the camera of our phone. The quality is not as great as a real camera, but it allows you to better appreciate the scenery:

 We stopped for a break and a late lunch in the shade of some cedar trees by a small church at the base of the climb to Volterra. We figured it was good to rest and recharge ourselves with the nourishing lunch we had packed in San Gimignano before starting up the steep arduous climb to Volterra. There was a large parking lot nearby. It seemed to be associated with an old alabaster factory located beside it, but it was rather empty; perhaps it had been busier in better economic times of the past.

The climb up to Volterra took some time as we were moving very slowly. We weaved our way up the serpentine road, pausing every so often to catch our breath and take a drink of water to keep hydrated in the blazing Tuscan sun.  Thank goodness for the constant breeze that was a respite from the heat radiating from the hot pavement below us.

Part way up the climb we encountered some signs indicating that an archeological site was located just off to the side of the road. We took the opportunity to stop and take a break and do a little exploring. There was no one around so we carried our bikes up and off the road and locked them together up against a small fence. We then followed the well-worn dirt path leading to the two archeological sites.

Both sites were ancient hellenistic tombs from the 4th century b.c. They were quiet interesting. There was electric lighting once we entered into the tombs so there was no need for a flashlight. Here are a few pictures:

Tomb interior

Walking down the entrance

Looking out of the tomb

After the pleasant break we continued our slow but steady upward climb to Volterra. We arrived in town late afternoon and checked in to our hotel, La Locanda. The hotel was very accommodating with our request for a place to store our bikes. They let us store them in a hallway off of the kitchen. We cleaned up and showered and changed into our tourist clothes and then wandered around the town before settling on an outdoor patio in one of town Piazzas for our dinner. We then wandered the streets late into the evening. Had to go back to our hotel to pick up our sweaters since it was actually quite chilly once the sun went down. 

The next morning after a quiet breakfast at the hotel, we wandered the town for a few more hours taking in the wonderful panoramic views of the Tuscan hills below us as well as some interesting sites including the local churches, the ancient roman theatre and the archeological park at the peak of the town with it’s Etruscan ruins and Roman cistern.

Roman theater 

Etruscan ruins

View from town 

All in all, a very enjoyable visit and a little less tourist infested than San Gimignano. Volterra also becomes very quiet in the evening once the day crowd and tourist buses depart. Highly recommend staying overnight so that you can enjoy the early morning and late evening solitude.

Arrival in Italy: Days 1-3 in Florence

On Friday we flew in to Florence, after a 7-hour flight from Toronto to Frankfurt, and then a short 2 hour commuter jet brought us into the Gallileo Gallilei airport of Florence. Understandably we were slighty worried about how well our bicycles fared in the flight – or if they even followed us to Italy in the cargo hold of the plane. However, everything went smoothly and our bicycles survived undamaged – likely due to our “leave them no chances to break something” approach to packing them. It took us a little over and hour and a half to unpack the bikes again and move all our equipment from the duffel bags to our panniers, and then off we went. But very slowly, due to the narrower italian roads and zippy cars scooting about haphazardly.

Our babies – they are ok!

All packed and loaded on the way from the airport to the hotel.

Although initially scary and seemingly devoid of order, we have come to find that Florentine roads have polite and highly skilled drivers, always willing to give bicycles the right of way, if only by a smaller margin than we are used to. Our hotel took a while to find, but has been a great home base. We were allowed to store our bikes in our hotel room, and since we are only on the 2nd floor, we consider ourselves lucky in terms of bike-hauling. The compact city is easily walkable, but its tall stone buildings and narrow cobblestone roads opening into piazzas made it a metropolis for us. People fill many streets, and nearly as many mopeds and scooters buzz along the vias as well. Cycling isn’t difficult, but we had to go slowly on many roads, as people on a stroll didn’t jump out of our way as North Americans do.

Almost everywhere here we have been able to find english-speakers in stores and restaurants. The only exception to this is in the smaller churches and in the local food market, where little old nuns, priests and the local fruitvendors understand little to no English. These less “touristy” locations have a more authentic Italian feel to them, and we have made use of hand gestures and our limited Italian vocabulary to get by, and enjoy ourselves nevertheless. We did, however, see all the standard attractions Florence had to offer, and were not disapointed. It is an amazing city. The duomo and its huge dome is a spectacle that was well worth visiting. We climbed over 500ft upwards through small rock staircases in the walls to enjoy an unparalleled view of the cathedral floor from a catwalk, and then outside to see the entirety of Florence from the dome’s top.

From duomo’s roof.

We also visited the Accademia Gallery, where we saw Michelangelo’s David (which you really cannot appreciate until you have seen the original up close), and enjoyed a large collection of late medievel and renaissance paintings. Seeing how art evolved in this time period, how the artists influenced/imitated one another, and the effects this had on religious artwork was interesting. On Sunday after an all-Italian mass in the small but beautiful Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, we managed to enjoy the city simply by cycling around. We saw the street life (and bought some apricots in a local market), crossed the Arno river to ride to the hilltop San Miniato monastery outside the city for a good view, and finished off the day by grabbing a gelatto.

