Friday, September 19, 2014

Chrono Bike

If you're in Lucca you really should rent a bike and head for the countryside.  It is in the most beautiful part of Italy - take it from someone who has spent a lot of time biking around Italy.  And it's a bike mad town - even the grocery store has a bike in the window.
And if you're going to rent a bike, there's only one place:  Chrono Bikes.  
Right near the Porto San Pietro, they have fabulous Pinarello bikes, outfitted with Campy or Shimano.  If you're a biker, you know what I'm talking about.  If you're not a biker, take my word for it - these are great bikes.  Normally you can't rent bikes of this quality.  If you just want a cruiser to ride around the medieval  town (no cars allowed, altho there seem to be some anyway) they rent those too.  Altho not this fizzy polka dot model....if I were in the market for a town bike, this would be it.  So retro.
I know the bikes are fabulous because I spent the last week riding one, and there was a time (okay, more than one) when I came into a corner a little hot, and I was sure I would lay the bike down, and be listening to my helmet buzzing across the pavement.  Didn't happen.  Not because of my skill, because the bike stuck to the road.  Great bike.  Scared the pee out of me, but that bike saved my bacon.

The guy who owns the store, Paladino, can just look at you and know what size bike you need and exactly how high the seat should be.  

Gets it right first time.  Our friend Michael accidentally got on Paladino's bike instead of the one Paladino had set up for him.  I should tell you that Paladino is a lot taller than Michael, and Michael came back from his test drive saying "Well, either we have to lower the seat, or I'll have to cut off some of my anatomy..."

Paladino cracked up.  So did we.  Got Michael on his own (much shorter) bike, and we were off.

Here is a true fact about biking in Italy:  You Will Get Lost.  

You will have a lovely map, with the names of lots of small towns   You will stop at an intersection to look at the road signs pointing to lots of other small towns.  Unfortunately the towns on your map and the towns on the roadsigns are not even remotely related.  

And none of the street names are on the map, but that's okay because there are very few street signs unless you're inside the walls of  Lucca.  So what.  Wing it.  I promise you'll have a great adventure. 

No matter which way you go the scenery will be spectacular.  
Just try to stay off the Autostrada.  If there's a toll booth, Do Not Take That Road.  Aim for the smallest roads you can find.  They're usually going uphill, but that's where the beautiful small towns are, unspoiled by tourists (so far).
There is something called the Hills of Lucca  and Montecarlo Wine Route - if you're in a car take it.  If you're on a bike, follow the route Paladino has marked on your map...if you can.
Follow these signs.  Usually uphill.  
On teensy roads with no cars I did surprise one goat, but he surprised me more.  And no, this is not the goat.  Be nice.

Because Lucca has no big hotels, no fizzy resorts, the countryside around Lucca isn't overrun by tourists.  So the little towns have real cafes for real people, not souvenir stands full of plastic Pinocchios and postcards, and busloads of tourists.  Just real people living real lives.
We ride into a tiny town just as the church bells are ringing and people are walking to church, as they have for hundreds of years (okay, okay, not these exact people, their ancestors.  Point taken.)

They were ringing real bells in an old stone tower, not the recordings you get in the touristy areas.  It's near Sant'Andrea in Compito.  I know that compito is homework - is she the patron saint of homework?   And has this patron saint thing gotten out of hand?

We ride thru San Quirico, and joke that he must have been the patron saint of nerds.  Quirico, quirky...

Downhill from the church there is a babbling brook:
with an old stone bridge spanning it - just wide enough for two oxcarts to pass. 
The road across the bridge goes nowhere.  We don't care - we are exploring.

Here is another true fact about biking in Italy - if you are passed by some guys who look like they're training for the Tour De France, you're on the right road.  We got passed a lot.  We tried to follow a lot of really fast riders.  And eventually, hot, sweaty and happy,  we made it home.
If you're not up for a road ride, you can ride the 3 mile loop on the top of the walls.  Everyone else does, two wheels:
or four - with two steering wheels - yipes!  Who's driving?
Dads with kids perched on tiny plastic seats - no seat belts.  no helmets...and one hand is clearly busy...usually the other hand is holding a cel phone.  No idea how they do it.  But it all works.
Even the florist delivers by bike.

Go.  Stay in Lucca.  Rent a bike from Chrono and ride.  Take some friends.  We can't wait to go back.  Thank you Mike and Carolyn for the inspiration, for finding the apartment.  Thank you Paladino for the great bikes.  We had a blast.

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