3rd annual Isola Sarda Biking Tour
June 2004

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First Bikingtour 2002
Second Bikingtour 2003


The differences between the 2004 Tour and past events

This year’s Biking Tour was very different to those in the past.  The main difference was that it wasn’t an itinerant tour run in stages but a series of selected “circuits” run in pre-selected areas.  Sardinia’s coastal landscapes featured highly in previous Tours.  In 2002 the Tour covered the Western coastline and in 2003 we rode along the Eastern shores.  This time, however, we concentrated on the mountains of Central Sardinia and we only saw the sea once during one of the 8 stages of the Tour.  Having chosen mountainous areas also meant there were other differences in the way the Tour was run.  The majority of the stages of our tour ran along paved and unpaved tracks and cart-roads, with absolutely no stress due to automobile traffic, although we must point out that few Sardinian roads are very busy in June.  The high slopes and variations in altitude involved (which unfortunately we were unable to calculate in advance due to lack of time) were, without doubt, more demanding than the previous tours.  In the end, we only covered 300 kilometres, compared to the previous years’ approximately 400Kms but obviously, this year’s trek was much tougher.

The previous years’ coastal excursions enabled us to stop over in accommodation facilities consisting mainly of camping grounds.  This type of accommodation, however, is not available in Sardinia’s inland areas so this time we utilised traditional or farm-tourism-style accommodation.

Only two of us (Tore and myself) participated in the whole tour but Monica, Valeria and Gianfranco joined us for the first two days.  I believe that the ideal number of participants in this type of adventure varies from 4 to 6.  Any number greater than that would require external organisational support for the cycling group.  However, having too few participants also diminishes the pleasure of sharing the special moments that occur along the way (unless, of course, the two participants are the likes of Laurel and Hardy or Abbot and Costello, etc.).

The group of participants in its entirety.  From the left, Tore, Gianfranco,
Monica, Giorgio and Valeria.

Even the weather, unfortunately, wasn’t the best.  The period involved, from 29 May to 5 June 2004, was definitely cloudier, colder and wetter than usual during that time of the year (in short, we were just plain unlucky).  Having chosen the mountainous areas just amplified any problem we ran into along the way, rather like if the sun was shining elsewhere, up on the mountain we would find clouds or if it was cloudy elsewhere, we would find ourselves in a thunderstorm.  Nevertheless, Sardinia is still one of the most beautiful places in the world to go cycling and even the imperfect weather didn’t spoil our enjoyment too much.  After all, a rainstorm in June is never as bad as one in February and we came home rather tanned anyway.

How we decided on our itinerary

A lot of work went into the selection of our itinerary this year.  As I’ve already mentioned, we mainly chose mountain paths.  It wasn’t an easy task because we’re talking about venturing into areas where signposts are practically non-existent and very far from each other, not to mention the lack of local maps.  I am obviously referring to possible operational problems along the way.  As far as our safety was concerned, I must stress that we weren’t at all concerned.  Sardinia is the most hospitable and safest place I have ever visited.

The areas we selected went from the Southern Barbagia region to the Island of Caprera and we therefore needed to study a vast section of the Region.  A regional road map was sufficient to study the more straightforward paved road portion of the itinerary and enabled us to make those inevitable last-minute changes without any further need for cartographic support.  For the mountain routes, however, IGM [Military Survey Office] maps on a scale of 1:25:000 at least are required.  Be careful though because these maps do not feature all the information a cyclist needs and it is dangerous to rely on them completely.  In fact, the out-of-the-way paths are not detailed on the IGM maps and often, cart-roads that appear to be important on these maps end up being impassable roadways, which have been abandoned for decades and blocked by heaps of stones.  At the same time, it is also likely that perfectly viable paths do not appear on these maps.  To avoid this problem, cross-checks were done with the orthophotomaps produced by the AGEA [Agency for Agricultural Subsidies] (black and white flight 1997) and CGR TerraItaly (flight colour 1998).  Another issue, which must not be forgotten, is the necessity to plan for modifications to the itinerary caused by various factors, such as unforeseen circumstances, poor weather conditions, information found on site and blocked roads, etc.  In some cases, above all if one isn’t perfectly familiar with every single part of the itinerary and there isn’t an expert guide accompanying the group at every single location, certain variants, which are sometimes significant, must be taken into consideration.  That is why it is necessary to prepare alternative itineraries that can be linked to the original ones selected.  This further complicates the itinerary selection work but I can assure you that it will resolve many problems if necessary.  Don’t set off with a tiny map of the area through which you intend to travel.  Arm yourself with a map covering a wider area.

All the maps we used can be found on the Internet at the site.  These cross-checks still leave some areas of doubt.  Although the photographic resolution is excellent, it is not possible to be certain that the road surfaces are viable.  The road’s actual existence and size is verifiable but this doesn’t guarantee it is transitable.  Let’s take into account getting off the bike a few times to push up over a pile of rocks.  Furthermore, a photograph tends to “flatten” an area and one risks underestimating the difficulty of certain inclines.  We would advise those perfectionists who may have a little time at their disposal to equip themselves with a digital model of the countryside and by using an excellent program like Oziexplorer, to produce altimetric graphs that plot the routes.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to do this so we’re not in a position to furnish you with the exact data on the altimetries and gradients of our itineraries.

