The Strade Bianche are nature’s gift to cyclists. These white, unpaved roads that wind through the Tuscan countryside take in some of the territory’s most beautiful views. Today they are synonymous with bicycle touring, and they are the backdrop for a new kind of cycle tourism in Tuscany.
The resurgent interest in cycling on these roads is due in no small part to the birth of off-road cycle tours like L’Eroica. A tour that has become an international brand drawing thousands of enthusiasts throughout the world seeking to connect with the countryside and the original spirit of cycling.
From Gaiole in Chianti to the Val d’Orcia, and up to Montalcino, through idyllic countryside and vineyards, the original two hundred kilometre long L’eroica course has become a permanent route that can be travelled all year round. As has the route of the Strade Bianche Gran Fondo race that starts and finishes in Siena; 139.2 km long of which 31.4 kilometres are gravel roads.
Outside of the tours, these roads attract plenty of enthusiasts, from cyclo-cross adventurers to fun-loving riders who want to take on the legendary Strade Bianche. Organising longer excursions has become easier too as more and more accommodation facilities become available to cyclists.
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Cycling on the Strade Bianche in Tuscany
Cycling along these remarkable roads is more than just a ride in the country. This is deep cycling, an activity that links the physical rewards of an endurance sport with the beauty of the countryside. Something that Tuscany has in abundance.
Of course Tuscany has long been a famous cycling destination from the days when legends like Gino Bartali were pushing themselves to the limits down the winding country roads.
The sheer variety of the scenery is what attracts many to the white roads. The Chianti area, home of Gaiole in Chianti and the birthplace of the Eroica, is a region of tightly combed vineyards and olive groves. Meanwhile further south on the white roads of Val d’Orcia there are sweeping wheat fields and rolling hills crested by elegant ranks of cypress trees and the lunar landscapes of the Crete Senesi south of Siena. To be immersed in this nature on two wheels is a privilege that few regions can offer.
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These days there’s a new generation of gravel bikes designed to suit the strade bianche and the technical challenges that gravel roads can present. Equipped with slightly wider tyres and a sporty dynamism, they are sturdy on gravel and fast enough for the road. Influenced by elements of classic long-distance racing bikes and mountain bikes alike.
But what is it about a gravel bike that makes it different? To start with it has a racing bike seat position set for a sporty ride over asphalt stretches and unpaved tracks. There’s a slightly longer wheelbase compared to road racing bikes. And you can usually expect modern conveniences like disc brakes and minimally profiled tyres between 32mm and 45mm in width.
With demand has come increased variety, and gravel bikes are now available in different variants. Some are sportier. Others designed for simple commuting and every day uses. Some are designed specifically with roads in mind whilst others are built for rough, demanding terrain. So while you are spoiled for choice, this does mean you are able to buy a technical bike that is specific to your needs.
Taking tradition up a gear
Cycling on the Strade Bianche is a tradition that has been steadily gaining momentum, and is now in high gear. Towns around the Chianti and the Val d’Orcia are better equipped for cycle tourism with bike friendly establishments growing in number as the number of cyclists on the roads increases.
Many of these cyclists bring their own bikes and take to the Strade Bianche under their own steam. However in recent years there are an increasing number of bike tours that can be joined from various towns in the territory. These companies provide bikes of their own and take tourists to and from the rides on air-conditioned mini buses.
All this has opened up the white roads and the sport to a new generation of cyclists, and though the bikes may have evolved since the days of Gino Bartali, the spirit of the Strade Bianche will always be timeless.
The Heroic Eroica
More than just a challenge, L’Eroica also seeks to reawaken a taste for adventure, the unexpected and the journey. Riding vintage bikes on gravel roads recovers the core values of a great sport still able to fulfil the needs of today through the experience of fatigue in all its raw grandeur.
The itinerary for the L’eroica classic is as follows: Gaiole in Chianti – Castelnuovo Berardenga – Siena – Monteroni d’Arbia – Murlo – Buonconvento – Montalcino – San Quirico d’Orcia – Pienza – Buonconvento – Asciano – Castelnuovo Berardenga – Radda in Chianti – Gaiole in Chianti.
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