Far from Europe’s highest peaks both figuratively and literally, Italy’s Central Appenine mountains are perhaps not top of most riders’ lists of priority destinations. However, having visited Tuscany’s Abetone Bike Park late in 2013 we can confirm that its forested slopes and abundance of trails – not to mention its food and delicious coffee – make it wholly deserving of becoming a key mountain bike destination.
DIRT ISSUE 145 – MARCH 2014
Words by James McKnight. Photos by Andy LloydTHE STORY
Sitting with feet up, surrounded by a sprawl of baggage, our group was enjoying what is surely every visitor to Italy’s first port of call: a strong coffee accompanied by rich, exquisitely unhealthy breakfast food. This was possibly a metaphor for the days to come… extended days, Italian style fine dining and a scattering of fast–paced bike riding thrown in for good measure.
We were waiting for our tour guide, an Italian by the name of Rolando Galli – someone I felt I knew reasonably well following a long stream of emails and enthused phone calls – who was to pick us up and whisk us away on a mystery mountain bike tour into the unknown. Our lazy break ended with the arrival of a bouncy, chatty middle–aged man sporting shorts and trainers.OH TOSCANA
Tuscany. A region that holds the ability to conjure up images of long summery evenings and distant, picture–perfect hazy views with its every mention. People the world over know Tuscany from the countless films and photo shoots that have produced images of beautiful rolling hills and slender upright cypress trees. In terms of mountain biking, however, the region was perhaps overlooked until 2013 when the first ever Enduro World Series race took place in the hills behind Punta Ala’s crisp shoreline. That race was of course a complete success and demonstrated that mountain biking hotspots can pop up in the most unlikely of places.
Abetone Bike Park then, the focus of our week long trip, sits high in Tuscany’s mountains, which summit at somewhere around 2000 metres, amongst dense and ancient woodland. This is a popular winter ski resort servicing the populations of Pisa and Florence, which is almost impossible to comprehend when arriving in the summer months. The road that provides access from the major towns is narrow and twisty, the terrain vertiginous and tricky. Buildings are old and seemingly few and far between, and the aforementioned forest envelops every trace of human interaction with these inspiring mountains.A GAGGLE OF BIKERS
The opportunity to visit Abetone arose some time early in the year, but having looked at some dodgy maps and vague trail descriptions found somewhere on the internet, and having based my entire opinion of the area on those two findings, I turn my snotty, spoilt nose up at the notion of visiting ‘another’ (undoubtedly beautiful) place with ‘yet more’ snakes of trail at every crest. Later in the year I thankfully reconsidered my actions, and boy am I glad I did. A date to visit was hastily set in late September.
It’s never exactly going to be hard to quickly summon a group of bike riders for a trip to an undiscovered ‘Promised Land’, abundant in fine food and virgin trails, and so on putting the word about I quickly gathered a motley crew consisting of a photographer, a trail crafter, a boat builder, a part–time raw–vegan and a desk jockey: Andy Lloyd, Rowan Sorrell, Richy Taylor, Paul Aston and myself. A mostly acquainted group with the wild card among us (really, really wild) being Richy, a colourful character new to these pages who hails from Scotland and now lives ‘the life’, travelling from snowy Alpine slopes where he winters, to sunny Italian shores where he summers. His arse has twice made appearances in Dirt, but that’s another story.>>