Cycling in Italy is something every avid cyclist should experience. From the craggy heights of Giro favourites in the Italian Alps and Dolomites, to the watery perfection of the Italian lakes, a cycling holiday in Italy is a proper treat.
As you can probably tell, we absolutely love riding in Italy and have put together these top tips to help ensure that if you cycle here you have an amazing experience.
Get yourself ready for cycling in Italy’s mountains...
1. Get in some miles before your cycling holiday. Italy’s mountains are pretty unforgiving. We found the Dolomites particularly tough - the slopes are generally steep and long. A bit of focus and dedication before you arrive will pay dividends.
...And get your gear ready!
2. Choose the right gearing. A compact 50-34 chainset with a 11-28t cassette would be our choice - a cassette with a 30 or 32 tooth sprocket would offer even more flexibility...
3. Make sure your bike is in good condition. If you’re taking your own bike, consider having it serviced before your trip. If you’re renting a bike, take a look at our questions to ask before hiring a bike.
4. Bring spares and know how to use them. Look at our packing list and use it! The last thing you want is to spend your time trying to source spares from random Italian bike shops!
5. Food. Getting your fuelling right is one of the key parts of conquering the climbs and enjoying your trip. You need to think ahead and pack supplies to take on the road - pick something up where you’re staying - or bring a stash of your favourite bars with you.
In our experience, even if there are cafés and shops en route, they cannot be relied upon to be open when you need them (how many times has a ride taken you longer than expected…?!).
Also remember that when it’s hot you often don’t feel hungry, but you should continue to eat. Get the calories in before you start climbing and keep something in your back pocket.
6. Travel insurance. Taking out travel insurance for you and your bike is very sensible idea. We wouldn’t go away without it.
Plan your cycling routes in Italy
7. Plan your cycling routes before you visit. To make the most of your precious holiday time, do a bit of route planning before you arrive. Our Stelvio cycling guide makes it really easy - we’ve got detailed guides to climbs and routes we’ve tried and tested. You’ll find route profiles, descriptions, photos and videos so you know what to expect. You can even use our free GPX downloads. This will make all the difference to your holiday. No more “following your nose” and ending up on a motorway or hopelessly lost!
8. Review the route before you ride it. Once you’ve decided on your routes, spend some time getting them onto your Garmin and actually looking at them. It’s important to know what to expect before you set out. Consider your route, how long each climb should take, where you plan to refuel and any shortcuts or important sections. You never know what’s going to happen out on the road, so be self-reliant.
Be ready for the weather
9. Pack for all weather. At any time of year, take a jacket on your ride. It might feel over-cautious when it’s sunny and warm as you set out, but you’ll be grateful at the top of the pass. Snow on the Gavia and Stelvio is not unusual even in August.
If the forecast suggests poor weather, you’ll need to pack kit in addition to a jacket: arm and leg warmers and long-fingered gloves, possibly overshoes too. Check our ultimate packing list which has a downloadable checklist you can use.
10. Heatstroke. Use sun cream and drink plenty of water. One great thing about riding in Italy is that there are generally a fair few water fountains around. However it’s still important to carry plenty of water and remember to drink it. Heatstroke can strike quickly and is extremely nasty. Other ways you can help avoid it are starting early, avoiding big climbs in the middle of the day, taking rests in the shade and not pushing yourself too far.
11. Cramp. This is a common complaint and is often due to the fact you’re sweating and not replacing the electrolytes. We always take electrolyte tablets for our water bottle; we find they really help stave off cramp.
Know the rules of the road
12. Be aware of the Italian Highway Code and the rules for cycling in Italy before you go. One interesting difference we came across was the requirement to wear a high-visibility gilet if riding in a tunnel or outside town/city centres between dawn and dusk.
We’ve found Italian drivers haven’t lived up to their bad rep - but it’s perhaps something to be aware of. This funny video by Italian animator-cartoonist Bruno Bozzetto captures it well - not to be taken too seriously, but some of it rings true!
13. Watch out for the Autovelox boxes. When driving through Italy, watch out for these speed camera boxes on the autostrada and secondary roads. Getting caught by one can set you back anything from 55-900 euros (for driving 10-40 km/h over the limit).
14. Know your lines. If you've ever wondered why there are different colour parking lines in towns, white means it's free to park, blue means it's paid parking and yellow means residents only parking.
Other top tips for cycling holidays in Italy
15. Beware the cows. On many of the mountain roads, cows graze freely. Hopefully you’ll hear their bells but be aware that they might well wander out in front of you.
16. Debris on the roads. The roads in the high mountains take an absolute battering. They’re covered with snow for much of the year and the freeze-thaw process takes it toll. Rain washes gravel into the roads. Rockfalls mean you can come across large chunks of rock in the road! Remember this and do take care, especially on the downhills. Better to go a touch slower and not end up in hospital…
17. Group riding. Particularly if you’re new to riding in the mountains, it can be good to ride with a friend or group. Not only is it fun to be with other people, but if something goes wrong, there are people to help you out. As a minimum, make sure someone knows your route and when you’re due back.
18. Lights, phone, ID and money. Keep a small rear light fitted to your bike in case you come across a tunnel or get caught in bad weather. You may want a front light too, especially if you’re expecting a tunnel on your ride. You’d also be crazy to leave home without money, ID and your phone! Our packing list has more details.
19. Remember it’s a marathon not a sprint! At the beginning of a day/week of cycling, it can be easy to think you’re invincible and and set a pace you can’t sustain. Italy’s mountains are some of the toughest cycling climbs in the world - take it easy and try and remember this is a holiday!
20. Greetings. If you overtake another cyclist, it's normal to say ciao, salve (which means hello) or buongiorno (good day). Likewise, be aware that it's deemed pretty rude to walk into a small shop without saying hi or hello.
21. Dinner. The most important meal of the day - and it doesn't happen before 8pm, ever (well if you're a local anyway)! If you're hungry before that, have a snack - and perhaps an Aperol Spritz, especially if it's a Friday - Sunday night!
22. Coffee. Lastly, but most importantly, know your coffee etiquette. No milky coffee after midday (unless you’re happy to be looked at with scorn) and before midday, don’t ask for a latte (you may end up with just that, i.e. milk)! Ask for caffe latte or latte macchiato instead. Also, at a mid ride cafe, it's usual to pay after you've drunk your coffee - so expect to order, drink, then pay. And cash is king in the mountains!
Have you been on an Italian cycling holiday?
Been cycling in Italy and got some additional tips? Please comment below!