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"Everything we needed, we carried " | Italy on a Tandem

I’m still not entirely sure how I ended up owning a tandem. A friend and I decided we would cycle to Southern France and our pub logic dictated that it would be cheaper to buy one bike than two.

Turns out it was, and we did.

Then we found there were other advantages like no splitting up or waiting at the top of a hill, always being able to chat to each other but most of all it was fun.

When somebody sees us passing on tandem, it invokes one of two emotions - sheer joy or utter confusion. The former normally from children, the latter from old men (and both are just as funny to watch).

Having been on a few solo cycling tours, and after years of promising, it was time to (literally) take my girlfriend Brooke along for the ride. Cycling for me is the only way to see a country properly. I’m not normally a ‘quoter’ but there’s one from Ernest Hemingway that says:

“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.”

I can confirm that this is doubly true on a tandem. 

Greatest of all though, cycling means you get to eat (and drink) as much as you like (it’s fuel after all) and what better place to be fuelled than Italy.

We didn’t do too much planning for the trip. We were flying into Genoa and back from Rome 15 days later. Other than that, all we had on our to-do list were a few pretty towns, gelato, cheese, pasta and vino. We couldn’t go far wrong really.

Our first destination was Cinque Terre - five colourful coastal towns surrounded by mountains and connected by a train cutting through the cliffs. Unfortunately for us, tandems weren’t allowed on the train so it was the one road in (down) and one road out (up) for us. After three of the five towns and lots of pushing, we managed to beg our way onto the ferry - much easier.

From the coast we headed inland to the heart of Tuscany; Lucca, Montecatini, Siena, San Gimignano, Chianti, each town more stunning than the last. We quickly fell into the Italian pace of life, winding our way down through the countryside, stopping for swims and gelato when we fancied.

Everything we needed, we carried. Tent, food, clothes, water, wine, beer, cheese - all the essentials. The problem with one bike between two is that it means half the bags. We therefore had to be particularly strict when it came to packing. An AeroPress, some Workshop Coffee and a Porlex grinder ended up taking priority over an pair of pants.

Lugging coffee and a grinder may seem like an unnecessary luxury (especially when in Italy), but this trip wasn’t about speed. Camping, cooking and brewing were just as much part of the experience as the pedalling.

Though the landscapes, views and roads change daily and a daily routine quickly took hold and coffee always came first.

Laying in your sleeping bag, looking out onto a new view each morning, we'd go through the AeroPress routine and it was pure perfection. Along with a breakfast of banana porridge and local honey (or if we were having a lazy morning, scrambled eggs), our coffee tasted even better outdoors.

Riding through the stunning Italian countryside, your mind would wander to all sorts of places but quickly settle on food. Cycling became the thing we did in between eating; set off: café stop with pastries; a bit of riding; lunch of fresh bread, local cheese and ripe tomatoes; a little more pedalling; gelato time.

We got used to it pretty quickly.

Italy was everything we hoped for. The Tuscan landscape was as beautiful as imagined, the gelato as smooth as promised and the wine - well, tasted of wine (I’m more of a beer man).

Doing it all on a tandem made the whole trip even more fun, for us and the locals. People would genuinely smile, laugh and point as we passed. And the answer to the question that everyone asked and you’re probably thinking: yes, I do know if she’s pedalling (or not as the case might be).

Luke Clark is co-founder of The 5th Floor cycling team.