Our secret weapon deserves our last acknowledgement.  The Garmin GPS Receiver (Etrex - basic model) is like a small toy cell phone, which has now become very affordable for most people (approx. 150 Euro).  This gadget’s unlimited features assisted us in finding our way a number of times when it would have been just as easy to go off on a tangent.  Without this electronic support system, it would really have been a problem for us to complete the 8 stages of our Sardinian itinerary, each of which were so far from each other.  When the cost becomes even more accessible and the more evolved positioning equipment develops to the point of having storage capacity capable of giving access to all of the basic cartography necessary (even secondary paths), it will be even more difficult to make mistakes.  I suppose we will laugh in a few years’ time when we look back and think about the positioning verifications we had to carry out at numerous crossroads.  How did we utilise the smallest of the Garmin Etrex receivers?  We programmed a few hundred key points of our itinerary into the unit, particularly those formidable crossroads where it is so easy to get lost.  Those points were then transferred onto a detailed paper map.  I believe the results were very positive and it was only when we didn’t put our trust in the electronic instrument that we made a few little blunders.  We would advise anyone who is planning to journey over the mountains with only paper maps as support to be aware that in reality, you could find yourself in numerous situations that don’t correspond to this type of map.  In other words, don’t rely on maps that aren’t designed to support travel through mountain paths and hiking because it would be very, very easy to get lost.  Obviously we are not asserting that the local guides are useless.  On the contrary, a guide would take you to the best spots and assist you in appreciating the area you are visiting to the fullest.

The choice of locations

Since the itinerary was no longer tied to stopovers this year our selection criteria was mainly based on sightseeing aspects.  From this point of view, Sardinia offers a significant number possibilities and I believe it would have been possible to hundreds of different itineraries, all of them magnificent.  We needed about 8 plus a couple in reserve.

One aspect taken into consideration was whether we would be travelling through protected areas such as regional parks or reserves managed by the Azienda Foreste Demaniali della Sardegna [AFD - Sardinian forests and state property supervisory body].  These areas are can always be found in locations, which are extremely valuable from a landscape and nature point of view.  Furthermore, the AFD maintains the pathway network very efficiently and the cyclist can nearly always be certain to find the unpaved roads in excellent condition.  We would find beautiful areas even in the areas surrounding the protected sites but we must be careful not to cross private properties, which may be closed even to cyclists and could stop us from continuing our journey.  The gates to these properties are not marked on the maps and they can’t be seen in aerial photos either.  It is important to note that not all government land is open for transit to cyclists and that officially, permission should be requested in advance.  This applies to the Sos Littos Sas Tumbas Forest in particular, where our presence was barely tolerated.  Having discussed the matter, the participants decided to recommend the following itineraries:

Clicking on the above links will enable you to the pages dedicated to each individual side trip and numerous photos.

The accommodation

Whilst not wanting to make judgements on the accommodation (that is not our role), we as the average client would like to share some considerations on this topic.  We stayed in three different types of accommodation, i.e., a very modest one-star half board hotel (cost: 30 Euro per person), a three-star half board hotel (cost: approx. €45 per person) and farm holiday accommodation (cost: approx. €45 per person).  Our impression of the hotels was that they had been given one star too many, compared to what they deserved.  As far as the farm holiday accommodation is concerned, we had booked two completely different establishments.  We would like to point out that it is quite possible to find smelly stable-like accommodation, which costs more than a three-star hotel and at the same time, other establishments very similar to those same hotels.  The first type of accommodation is a rip-off.  The difference between that and farm holiday accommodation could be that the food is generally of better quality in the latter.  However, any farm holiday accommodation would obviously be located far away from any township and this may not suit those who are interested in experiencing the rather special atmosphere that exists in the small towns of inland Sardinia.  We would also point out that contrary to popular belief, the food served at the farm holiday accommodation is hardly ever prepared with locally grown produce.  It is simply good or adequate home cooking and the ingredients appear to be very similar to those normally found on the market.

The climate

As previously mentioned, we were not particularly lucky as far as the weather was concerned.  The week after we returned, however, it was perfect.  It may have even been too hot for an excursion along the coast but probably ideal for the mountainous areas we had visited.  When we were on the Bruncu Spina (at 1,500m. ASL), the temperature was 8 degrees Centigrade, which is a little cold for the month of June.  Obviously the problem was never really the cold as much as the fact that with all the low black clouds, we were unable to enjoy the magnificent views that the Gennargentu and Limbara Mountains would have offered.  It is a known fact that it is quite impossible to make long-term weather forecasts.  Notwithstanding, we still believe that this period between 15 May and 15 June is the ideal time for this type of cycling tour.  In fact, our tours have always been scheduled for this period. 

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