All roads lead to Tuscany

By Kenny Stocker

The Tuscany Trail is a mountain bike event which follows a 560km route from Massa over the Apennine mountains to Capalbio. It passes through the very quarries where Michelangelo selected the marble he used to carve his David, the beautiful cities of Florence and Sienna and skirts close to the iconic medieval village of San Gimignano. Despite having lived in Italy for a few years it is a region I haven’t really explored in any depth. So what better way than by signing up to the Tuscany Trail and seeing it by bike!

My fitness levels at the start of the year were disappointingly low. My work / play balance was severely unbalanced, but this was a good focus to help me readdress the situation. In addition we had been getting close to developing our own adventure bikes… with the adventure sorted I now needed one of those bikes!

Once the flight was booked I was committed, it was time to get some miles in. I had lost the habit of cycling to work, it’s 50 minutes either way with a hill in between. Not that impressive in the grand scheme of human achievement, but doing that 3 or 4 times a week over 6 months builds up a good base fitness level, especially when you go after some of the Strava segments!

I have a problem with my knees over long distances - they start to hurt. Yes I know that’s not uncommon but I do have to be a little careful. With this in mind I decided to go for the little and often approach rather than trying something close to the full distance. I haven’t got a grand plan for training, no cycling specific routines, but I have got into Training for Alpinism by Steve House. In his book he says overtraining is worst than under training.. a sentiment that I have no problem sticking to. I am never going to expose myself to the risks or objective dangers Steve does, but bikepacking shares many of the fundamentals of Alpinism such as self sufficiency, light weight and the single push.

The clocks changing has helped me squeeze in some training rides and I have managed to shoot up to the Peak District for a couple of hours after work, the Cromford Inclines providing a suitably intense after work workout. I have managed to fit in 2 - 3 rides in a week, 25 - 50 km each with 500 to 1200 metres of ascent. The Tuscany Trail has about 10,000 metres of ascent over its distance so I wanted to make sure I had something in the tank.

Pretty mundane so far, but we do have some prototypes of our new bikes and they are sooo shiny! Getting them built up in time is going to be cutting it fine, but I am hopeful since we have a master mechanic on the case.

One model that is already built up is the 650b all mountain style steed. Col and myself took it down to Cannock Chase for a spin. We were both getting over colds and were in need of some fresh air. It went up against one of our Genesis iOs, OK so thats never going to be a fair comparison - a fully rigid single speed against a hard tail 650b 1/10 geared bike but hey sometimes life is not fair. Anyway, I am not qualified to compare like for like because it would be like comparing a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon to a bottle of Merlot. I will drink both and enjoy them both… what’s to say?

So, the iO is my favourite bike - ever. It is just so much fun to throw around a trail centre or rack up for a multi-day adventure but I had to keep an open mind. I had the first lap on the 650b. The front wheel appeared to extend out far into the horizon, I could see the perspective and I was slightly concerned that I wouldn’t be able to get around some of the sharp hairpins. This proved unfounded, there was obviously some magic in the geometry that I didn’t understand or indeed need to understand. Col was hot on my tail, the Genesis is light and accelerates instantly, whereas the 650b, even with the shocks locked out felt like it had a slight delay. I am all for conserving energy so I was constantly turning the shocks on and off during my lap. Only the most sense deprived idiot would deny that the 650b was a lot more forgiving than the iO and boy it could climb.

Switching from the 650b to the iO on the second lap came as something of a shock. The difference was probably more pronounced for me than it was for Col. At the start I would easily over compensate, and I would sure feel every bump! A bonus was that I would breeze through the forested sections, whereas with the 650b I was constantly slowing down because I thought the wide handlebars would get stuck between the trees.

If I could only have one bike and I had to choose between the two what would I have? Well it would still be the iO, but that’s probably because I like wireframes over full renderings, plain vanilla over double choc cookie dough ice cream, margherita over supreme and grappa over cocktails.

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