Un giro in Toscana
Answer me this, what are the ingredients for the perfect motorcycle ride ? Never ending curves ? Minimal traffic ? 25 degrees bright sunshine and gorgeous scenery ? Being a biker from the south east of England any of those would be appreciated but it just so happens that today I find myself far from Box Hill and it appears to be both warm and sunny. Ahead are miles of twisty scenic asphalt interspersed with a few coffees. For I am here, in the Tuscan countryside, on a Ducati..
Through various reasons I know a lot of the back roads in Tuscany and each has an apparently endless supply of bends and magical views this makes them perfect biking roads. I have been aching to ride a bike around these roads ever since I first came to the region many moons ago, and now that I have been here for a few months I was overdue an outing on two wheels. My ride for the day was the honest Ducati Scrambler. I chose it because I wanted to take in the views and enjoy the roads and not go on a super hack that forces my eyes to edges of their sockets. Plus there has been a bit of hype about this bike, you may have noticed. All the talk centres around the brand "Scrambler" and being unique, yet its also being branded as the everything bike ( thus perfect for this job). It has all the basics, 73 bhp, 49ftlb torque from the V twin, 4 pot brembo brakes, 2 wheels, bars and a seat. I am 5 ft 10 and the fit was perfect, yet it is roomy for larger folks and not unwieldy for those smaller. It leaves you needing nothing else but your riding gear and a direction in which to ride.
I was soon pleased with my choice as the Scrambler does indeed give you just about enough to fill your face with smiles. As soon as I left the garage this little bike showed that it is more than capable and it matched its tag line of "Youthful" (thankfully one of us was), "Inventive" (more me I'd have to say) and "Free Spirited"(of course, its a bike !). Bikes like this really do capture the essence of biking, cliche yes but hacking around on a 190bhp superbike you run the risk of generating a little too much adrenaline where as the Scrambler was a simple pleasure. The wide bars make turning the Scrambler into a Tai Chi move. The throttle was the only real gripe I had as initially it was like picking up wet sand, always having to grab another hand full (....er). Oddly it was quite good fun in the end once I had gotten used to it (I'm used to a 1 litre fourstroke you see). The engine chirps away with a lovely induction whistle as you push on and has a surprising spread of power through the revs. This particular bike was running the blocky tyres which were fine but a decent set of road tyres would have really added to the experience. Seat is super comfy and the gearbox only let me down a couple of times with the surprise gift of a false neutral. This was odd as for 98% of the time the shifts were delightful.
Two other peculiar issues that cropped up, both featured the keys. Firstly one of the keys on the ring, whilst riding, worked its way into the gap between the bars and the riser which meant I couldn't get the ignition key out, a bit of professional wiggling eventually freed it. The other issue was similar yet this time a key on the key ring caught itself in the cable tidy and pulled on the key in the ignition just enough so to kill the engine. Very odd. This is why on my bikes I always have just the one key on my ignition key ring. Fun fact.
That's the bike, on with the ride. I had planned a three hour romp across a few valleys and taking in some of Tuscany's best panoramas. There are so many amazing views and divine roads in this region, it would take quite a few days to ride around them all (looking forward to doing that). First of all I had to navigate my way through Florence. Now, I will be writing about Italian driving in an upcoming post (keep your eyes on the site for that) but for now let me confirm that what you have heard about the driving standards are absolutely true. I am sure that the local test has nothing to do with road craft or machine control but more to do with how many other tasks you can perform whilst driving. Smoking is a must, reading, being on the phone, chatting, drinking etc. Well I can (and will) go on about this but for my first time on a bike in Florence I was very wary however biker brain kicked in and I'm thankful it did as on the 10 minute journey from the garage to the main road out to the hills I watched two accidents take place right in front of me. Thanks to biker awareness I avoided them. Both were slow moving collisions that didn't have to happen. During this perilous jaunt I swiftly concluded that adversely I could actually be safer on a bike, well less likely to have a prang as you are always at the front, have enough gas to shoot off when necessary, all the usual bike benefits. Of course you can't do much about drivers not seeing you but position yourself for as many eventualities as possible.
Now out of the battle zone and onto the fast roads I gave the Scrambler the required few handfuls of gas. It reached motorway speeds quick enough. Mirrors pretty stable at speed which was useful for the vehicles one found up ones behind from time to time. A 45 minute blast down the motorway drained the tank so I fueled up at Siena and headed off on the route I had planned. Many a time I had sailed the Land Rover on these roads, dreaming of being on a bike and how amazing it would be. The reality did not disappoint. Perfect conditions just a couple of bianco vans in my way but that was it. I had the road to myself.
After one of the best coffees in the region I headed out for the longer of the valley passes. In a car the first part of the road is almost a chore because it is pretty tight and twisty. Great if you were in a lotus not so in one of Solihuls finest. This time on the Scrambler it was a dream. Possibly even better than the second part as the second part is crammed full of amazing scenery you don't really drive the road just breeze along wowwing and ahhhing. Once this road finishes it was time for another coffee and a ponder on the route to take back to Florence. I decided to take the SR2 which is an A road all the way but stopping off at the tourist colony of San Gimignano. The ride up to San Gimignano was quite spirited so when I saw the local plod waiting at a roundabout I started to plan my excuses. They waved to slow me down but much to my relief and amazement they didn't give a monkeys about my speed but more so about my safety as they pointed out a line of diesel on the roundabout. How very kind !
San Gimignano did not disappoint. Its a beautiful town utterly overwhelmed with tourists so not one for the purist but thanks to the foreign EUR it has seen decent investment as the place is immaculate, almost too clean. I like my towns with a bit of dirt.
Back on the SR2 I rolled through a couple of towns and became wary of having a crap ride home so I decided to freestyle and go off in a new direction. One that I thought would take me near to where I needed to be. Fifteen minutes of climbing up a hill with endless bends I reached the top and I looked out over miles and miles of national park. I had not been on this road before only guessed where it was going to come out, now I was not so sure. I conceded and pulled out the phone to check the map. Lucky I did as this riad went on for seeral km in the wrong direction. Small bit of pride swallowed I decided to turn around and enjoy the 15 minutes going downhill. Just as amazing. Back on the SR2 and once out of the towns it actually gave lots of thrills. It was a wider than what I had been on earlier but still had really good bends and decent views. It led neatly into Florence where I stuck my battle head back on and took on the traffico. Its always difficult when you come back into a city after a ride as you can easily forget the speed and just how much you have to look out for when riding in a metropolis.
I managed to not get lost or killed and returned the bike back to the garage and then jumped in a cab to get to the Landrover garage to pick up the Freelander with a new intercooler hose...that's a different and fun story.
All in all the day had worked out as planned and a whole lot more. The roads were divine, you experience the full spectrum of Italian driving conditions and more so experience the wonderful countryside. This will be part of the tour suite for 2018. I will provide everything you need bikes and gear etc but do bring your own if you prefer. If you are interested in doing this ride or others remember to sign up in the Club page and I will keep you updated or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ducati Scrambler: 4/5