Q: Can you tell me anything about renting bikes in the Dolomites? My boyfriend and I love road biking, but we only want to spend 3-4 days on our bikes... any brilliant ideas as to specific areas to ride through?
Kerstin Bjork, Boston, MA
A: The Dolomites in northern Italy could easily be the biking capital of Europe, especially if you don't count places where you have to ride in traffic, such as Amsterdam. If it's open touring you're looking for, the Dolomites will keep you wishing you had more than just three to four days in the saddle. Much of the action here centers on mountain biking, though, as the steep countryside and rolling terrain lends itself naturally to the sport. But as you know, wherever bike fanatics congregate you'll often find people who simply love to pedal no matter the width of the tire. That means you're also likely to find shops that cater to them. That couldn't be truer in Riva del Garda, a town on the shores of Lago di Garda, about 30 miles north as the pizza flies from fair Verona. A friend just returned from a month of biking in Italy and reports that this is indeed the hub you should head for, with biking shops on just about every corner.
You'd do well to touch base with Italy Bike Hotels (www.italybikehotels.it) , an organization that basically works to make a biker's life easy. In short, it has a list of member hotels that meet specific biking requirements, such as storage for bikes, maps of trails, a mechanic, guide services, you name it.
Of course, since your time is short, you could maximize your riding time and join a tour if you have some cash to spend. There are scores of outfitters that have capitalized on the Dolomites as a biking destination, and some companies, like Arlington, Massachusetts-based Ciclismo Classico, let you join portions of their tours if you aren't interested in doing the whole thing. One tour they offer, the Sud Tyrol Roll, could be exactly what you're looking for, with a four-day section that rolls through mostly flat valleys with towering peaks above from Appiano to Lazise on Lago di Garda. Along the way you'll stay in a castle converted into a hotel, have van support, guides, breakfasts, dinners, snacks, and a bike. The four-day tour costs $1,465 per person and $80 for a bike rental. If you're looking to do it yourself, Ciclismo Classico can rent you a bike for a week minimum if you'll be near Florence, or point you to a local operator in the Dolomites that can help. Give them a call at 800-866-7314 (www.ciclismoclassico.com).
Planning a trip of your own? [ask the AA]