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Retracing My Steps

Another ride report post! This time, I decided on the spur of the moment to try a route I hadn't ridden before. It turned out to be a wee bit longer than I had really allowed for, which made me slightly late for family Sunday lunch — oops. I had also forgotten to charge my Apple Watch, so this ride went unrecorded, but I'm pretty sure the distance was around 80km, so not bad. The highest point was around 550m, but there was a fair bit of up and down, so the total vert would be quite a bit more.

Two of the things that make me happiest are bicycles and mountains, though, so riding up into the mountains like this does me an enormous amount of good. Here are some of the highlights of Sunday's ride.

I had only just left the tarmac when I saw three deer bouncing through the wispy fog that was still drifting across the ploughed fields. They moved fast enough that by the time I had stopped and got my phone out, I needed the 3x zoom — and one of the deer got away entirely. For such an extreme shot from a phone camera, I'm not unhappy with the results.

I also love that the scenery looks pretty wild in this framing, but actually it's still pretty close to a bunch of warehouses and factories, a true liminal space. The early part of this route is stitched together from tracks between fields to avoid busy roads, but it's still pretty close to industrial areas.

A little further along, and with the sun burning off the last vestiges of the mist, I stopped again because I liked the view of the river rippling across the stones. After this stop, though, I hit some pretty technical riding and had to concentrate on where I was putting my wheels. Some rain has finally arrived after the long drought, and then motorbikes (ugh) had come through, so all the mud was churned up into mire.

On my mountain bike I'd probably have been fine, but the Bianchi has some intermediate gravel tyres that are pretty smooth in the centre and with only a little bit of tread on the sides, as well as being narrower than MTB tyres. This is the sort of terrain where I'm glad to have proper pedals that I can unclip from and ride along with my feet free just in case I lose my balance and need to put a foot down in a hurry. Anyway, I got through without too much trouble, despite a lot of slipping and sliding. I did have to stop to clear out the plug of mud between rear wheel and frame once I got out of the woods, and then I walked the bike along the edge of one field that had been ploughed right to the river's edge, not leaving any smooth terrain to ride on.

Nothing much to say about this tower, I just always like the look of it. This is also where the trail finally starts to climb out of the plain.

This is an old railway bridge, and because the road bridge is just upstream, it's reserved for walking and riding. It's not at all signposted, either, so you have to know it's there; I rarely see anyone else on it.

One of the reasons I ride a gravel bike is so that I can spend as little time as possible sharing the road with cars. It's tough to avoid that when it comes to river crossings, though! One newer bridge around here has a cycle path slung underneath it, and one of the busier bridges carved out a cycle path in a redesign, but this one is the best of all.

After that I rode properly up into the hills, climbing up out of the Nure valley and over the watershed down into the Trebbia valley before heading home. Unfortunately the day clouded over a bit too, so although I did stop to take a few more shots, they aren't nearly so scenic. I did want to share this one, though, because that rocky outcrop in the middle distance already featured in a past ride report.

Sights From A Bike Ride

One of the positive aspects I often cite when talking up the place where I live is that I can be in fields in ten minutes' ride from my front door in the old town — as in, my windows look out onto the old city walls.1

Once out in the fields, though, you never know what you might find. Here are some scenes from my latest ride.

Roadside shrine to the Madonna della Notte, complete with offerings and ex-voto (thanks for successful prayers).

Not sure what's up with this old Lancia planted in a farm yard, but it looks cool!

Here I just liked the contrast between the red tomatoes waiting for the harvest and the teal frame of my Bianchi.

Bike rides are so great for getting out of my head, whether it’s a technical piece of single-track on my mountain bike where I have to concentrate so hard I can’t think of anything else, or a ride like this where I’m bowling along the flat with a podcast in my (bone-conduction) headphones. The trick is staying off main roads as much as possible — hence the gravel bike.


  1. Which are actually the newest city walls, dating from the sixteenth century CE, post-dating various earlier medieval and Roman walls of which only traces remain. These Renaissance walls were later turned into a linear park (pictures) known as the "Facsal", a distortion of London's famous Vauxhall gardens, among the first and best-known pleasure gardens in nineteenth-century Europe. In more modern times, the Facsal was part of the street circuit for the 1947 Grand Prix of Piacenza, famously the first race entered by a Ferrari car — although not the site of the Scuderia's first win. 

Easy Like A Sunday Morning

This Sunday morning was not a time for epic rides, not least because it's the day after a good friend's wedding… I took a 90-minute loop from my front door, up into the foothills and back down. This landscape has not changed much since Roman times, and probably before; people were tilling the land and making wine around here before the Romans showed up, at least back into the Bronze Age.

This is the gate of Rivalta, on the bank of the river Trebbia.

If the name of the river Trebbia is ringing a bell, you may be thinking of your classical history. This was the site of a major battle of the Second Punic War, in which Hannibal defeated the Romans. The battle is commemorated today by a statue of one of Hannibal's war elephants.

People never believe me when I tell them of the wildlife I encounter on my rides: rabbits, deer… elephants?

