24 Hours of Finale
DITCH ANY NOTION that biking in Italy requires shaved legs. In a country where road bikers often enjoy more celebrity than movie stars, Finale is a refreshing changefat-tire riders flood the backcountry. The area's five bike shops carry an array of full-suspension mountain bikes, body armor, and loose-fitting, modish clothing made for playing in the dirt. And because this is Liguria, a region rife with wild herbs, crashing in the bushes is like diving into a spice rack.
From Finalborgo, a short off-road jaunt plugs serious mountain bikers into a trail system that extends for more than 300 miles. From the singletrack, bikers can enjoy views of the rugged Maritime Alps, to the north, and the colorful beach umbrellas speckling the shoreline below.
After fueling up on half a roll of Ringos (Italy's answer to the Oreo), I ride three miles northwest of Finalpia to a trailhead at Altipiano delle Manie. A 16-mile loop provides a dramatic change of topography (seaside to alpine) in the first mile, then delivers fast singletrack through peach and lemon orchards, dense forest, alpine meadows, and palm-lined beaches.
To add dimension to the trails, Mauro Bertolotto, the president of the local bike club, commissioned Erik Burgon, the 21-year-old former prodigy of Canada's Flow Riders freestyle team, to build Europe's first North Shore-style bike park, on a main thoroughfare just outside Finalborgo's wall. The grand-opening celebration, on May 11, drew freestyle devotees from all over Italy. Burgon's obstacles include a raised wooden roller coaster 787 feet long, teeter-totters, and ladder bridges.
A mandatory pit stop between rides is the Outdoor Cafe (011-39-019-68-0564), on the piazza in Finalborgo, where you can rent full-suspension Kona bikes for about $24 a day. The cafe doubles as Italy's headquarters of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (www.imba.com). Outside the cafe, you'll find a mechanic for on-the-go tune-ups. Local bikers who gather here are more than willing to help with derailleur problems or point riders in the right direction. IMBA provides free maps of the trails around Finale. Guides are available for $16 per person per full day with a group of six or more.