NOT the real David, but a David none-the-less

View from San Miniato

San Miniato monastery exterior

The food is also wonderful here, from a simple, fresh Pizza a Pomodoro as you walk the streets at lunch, to the full, 3 course meals at one of the trattori that line the many piazzas. It gives us a better appreciation of the phrase, La Dolce Vita!

Enjoying the good life.

 We will leave you with a few more pictures from the trip. Ciao for Niao!

Drinking from a nasone – the proper way.

Duomo roof relief, the centre ‘eye’ is the oculus.

Duomo floor and hall – view from catwalk.

Campanile or belltower, from the roof of the cathedral’s dome.

Packing List – Italy 2012

This is the [very long] packing list of all the items that we are going to be bringing with us to Italy for our trip (other than our two bicycles, of course). All the items on the list are the totals for both of us combined, unless otherwise noted as per person (p.p.). Extra heavy or bulky equipment like the chain to lock up our bikes, will be bought in Italy once we arrive.
  • Clothing (p.p.)
    • 1 pair light cotton trousers
    • 1 pair cotton shorts
    • 2 pairs cycling shorts
    • 3 pairs underwear
    • 2 cycling jerseys
    • 2 T-shirts
    • 3 pairs socks
    • 1 botton-up/nice long sleeved shirt
    • 1 waterproof riding jacket
    • 1 cycling cap
    • 1 helmet
    • 1 pair cycling gloves – only for Dad
    • 1 pair light pajamas
    • 1 pair running shoes
    • 1 pair walking shoes – Dad buying his overseas
  • Personals/Toiletries
    • Toothbrushes
    • 1 tube toothpaste
    • Contact lenses
    • Lens cases and solution
    • 2 pairs sunglasses – and regular glasses
    • 1 bottle sunscreen
    • 1 small bottle shampoo
    • Razors and shaving cream
    • 1 Comb
    • Deodorant
    • Facecloth and towel – will be bought overseas
  • Electronics
    • 1 unlocked Galaxy Nexus smartphone
    • 1 rooted Nook tablet
    • 1 power adaptor & plug divider
    • 1 compact Canon camera
  • Miscellaneous Goodies
    • 1 small first aid kit
    • Keys on keychains
    • 1 Snow Peak butane stove
    • 1 butane refill adaptor
    • 2 Guyot squishy cup/bowl sets
    • 2 GSI utensil sets
    • 1 small Sigg Inoxal cookset – w/ two pot lids as plates
    • 1 salt + pepper shaker
    • 1 small cooking knife
    • 5 650mL Filzer Stainless water bottles
    • 2 1L Filzer Stainless water bottles
    • 1 swiss army knife
    • 1 camera monopod
  • Tools & Bike Parts
    • 2 cable bike locks – will be buying lock-up chain in Italy
    • 2 pad locks
    • 2 bicycle multi-tools
    • 2 sets flat repair kit
    • 2 sets tire levers
    • 1 spare chain
    • 2 spare inner tubes + 1 extra to cover lock-up chain
    • 2 bicycle-mounted pumps
    • 1 small adjustable spanner
    • 1 set pliers
    • 1 small bottle oil/lube – will be bought overseas
    • Zip ties – to repair anything
    • Duct tape – also for repairs
  • Packing and Bags
    • 2 large MEC duffel bags
    • 2 sets 56L MEC “World Tour” panniers
    • 1 set 20L MEC panniers
    • 1 set 40L MEC “World Tour” panniers
    • 2 MEC Bull Deluxe handlebar bags
    • 2 Micro Wedgie seat bags
    • 1 Eddie Bauer sling bay (daypack/carry on)
    • 1 Hip pouch (camera/phone/wallet daypack)

Presta? No Problem / R.I.P. Old Wheelset

My new Shimano-hubbed Sunrim Cr-18 wheelset arrived the other day, and to my chagrin – it’s not drilled for Schrader valves, but presta valves (those tall, thin metal ones with threads). Nothing is wrong with presta valves – in fact they actually retain air better at high pressures – but the availability of tubes for wider tires is somewhat limited.

So what does one do to remedy this problem, short of replacing the rims? Well, you drill the valve holes out, of course. Presta valves are 6mm wide, with a 6.4mm (1/4in) valve hole. In contrast, Schrader valves are 8mm wide, and have an 8.3mm (21/64in) valve hole. Luckily for me, the Cr-18 rims are wide enough to accommodate this wider hole; don’t try drilling out thin rims, or those rims with a strongly arched profile, or you may end up weakening the rim significantly.

Flat profile rims; its easily drillable. 

 Select a few dill bit sizes for stepped drilling – this will prevent the bits from binding and ruining the rim. I chose 3 bits: a 7/64in bit, a 9/32in bit, and of course the 21/64in bit.

If there is already rim tape, peel it back with a tire lever and commence drilling. Once done, it should be noticeably larger:

 File off the burrs in the metal to prevent punctures, and the job is done.