Midweek Ride Through The Shire

I took a mental health day off and rode a (metric) century up into the hills. Unfortunately the more spectacular scenery was a) tiring to ride, so I didn't want to stop, and b) on a main road, so there wasn't always a good place to stop even if I had wanted to. These shots are from the earlier, flatter part of the ride.

Riding up the bank of the river Nure (on the left behind the trees)

Crossing the old railway bridge at Ponte dell'Olio

Old lime kilns at Ponte dell'Olio

Who Needs Alps Anyway

Booked a day off work today because 2021 has done a number on me — and I really lucked out, with a lovely warm day for a 100km ride up into the hills. My legs are hurting now, but it was oh so worth it!

I also got to use my new Hestra Nimbus Split Mitts for the first time. These things are not gloves, but over-gloves; you wear them over your normal cycling gloves. They are completely unpadded and pretty unstructured, but that's the point; they are only there to protect your hands from the elements. The idea is that, on a ride like today's that spans from the low single-digits (Celsius) to the mid-high-teens, you can start off with the mitts, but then as you and the atmosphere warm up, you can peel them off and stuff them in a jersey pocket, while still having your usual gel-padded cycling gloves that you were wearing underneath.

I jumped on these mitts based on a recommendation from The Cycling Independent because I have hot hands, so there's a gap between the sort of weather where I want my heaviest gloves, that could masquerade as ski gloves in a pinch — basically sub-freezing — and when I'm comfortable in just plain finger-gloves without quilting on the backs. It felt a bit ridiculous to buy a whole other pair of gloves just for those in-the-middle days, plus I'd never know which gloves to wear and probably get it wrong all the time, so this combo of glove and over-glove works perfectly.

At least so far, they definitely work as advertised; they kept my hands warm as I pedalled through the fog, and then I took them off when I stopped for this pic, just before the serious climbing started. This ride spanned from 65m to over 900m, and it wasn't just one climb, either; there was plenty of up & down, as my legs will attest.

That Feeling When…

You know that feeling when you realise you may be a little bit outside the design envelope for your gear? That.

I was on the Bianchi, my gravel bike, not my full-sus fat-tyre MTB, when I ran into a stretch of uncleared road. I thought it was just two corners' worth, but it turned out to be quite a bit more than that, and icy underneath the snow.

Not bad for the last ride of the year!

The Long Way Round

I had the day off today, but the kids were all in school — so I jumped on my bike and went looking for some sun.

I did at least get out of the fog as soon as I started climbing out of the plain, but despite a couple of attempts, the sun never did quite make it through the overcast.

Why do I ride a gravel bike? Precisely so I can do rides like this, with a long on-road approach, and then a fun bit at the top.

To be honest around here I would have been much better off with proper fat mountain-bike tyres; the Kendas on my Bianchi are pretty good for what they are, but they weren’t quite up to literal rivers of snowmelt coming down the path I was trying to ride up — so I stopped for a quick photo op and a breather.

The long way down, back on tarmac.

This sort of thing is good for the soul — that, and the shower beer I allowed myself when I got home… Cheers!

Hipster Bike Downtown

In my last bike post introducing the Bianchi, I mentioned that I had turned my previous steed into a single-speed city runabout. Well, today I was out running an errand astride said hipster conveyance, so I thought I’d get a pic of it too.

I love how the conversion turned out. The gear ratio is fine for short trips around town, optimised for short bursts, not sustained speed. The thing on the back wheel is just a chain tensioner. The flat bars are raised up by flipping the stem upside-down, so it’s actually a pretty comfortable thing to ride. It’s also still a very light bike, with its carbon fork and all, so it’s nippy and manoeuvrable around town. The old Campagnolo drive train was completely shot, and these days a gravel bike frame that won’t take disk brakes is basically unsaleable, so this is a better fate for my old Rat — even if it does mean that I now own more bicycles than the rest of the family put together!

Appropriately enough for such a bike, what I was doing out and about was buying fresh-ground coffee from my coffee roaster. The shop is a couple of streets back from the square in the photo, but they have a century-old roaster, and when it’s running you can smell the coffee clear to the square!

Gravel Bike In Its Natural Habitat


My old gravel bike — an original Cinelli Racing Rats set — had eaten its Campagnolo running gear, so I was due a new bike anyway. Then the government announced a fund to support alternative forms of transportation, effectively price support for bikes, so I dived in. I ordered this Bianchi Via Nirone 7 gravel bike in July and it didn't arrive until mid-November, so only just in time for the subsidy cut-off date! Then what with one thing and another, this was the first time I actually got to take it out, but I am very happy with both look and feel.

The one aspect that is not 100% spot on is that the wheels feel disproportionately heavy. I'm not sure whether this is the Kenda tyres — I've only ever seen the brand on e-bikes, where weight is not the primary consideration — or the wheels, which are generic. Maybe I'll look out for a discounted wheelset in the new year sales and try my go-to Schwalbe Marathons on them, and see what that does for me.

And the Cinelli? Oh, it's still part of the family; I swapped the worn-out Campy drivetrain for a single-gear setup, put straight bars and flat pedals on it, and now it's my hipster city runabout. I'll get a pic of that on our next expedition.