So you have decided to take a trip abroad with your bike, holiday, training camp, Granfondo or simply just to ride whilst the family is by the pool, it helps if you have a few practical tips before you go. Living in Italy i see it all, from the under prepared to the over confident and whilst i am not going to bore you with bike box selection and best airlines here are a few things that you may not have thought of before you take to the road
Italy is just like the UK in fact any European country is like the UK - just because there are loads of cyclists riding about don't think that everyone is patient or loves the person on two wheels. Be mindful of being courteous to traffic users and remember that its not just about riding on the right. You will have a whole host of traffic signs, rights of way, junctions and roundabouts to negotiate so do some homework first or at least start on smaller roads before hitting any big ones. Remember to look out for car doors opening on the left too and don't forget which side is the drivers side. Most Italians never bother to indicate so you have to develop the sense of telepathy when riding, as a rule don't pass cars where there is a possibility that they will pull out/turn left or right give them a wide berth.
Yup its hot....cycling in 40 degrees is no fun so if going for a ride go early and remember to wear a sports sun block as normal can wash off with sweat. Remember also the back of the neck and tops of the ears too. Just because its sunny and hot at base camp it certainly wont be if going skyward. I have cycled in heat, rain, thunderstorm, hail and sun....all in one ride. Ok its an extreme, but when doing your packing, pack kit that covers everything not a winter jacket but things that you can layer and stuff in a pocket. It roughly takes 10 days for your body to acclimatize to the heat and you are there for 14 of them perhaps, which means 10 days of finding it hot so keep the longer rides for the end of the trip and use the shorter ones to get used to it. It goes without saying to keep hydrated and i surely don't need to talk about the importance of that !!
Your diet will change dramatically and you will be eating things that you are simply not used to so be mindful of how you are fueling up and try to keep it simply. Heat and a different diet are a cocktail for an upset stomach or at best a irritable bowel so try to keep with what you would eat at home. If porridge is your morning ride fuel then bring some along as its near impossible to get at a hotel or supermarket. Also don't ask the chef to make it for you as he will have no idea and boil the hell out of it. Simply soak the oats in warm milk - leave for 5-10 mins whilst you are choosing from the buffet and eat as is. Its actually better for you soaked than cooked anyway !! Try to keep off the booze until at least the last day or if you really need a post ride beer then take at lunchtime and refrain from night time. Nothing like trying to climb a mountain with a hangover !!
So you are let lose on the European road, first off tell someone where you are going if going on your own and when you will be back and don't deviate from the route. Invest in Road ID, One Life ID or something similar so if you do have an accident then the medical team have a contact number and details of any conditions you have. If going with a local or local club - be aware that they will know the roads, will ride faster and harder than you are used to and don't always tend to wait if you get dropped....its hang on or go home or catch up. Although they are generally really friendly and will look after you and endeavor to speak your language, its also nice to know a few words to reply back. Look at the route you want to do...100 km at home is a tad different with 6,000ft of climbing in it so look at quality rather than quantity. Better to enjoy shorter rides with bigger climbs than tackling that epic ride that you are just not used to. Try to book in a rest day or at worst an easier day sauntering off to get a coffee in the next town. Again you want to enjoy the week(s) and going from riding a few hours a week to double figures coupled with a huge surge in altitude will take its toll
Get some for you and the bike and bring your E111 card along to in case of medical emergency also. British Cycling Membership will cover most things but its good to look into the finer details of your policy and of course medical cover. Not all companies will for example cover you for mountain biking as it is deemed dangerous and if taking part in an event race or similar then you may need to look at upgrading your policy or taking out separate cover. Also good cover for your bike too...you want to be able to get it to and from your destination in top condition and of course if the unforeseen happens then get it repaired/replaced as appropriate.
Cycling abroad with your bike is great fun, lovely roads, great views and generally easy traffic - its basically about being sensible not being over confident and riding within or better, just above your ability to get the best out of your trip and just think there is nothing quite like an Italian coffee stop to take in that wonderful trip abroad !!!