Then try fitting in a Schrader valve tip, just to check to see if it all fits in neatly. If you have trouble getting in the valve, try making sure the hole was drilled straight, or possibly go for the slightly larger 11/32in bit.

 Now that I’ve drilled out these new rims, I’m all set to replace the old wheelset. The old Shimano/Araya combo has conducted me very “wheel” over the past 5000km and 5 years, and supported another 5000km or so for the 13years before that. 10 000kms and 18 years later, though, it is time to move, lest something *does* in fact break during our Italian trip.

R.I.P.

Araya Wheelset: 1994-2012 
$10 Craigslist sale, anybody?

Here are the new beauties: I’ve finally made the switch over to 8 speeds and double walls.

Toronto International Bike Show – Spring 2012

Got up early this past Saturday morning at the behest of my pal, who reminded me that the Toronto Int’l Bike Show was on this weekend, March 2-4. It’s a place where all of the big names in cycling in Toronto (plus a few other major brands) meet to strut their stuff, and where a few bargains can be found for those so inclined – such as myself. This time it was held in the Better Living Centre of Exhibition Place, as opposed to the Fall “Blowout” show, which is much smaller, and held elsewhere at Exhibition Place.

Here are some shots of the show:

From Entrance

Trek Bike store’s display

And of course, there are a buncha bikes to drool over. Lots of carbon, whether road or MTB. The bike show seems to cater to “what’s new”, of course, so there were tons of fancy lightweight components on the road bikes, and 29er bikes galore!

Enough carbon here to solve China’s energy problems…
…with more carbon!

Argon’s display
All-carbon rigid 29er. Nice!
Surly Pugsley Alert! Now available with BionX power assist:
Talking with the fellow from the BionX stand there, the BionX/Pugsley combo is his personal set-up, and rocks with about a ~100km range, with a top speed of ~40kmph. Would love to do that offroad!

The white hub is the BionX’s hub motor. You too can own
one for $1200 CAD
The huuuge tires still amaze me!

Lots of more typically-equipped bikes on sale as well; commuters, MTBs, and tourers and especially aluminum road bikes were abundant….

 Even managed to score some deals:

Regularly $25ea!

Booty!
– 2 Knog “Ringmaster” cable locks
– 2 sets of KMC x.8 chains
– 1 Alivio 9-Speed Alum. body Derailleur
Bought for $20, regular price of $50, and MSRP of $35;
it should be a significant upgrade to current system.

My friend bought the tires, a new 26in wheelset, a new derailleur also, and an SRAM 7 speed cassette, for a total of $126.75. My total was about half that, all told, including the $13 admission price.  

Italian Trip in the Planning

From early June this year, for two weeks, I’ll be in Europe. Mostly Tuscany, to be more specific – since my dad and I are planning to do little father-son bike trip in Italy this summer. Italy isn’t quite the most cycling friendly nation out there, I will admit (the Netherlands, Germany or France would be much better choices), but the Mediterranean climate, Roman ruins and picturesque scenes wherever one goes have swayed us.  That, and I kinda want to say “Hi!” to the pope.

Pisa’s Leaning Tower. I bet you a nickel this is
the image that appeared in your brain when you read “Italy.”
As a veteran map-reader (from my boy-scouting days), I have been assigned the somewhat-daunting task of planning the cycling route, and all of our destinations. With a guidebook or two, and tips from friends, I’ve got the basic event agenda structured. But, what is really difficult however is the route forming; Italian roads are notoriously narrow (no shoulders!) and the drivers frequenting them are just as notorious for their high speeds and impatience. 
Google Maps is a wonderful tool for this, and I have been using its full potential to see possible routes, right down to the elevation, and (thanks to street view) whether or not there are provisions for cyclists. Street view certainly also helps when trying to determine the road’s traffic volume. 
Check out the Route:
View Cycling Italy in a larger map
Itinerary (So Far):
Day 1: Arrive by plane in Florence. Tour the city for the day, then sleep off the jet-lag.
Day 2: Cycle from Florence to the historic San Gimigiano. 
3: San Gimigiano to Pisa
Days 4-10: Pisa, south along the Italian west cost, arriving in Rome. (The route has been mapped, but not the stops)
Day 11: Rome!!
Days 12-14ish: Train south to Naples, visiting Pompeii and the Amaplhi coast. 
If you have any suggestions/tips, feel free to leave some below in comments. 

It’s Gone!

Many cyclists who surf the web know about the cycling comic Yehuda Moon.  And, as most of those know, the comic paused on September 12th of this year – when the last comic was published.  Much speculation surrounded whether this would be a permanent end or just an interruption in the comic’s life. Although hinted at previously, today we know for sure; Yehuda Moon won’t be making a come-back like before – at least, not in the same way. 

I had come to look forward to the mornings when I would log on the the ol’ computer and check the new yehuda comic, and I’m sad that the tale of the oddball cap-wearing utility-cyclist and his band of merry men at the Kickstand has finally drawn to a close.
But, I have to give a great big, “Thanks!”, to Rick Smith for all the work he has done. You can see his parting message here by scrolling down the page.