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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Support your local bike shop!

Above: the Lazzaretti workshop in Rome, Italy

You probably hear that a lot, but why? There's no question that independent bicycle dealers (IBD's in industry parlance) are struggling to stay relevant and profitable in today's cycling climate.

The industry and bike dealers in general blame this on internet sales while the bike industry doesn't want you to know (or to remind IBD's) that the margin on new bike sales doesn't even cover the cost of having the product in inventory for sale in most cases.

Above: The Tomi workshop in Viterbo, Italy

The Big T has even introduced online sales of their bikes, though you must take delivery (at least for now) at one of their authorized dealers who receives an even smaller margin on this sale than if the bike was on their sales floor.

It's most important to remember that it will NEVER be possible to get your bicycle repaired or serviced (OK, you might be able to plug in an electronic shifting system in the future and get an update) via the internet.

Above: The Masi workshop in Milano, Italy

If you don't know how or don't care to work on your bike yourself, a local dealer with skilled, caring technicians is priceless, so by all means give them as much of your business as possible, especially if they've been able to resist the pressure to become a "one-brand store" as is way too common these days, both in the USA and in Italy.

Sadly, these dealers face the pressure from the big brands they carry. The Big T and S greedily try to monopolize the space on the shop floor, shelves and display racks. Nobody's going to claim their bicycles are not excellent, but too often their accessory products are little more than "me-too" products designed to keep competitor's better products out of the store. It's not the dealer's fault!

Above: The GIOS workshop in Volpiano, Italy

In our opinion this makes online shopping MORE attractive to the customer, not less. Online retailers rarely have access to Big T or S products so instead they carry other, often better brands, specialty brands offering products they specialize (no pun intended) in. Saddles, shoes, tires, etc. made by companies who make them as their only business are quite often a better product and value than me-too products produced by contract makers and simply branded with the Big T or S logo.

If your local bike shop can't get these products for you, don't blame him but don't settle for me-too products that might not meet your needs either. Check out some of the online bike websites instead. We do this for items (like tires) that are not supplied by our "official suppliers", though ALL of our relationships in that category began with us purchasing the products we liked best, only later convincing the importer/distributor/manufacturer to join us in a marketing partnership.

Buona pedalata!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

A Saturday in

Another weekend, more pedala forte and mangia bene.

As we've pointed out so many times in the past, one of our favorite things in life is a challenging bike ride followed by a wonderful meal. You'd think we'd try to make a business out of this idea eventually, no?

We have other obligations for Sunday so Saturday was to be our ride hard, eat well day, starting with this wine DIODOROS (above) from the region of the Greek Temples in Agrigento. Our ride wasn't a super long one, just an action-packed 55 kms with a reasonable climb in the middle. It's cool and blustery today. so 55 kms was enough.

There's a meat market just outside Siracusa, one we pass on a lot of our bike rides. It's always busy, so yesterday we stopped on our way home to check out what they have. Larry went a little crazy and came out with a classic bistecca Fiorentina so Saturday's late lunch/early dinner was to have a Tuscan theme despite our being in Sicily. One thing they do have here in February is wonderful tomatoes grown in the volcanic soil. Makes it easy to start with a bruschetta al pomodoro (above) antipasto especially with the fresh, fragrant basil that grows in that same rich, volcanic soil.

We have a TON of stale bread around as we buy a fresh loaf each day. These are freshly baked right here on the island, but we never eat all of a loaf in one day, so "dead bread" piles up, waiting to be made into croutons or, in this case the famous Tuscan pappa al pomodoro, a tomato and bread soup (above) enjoyed as our first course. The tomatoes for this came out of a jar as we're too lazy to put the effort into using fresh ripe tomatoes and think this comes out just as good anyway since there's a long cooking time.

Our secondo piatto (main dish) was that bistecca Fiorentina (above) traditionally "three fingers thick" this one was more like two, weighing in around 700 grams and costing about $10. We don't have an outdoor grill here so the stove did the trick using one of those grill pans with the raised ribs. The proper cooking technique for these is hot coals where it's just seared on each side, then slapped on the plate after some salt, pepper, olive oil and maybe a squeeze of lemon. This ain't US corn-fed beef, but's it's mighty tasty!!!

