Anne and I first got to know Italy and Sardinia cycle touring in the early 1990's, on a couple of fold-up heavy Schwinn Montagu biframe mountain bikes. Although I've road cycled and raced since moving to Italy in 1997, I'd never mountain biked off-road until this last year, when curiosity got the better of me, I bought some SPD pedals and shoes and set off exploring the easier tracks that we'd driven to get to crags or seen from the roads.
Two days ago, I was one of 7 bikers meeting up at 8am at Baunei, 9km from The Lemon House, for a ride down to Cala Luna with return by boat. Our friend and guide, Mauro, asked, "Are you sure you'll be OK on that bike without suspension??!!" as he eyed up my bike, and the other guys', nearly all with full suspension, carbon frames, disc brakes...the works... I replied "Yes, so far I have been." For the last couple of weeks our friends the Barters have been here, and Dad Dave, an expert mountain biker, had brought his bike and cameras to help me explore and document the rides around where we live. Dave would explain to me what mountain bikers were after, "the more technical single track the better," and I would come up with routes. Our first route was in fact the most technical, and I descended cautiously, so much so that Dave accompanied his video on YouTube with the Steptoe music - see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-uCQoi-aGgg Anyway, I rapidly got the hang of it, so I felt I would be OK on the ride.
Climbing up from Genna Sarbene at 750m altitude to 950m
Single track down to Cala Luna - the easier bit...
And I was. In fact, despite my heavy and no-suspension bike, I was fitter than a couple of the other guys and went uphill faster than them. On the roughest sections I walked (only short distances) and descended cautiously. One bloke fell on the roughest part of the descent, cut his knee quite badly, and the doctor on the beach at Cala Luna refused to stitch him up there, so he ended up being taken by RHIB to Cala Gonone and then to hospital in Nuoro for stitches. After a year in which I have spent 4 nights in hospital with 40 stitches in a ripped open hand, bruised or cracked ribs on 3 separate occasions, sprained the same ankle twice and spent 50' bobbing in the sea in January after capsizing sea kayaking, I was glad that this time, for once, I was among the lucky ones. We sent his bike back on the boat to Santa Maria Navarrese, and ourselves got off at Cala Sisine, had lunch, and then slogged up the 15km of unmade road back to the Golgo plateau and then the last 13km to Baunei. Dave and I had said we'd be back not too late - we hadn't realised in fact that we'd be cycling back up, having thought we'd get the boat back along the coast - and so left the Italians lingering over their lunch with wine. I'm sure that they would be cursing having drunk wine on the very steep but mercifully short ramps on the climb back up.
Single track down to Cala Luna - the last bit is the hardest
Restaurant at Cala Luna - the folks in their cozzies ask "Where did This Lot Come From?"
As well as some great technical riding and countryside - we rode for part of the way along Selvaggio Blu, see http://www.planetfear.com/articles/The_Toughest_Trek_In_Italy_1026.html - it was amusing to see the startled looks of the folk on the beaches as we arrived with our bikes. My only after-effects was a right hand so tired from braking (my cable centre-pull brakes needed adjusting, the back one doesn't lock, and I'd forgotten to adjust it before the ride) that I couldn't open a bottle of wine that evening, and the next day had to drop my climbing grade a full letter grade as I struggled to clip the rope and hang on any holds except for micro-crimps.
So, just as we've done for road cycling in this undeveloped, wild, part of Sardinia, we now have a range of routes of varying levels of difficulty to describe to mountain bikers. Over the autumn we shall document more routes, and I have decided to get myself a decent mountain bike which'll make it a bit easier...no more days missing climbing because my forearms are too pumped!
Peter and Anne run The Lemon House (http://www.peteranne.it/) a guesthouse for climbers, cyclists (road and MTB) walkers and kayakers in Ogliastra on the east coast of Sardinia. Photos of the ride described above and other activities are on their web site.
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