After my two days bike trip in the Dolomites, I wanted to set myself at proof with a bike trip of three/four days. I was searching for a bike journey to be completed from the Italian Liberation day (25th of April) to the Sunday 28th of April. I wanted to ride on different surfaces and to travel in new places, but I could not go too far because I had only a few days.
I found the better solution subscribing me at the Emilia Gravel event. It’s a multi-day, unsupported event that started and finished in Tabiano (PR) close to Salsomaggiore Terme. This event is not a race. This event is well described with the words of the organizer “...an experiential tour that is a perfect match between bicycles, food & wine and more…”.
As a participant, I received a gpx track of the full route – that is 530km long – and has a positive elevation gain of 4.130 meters. I was free to decide the number of stops for sleep or eat. There was not any defined check point but during the event the organizer could localize me and other riders using the gps tracker signal or the smartphone localization.
My approach at this event as a rookie was to use all the four days in order to have the time for the stops for eating, having a shower and resting in hostels. I decided to divide the track in four segments of similar length and book the three nights outside. Nights were only three, because on 25th of April I went to the starting point by car starting from my home.
As usual, I checked the weather forecast to choose the best clothes and set the best bike configuration.
Unfortunately, the weather forecast was showing high probability of rain for the first two days. However, the week before the event was also rainy. This information suggested me to change the bike configuration installing my cyclocross 35 mm mud tires on the wheels that I normally use for road riding in the summer and for cyclocross in the winter. The rear wheel has a 10-42T cassette that I paired with a front chainring of 42T (previously 44T chainring was mounted). I completed the mechanical work the evening before the starting also replacing the brake pads, the chain and installing the front and back light.
My bike packing bags configuration was composed by:
– compact frame pack containing a multi tools, chain lube, battery pack for charging my phone that I used also use a gps navigator, charging cables, arm warmer, leg warmer, energy bars, gps tracker rented by the organization, action camera, n.2 spare inner tubes, n.2 CO2 cartridges, rain jacket.
– saddle pack containing n.2 summer cycling kit (bib shorts and T-shirts), thermal long sleeve base layer and swimming shorts (used as casual clothes for the evening), spare socks, cycling cream, slipper.
Day 1 – The start and the first night in B&B – distance 153 km uphill +710m
Thuersday 25th of April hours 5:00 AM. I woke up and drove my car in the direction of Salsomaggiore Terme (PR). The weather was misty. It was not the best way to start my four days trip.
When I reached the first hill closer to the starting point the sun fortunately came out. After the group photo in front of the Tabiano’s spa the adventure began.
I climbed the first ramp off-road excited by the beginning of this experience. I am a rookie, so I started with cyclocross race pace.
After some hours at sustained speed, I decided to slow down in order to take a break to take pictures. Along the Taro riverside I found two riders: together we pedaled through the beautiful and muddy Carrega wood close to Sala Baganza (PR).
The little Lago di Ponte Verde in the Carrega Woods
We decided to have lunch in a farm where we ate a sandwich and talked about our bicycle experiences, meanwhile a light rain started to fall on our heads. We saddled up and we pedaled together to discover beautiful gravel climb and ancient castle.
The little farm where we ate delicious sandwiches
We traveled across gravel roads of the countryside and on asphalt secondary roads without any difficulties keeping a good rhythm.
In Parma, one of my travel companions got a flat tire, so we had to stop and to repair it quickly. It was late afternoon and we had covered about 140 km, when we were caught in a heavy rain. We found repair under the roof of a parmesan cheese factory waiting for the rain intensity to decrease, so we began to talk about our plans for the night. I was surprised to find out that my companions had not decided yet where they would sleep that night, so I invited them to the hostel that I had booked for me. That was 13 rainy km faraway.
When we arrived at the hostel we were completely soaked and dirty. The owner of the structure has been fantastic. She offered all her support in bike and shoes cleaning, for the dinner and to find beds for all the group. She also lit the fireplace for heating and drying our clothes.
Day 2 – mud, sun and new friendship – distance 143 km uphill +340m
We woke up at 7 am and, after a good breakfast offered by our gentle owner, we were ready to continue the gps track. After a few kilometers we reached Brescello (RE) a town made famous by the movie saga “Don Camillo & Peppone” where we had a stop for the picture of the Don Camillo’s monument.
Following the gps route we came back on the Enza riverbank where we began to fight with the clay mud that clogged the forks. My wheels keep on spinning because with my 35mm cyclocross tire in the 3T frameset I had sufficient tire clearance.