In addition we enjoyed artichokes (above) prepared in a way Larry learned at the American Academy in Rome last year. Yank off all those pesky leaves (they're little more than vehicles to eat mayo or butter anyway) cut out the choke, then pare the whole thing down, stripping off all the stringy, tough outsides, leaving just the heart and the stem. Cut 'em in half, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then bake on parchment paper for 20 minutes or so under the broiler, I think the Academy folks used the convection setting on their oven to make 'em more crispy, but they're tasty either way!

Finally a non-Tuscan, heck, non-ITALIAN (but we like it) Caesar salad. Why? Mostly because the good anchovies needed are cheap and easy to get here and we had croutons to use up.

Illy espresso, courtesy of our little GAGGIA iperespresso machine plus a Sicilian torroncino (chocolate covered nougat with the best almonds you can imagine) capped off our hybrid Tosco-Siciliano meal. Now it's time for a nap!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Spring Classics special offer

Wait a minute...CycleItalia and the Spring Classics? What the...? Here's the background:

First, watch this little video clip 

Larry's long-time life goal has been to see all 5 of the "Monuments of Cycling" live, in-person. He's seen 4 of them already, the 4th (Tour of Flanders) courtesy of our friends at Velo Classic Tours. a few years ago.

L-B-L, the oldest of them all was saved for last but Larry got sick last year and instead of getting on a plane to Brussels, instead went to the hospital!

So 2016 is the plan, but our friends need a couple more guests to make the trip viable. Larry's ready-to-go (Heather has academic obligations) but needs your help. Of course we'd hope you come to Italy in the summer with us, but the Spring Classics the spring.

If you've always wanted to see one, why not start with the oldest, L-B-L and join Peter and Larry? At CycleItalia, we rarely endorse the work of competitors, but in this case, just the fact that Larry joined them for Flanders and is planning to come back for La Doyenne should tell you something.

Reserve your place on this tour and tell them you want to join Larry to see the oldest of the Classics and Peter will loan you a bike to ride in the citizen event at no charge! Larry will be out there riding too, so don't worry about all those fast-looking guys in the video clip. Make your plans now and then follow up with plans to join us in Italy in the summer.

See you in Belgium!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sunday in Sicily

One of our favorite ways to spend a Sunday in Italy is to sleep-in, have a relaxed breakfast, then go for a long bike ride.

So this morning we slept-in, then Zio Lorenzo cooked up his famous "Sicilian Toast" which is basically like French Toast (which of course is not even French) but with some orange zest mixed in with the milk and eggs and enjoyed with butter, powdered sugar and fresh fruit rather than maple syrup which is hard-to-find and expensive here.

Next, it was time to ride. After breakfast had settled, we headed off inland towards the town of Sortino, taking the above photo of Heather posed in front of Mount Etna along they way. As you can see it was warm enough for short sleeves, though we keep our ancient, creaky knees covered until the temps are well into the 70's these days.

There's a pretty long climb (as you can see by the increased altitude above, actually 424 meters, so just over 1300 feet above sea level - which is where we start) to get up there and this was our first climb of any distance of the year. You know how it goes - you start out feeling rather frisky, then realize there's no way you're going to keep this up all the way so you gear down and slog away, trying to remember how long the climb was...until you hit the top.

This one levels off, then rolls a bit before a slight descent and final pop up to Sortino. From there we make a quick left and enjoy a really fun descent with plenty of switchback curves, but on a wide road with good sight lines so you can "let 'er rip" a bit, something we both relish.

Everywhere from our place on the sea is pretty much uphill so coming back is for the most part all downhill, though there are a few places where you cross a bridge and the road kicks up, just to remind you how tired your legs really are.

