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Ride an Etruscan road

Oak Bay Bikes staff help find a way from Rome to Florence
Oak Bay Bicycles owner Karl Ullrich leads the way during a bike tour in Italy from Rome to Florence

Manitoba may not be known for its mountain ranges and steep terrain, but it was on the hills of the prairies that owner of Fawcett Expeditions, Rob Fawcett, began his passion for mountain biking.

Fawcett – a retired chartered accountant – now works in partnership with an Italy-based company, Progetto Avventura, along with Oak Bay Bicycles, to take adventure seekers to international destinations on a mountain bike.

The idea came to Fawcett after a year-long 15,000-kilometre around-the-world mountain bike trip. Instead of taking the highways and main roadways, he opted for the road – or trail – less traveled.

“I went from Vancouver to Halifax, and from there I took a plane to Ireland and biked to Wales and then England and over to France, Belgium, Holland to Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia,” he said.

The journey continued from Greece and through the Middle East into Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzebekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China.

“(I) tried to find the most interesting way to get from here to there,” Fawcett said. “Because you can take the highway, but as a mountain biker, I find that’s the least fun and admirable way to ride your bike.”

The B.C. portion of Fawcett’s trip ended up being the first expedition offered by the company, which now takes people to Italy, Mongolia and China.

Oak Bay Bicycles owner Karl Ullrich got involved about three years ago, when he and a couple of his staff headed to Italy to scope out a new road route in Sicily and an off-road route from Rome to Florence.

The company now helps guide the Rome to Florence route, which goes through Umbria and Tuscany, taking the long road.

“Even backroads would be generous. They’re old cart trails and old farming roads,” Ullrich said. “It’s a unique way to experience it, to be able to ride through fields and woods and pop out into these towns.”

Riders cycle for four to six hours per day. This Italian journey costs participants about $3,000, not including airfare, which covers everything needed once the tour begins. While it’s a nice package to be able to offer, Ullrich said it’s also great for the staff who get to go as guides.

“Anybody who enjoys cycling finds for the most part that when you go to new environments you have better endurance and more enthusiasm, just because around every corner it’s a new vista.”

On the trip, cyclists follow parts of the 2,000 year old Roman road, Via Francigena, in addition to a segment of an even older Etruscan road, to get them from Rome to Florence.

“You hit the Etruscan road on the second day and actually ride that for two or three hours,” said Fawcett. “It is basically like a canyon that is carved out by the Etruscans, and you can ride it now with your mountain bike.”

Unlike Vancouver Island, Fawcett describes the kind of cycling done on the expeditions as being more like European style off-road touring.

For those thinking this might be a fun adventure, Fawcett has a few tips.

“These expeditions are designed for people who have a high level of fitness. They don’t necessarily have to have a high level of mountain bike skill, but a bit is good.”

Just because you’re a mountain biker doesn’t mean his expeditions are right for you, Fawcett added.

“Often mountain bikers can be more into free riding and don’t have the fitness for this type of thing,” he said.

Though still a young company, Fawcett is merging with his Italian partner to form an international expedition company under the name Mongolia Bike Challenge Cycling.

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