We had a coffee break at Colorno in the Garibaldi square where we admired the Colorno palace. The route we rode was flat and without difficulties except for some short muddy sessions. All the rain and the mud of the firsts two days had hardly tested bicycles and cyclists. When we reached Fidenza city we were in the closet point to the starting/finish line. The crew had to decide what to do: we could have abandoned the race and get back to our cars… one of my companions said she felt too tired to continue and I was pedaling from several kilometers with a loud sound coming from my crankset.
The group has split: one retired, the other kept on going and I searched for a bike shop in order to fix my crankset problem. I found the “Speedy 2000” bicycles shop that said that I had a problem with some bottom bracket bearings. He injected some special lubricant, tightened the crankset, and regulated the rear derailleur all these things for free. I come back to the route alone but determined to finish the ride. It was evening when I found another participant at the Emilia Gravel that was having some trouble with his front derailleur, so I stopped and gave him my support. We pedaled together up to the next city where I was booked for the night. I invited my new travel companion to stop for the night at the B&B “La Casetta” where we received the best hospitality. The owner also offered her car to go outside in the city to have dinner, to avoid us to pedal on a state road.
Day 3 – B-roads and gravel paths along the rivers – distance 123 km uphill +770m
View from the B&B La Casetta window
We woke up in the morning at 7:00 AM: the air was cold but it was a nice sunny day. We crossed some muddy woods and fields passing closer to Castell’Arquato town after a short steep climb and then we cycled to the Nure stream. We continued pedaling through smooth flat b-roads and easy gravel until we reached the nice town of Rivergaro where we stopped for lunch in the city square to eat pizza. After lunch we faced the pebbly Trebbia river path in beautiful sunny conditions.
The next goal was to cycle the beautiful single track next to the Tidone stream until we reach the Pianello Val Tidone town.
Tidone stream single track
It was almost evening when we reached the structure that I booked for that night, through an asphalt road climb. For that last night I chose the Agronauta agritourism. The best choice for the landscape, the food and hospitality of the people. The owner gave me all the stuff to clean the bicycle, he prepared the dinner even if it was quite late when I arrived at the restaurant and packed me the breakfast in advance to be ready to start early the next morning on the last stage of the trip.
Day 4 – The hillslopes – distance 109 km uphill +1.630 m
Morning view from the Agronauta agritourism
After these efforts we decided to reward ourselves by eating in a typical restaurant in Tollara (PC), called “Antica trattoria del Cacciatore”, where they served the traditional foods and wine since 1956.
We came back on our bikes satisfied and after lunch we pedaled on flat terrain until we reached the center of the town of Castell’Arquato, where the Monterosso wine festival was taking place.
We had to do the slalom among many people who walked in the narrow streets of that medieval town center. The last 40km had been beautiful. There was a sequence of hills with beautiful gravel roads and fast single tracks with the crossing of another fortified medieval village with a castle. The Vigoleno Village.
We went out of the Vigoleno castle and a quick descent began that brought us to a single track at the side of the Stirone stream. We really enjoyed the technical part of that single track. The last kilometers were easier on asphalt and crossed the beautiful Salsomaggiore Terme city with his spa buildings.
Salsomaggiore Terme spa
We crossed the finish line in the evening. At the finish line there was my wife with her parents that met my cycling friend. We had dinner all together eating pizza, talking about this exciting experience and our projects for the future.
Location: Italy – Emilia-Romagna region – provinces: Parma, Reggio Emilia, Piacenza
Total distance: 528 km
Ascent: + 3.450 m
Best time to go: late spring, summer but also autumn if it is it not rain.
Terrain: gravel roads, single track, tarmac
Tires: I used 35mm wide cyclocross tires on 700c rims because the weather forecast predicted rain for the first days, if you travel in dry condition also a configuration with byway WTB tire on 650b wheels could be suitable in order to roll faster on the tarmac segment.
Gearing: only few steep climbs with some little portage session in the last part. Maybe a gear configuration with a 40T chainring in the front and a 10-42T cassette is the best option (I used a 42T front chainring with a 10-42T cassette).
The water supply is not a problem. You can find fountains, typical restaurants and bars in the city and town along the route where you can eat the best ham, salami,” Parmigiano cheese” and drink excellent wine.
Where to sleep: I suggest to book agritourism where you can have a typical dinner and have a rest in a characteristic context.