This was a 3 hour + ride for us and afterwards it was time for the second part of our favorite way to spend a Sunday in Italy - a late, long lunch. By this time we had excellent appetites so the pollo cacciatore Heather cooked up on Saturday (soups and stews are always better the second day) was heated up while the pasta water was boiling and some fresh aiti (a Sicilian leafy green sort of like spinach) was washed, blanched and cooked with olive oil, garlic and red pepper.

Heather roasted a sweet red pepper over the stove burner for an antipasto. Drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt, it was the perfect way to start.

The pasta was served (primo piatto) with the red sauce from the pollo and enjoyed with an excellent nero d'avola/syrah blend from Canicatti called Scialo.

Next (secondo piatto) was the chicken itself along with the aiti, followed by a Sicilian almond cookie (or two) and ILLY espresso courtesy of our tiny Gaggia home machine.

BUONA certo!!!

Friday, January 29, 2016


*Not really, but we WISH they did. Sadly, our "friends" at the airlines are doing no favors this year with prices on flights or extra charges to check your bike as luggage.

We're going to help by including your choice of rental bike at no extra charge* on new reservations until March 1, 2016. So don't pay $100-250 extra each way for your bike or pay $249-349 for a rental bike. Just make your reservation, pack your saddle and pedals and get on the plane!!

Note we've also added "Even More Monferrato" June 13-19, 2016 since the first one sold-out so quickly. Join us!!

*Subject to availability. New reservations only. Can not be combined with any other offer. Contact us for more details.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Sicily 2016

We're living in Sicily (Siracusa-Ortigia) for the winter. Heather's running a study-abroad program here and Larry's...well...doing what he usually does, but it's much more fun here!

Of course we have to deal with living this close to a malevolent volcano (Etna, above) that periodically spews ash and smoke into the air, but most people don't seem to mind and neither do we.

 Above you see some fat guy posing with the famous volcano in the background. He's hoping he can lose some of those kilos before it's time to start going uphill....maybe as soon as the spring classic Liege-Bastogne-Liege?

Above: The run-in back to Ortigia. From the seafront it's pretty much steady uphill, making the return run for home the reverse - great when you've overdone it...which we've not come anywhere close to at this point!!!

 We suffer with views like this from our apartment.

This is the view out our living room window

And here's one from the balcony. Apologies if you're buried in snow in the USA at present, but someone's gotta live here!!!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

GIOS Part 2

Here's Part Two about Larry's visit to GIOS:

Use the link to find their website and then do a Google translation into whatever language you like. Far from perfect but you'll get some understanding of the famous brand and the people behind it.

GIOS is most associated with Roger DeVlaeminck who won Paris-Roubaix FOUR times, three of them on the famous blue bicycles supplied to his Brooklyn team. Above you see DeVlaeminck with Aldo Gios, who was often standing up inside or crouched atop the team car in case Roger had any mechanical issues.

Above is the card attached to Roger's bike in the display at their shop.

And here's the famous name on the top tube.

The photo above shows the evolution of the logo from its creation in 1948 by Tolmino Gios, who raced as a pro on the Legnano team with Gino Bartali before starting his frame business. Sons Aldo and Alfredo carried on the business before going their separate ways. Now Aldo and son Marco keep the torches burning with every GIOS bike 100% Made-in-Italy, Sadly, they have only the rights to sell these wonderful creations in ITALY, not worldwide. This means you have to come to Italy to get one...and plenty of people worldwide do just that!

The only American ever to win the Giro d'Italia started his early career on one of the famous blue bicycles as the card above shows. He didn't win the Giro on a GIOS bike, but somehow the guys came up with one he rode during his amateur days.

Complete with name on the top tube!

Both Roger and brother Eric DeVlaeminck raced cyclocross, Roger winning the World Championship in 1975 while brother Eric (who passed away recently) won the title seven times. Above you see a rare archive photo of Tolmino Gios "washing" Roger's bike in a nearby stream. If you're familiar with 'cross you know in a muddy race the bikes end up weighing a ton, making for a big advantage if you have two bikes - one you're riding while the mud's washed off the other one and you switch them out whenever you pass by the pits.

Mille grazie again to Marco and Aldo for their hospitality and the espresso!!!