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Why You Should Ride a Motorcycle in Italy Once in Your Life with VIDEO

Recap of my motorcycle ride of central Italy and what you should know before going on an organized motorcycle tour

By Genevieve Schmitt, Editor

For a long time I’ve wanted to host a motorcycle tour where I could ride with like-minded motorcyclists in an amazing place on earth. This year felt like the right time for me to resurrect my Ladies First tours, a concept I created in 2001 when I hosted a motorcycle tour to Copper Canyon, Mexico, during my time as founding editor of Woman Rider magazine. "Ladies First" means a man can join the tour only when accompanied by a woman. It’s a concept that works in many ways. 

For the inaugural WRN Ladies First Motorcycle Tour, I chose Italy because of all the reasons you’d guess, not the least of which is the amazing scenery and the culture. 

why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life tour grouop
The riders and tour guides minus one, who accompanied me on my inaugural WRN Ladies First Motorcycle Tour of Italy. Overlooking the Tuscan countryside, we stand before our mix of motorcycles that included Harley-Davidsons, a Ducati, BMWs, and a Moto Guzzi. Left to right: Enrico, Monica, John, Janet, Michele, Bill, Angie, Cindy, Maria, Genevieve, Shellie, and Tricia.

This past May, 10 women riders and one male rider (the significant other of one of the women) from the U.S. and Canada, joined me in Rome for the start of a nine-day adventure on rented motorcycles. I worked with Hear the Road Motorcycle Tours Italy to create a custom itinerary that had a balance of riding time with off-the-bike sightseeing and relaxation. 

Italy Through the Eyes of a Motorcycle Rider
You’ve probably heard the expression "when you’re in a car you’re driving by the scenery, but when you’re on a motorcycle, you are part of the scenery." No more was this true than when cruising through the Tuscany and Umbria countryside regions of central Italy, the focus of our tour. Italy exceeded my expectations on all levels: beauty, color, texture, and old world culture — and being on a motorcycle all my senses were heightened.

During this tour, a Sena Prism Bluetooth Camera was attached to the right side of my Arai CT-Z 3/4 helmet recording all the scenery and roads, with a Sena 20S Bluetooth communication system on the left side of my helmet allowing me to narrate the video on the fly, and communicate with my colleague Tricia Szulewski, WRN’s assistant editor, and staff writer with Motorcycle magazine, who was also on this ride. My review of the Sena camera and Bluetooth communicator can be found here on WRN.

This short video provides a teaser of the sights and smells that were everywhere on our tour. There's another, longer video at the end of the story, on page 3, with more detailed riding shots and narration, including what it's like to ride in rush hour traffic in Rome. 

Where We Went
Our tour started and ended in Rome at the small boutique Hotel Locarno Roma serving as our home base. The upside to commencing a motorcycle tour in this historical city is that you can arrive earlier then your start date to sightsee and check some of the world-famous must-see Italian attractions off your list. 

Tricia and I, and several of the other tour participants, walked to the Vatican Museum and the attached Sistine Chapel from our hotel while others took a shuttle over to the Roman Colosseum. Some of the ladies tacked on a few extra days at the end of the tour to see Rome as well. 

why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life vatican museum
The term "hyper-tourism" has been coined to describe serene places on the planet that are being flooded with tourists. The art-laden halls of the Vatican Museum here look more like a New York City sidewalk during rush hour: tourists clamoring shoulder to shoulder on their way through the maze of hallways to see the piece de’ resistance, the Sistine Chapel. Expect these kinds of crowds at any of the major attractions in Italy during tourist season, which runs May through September.

why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life sistine chapel sign
At nearly every hallway junction in the Vatican Museum are signs in Italian pointing to the Sistine Chapel. This is as close as you’ll get in this article to seeing Michaelangelo’s famous frescoe of God and Adam reaching out their index fingers to each other in what is called The Creation of Adam as no photography is allowed.

The downside to starting in Rome is navigating through the infamous Italian traffic on a motorcycle at the start and end of your tour. I had asked WRN Facebook fans before the tour what they wanted to know about riding a motorcycle in Italy. Most were interested in the traffic in Italy, with one fan saying she’d heard it was “horrendous.”

If you’re a sharp rider and can negotiate moves quickly you shouldn’t have any issues riding a motorcycle in the heavily-traveled-multi-lane metro areas of Rome. The craziness for us happened when trying to keep 13 motorcycles together on a Friday in rush-hour traffic on our last day. 

A lot of Italian drivers drift out of their lane for no reason. They rarely use turn signals, and they expect that you see them, not the other way around. This can cause tenuous moments if you’re not acutely aware of your surroundings while riding very defensively.

A no-passing zone seems to mean nothing to Italian drivers. Several times we were on a narrow two-lane road with a solid white line and a very short distance to pass and every type of a vehicle from a large box truck and an eco-friendly auto to a sportbike-riding motorcyclist attempted to pass our whole spaced-out group while playing Russian Roulette with the oncoming driver. The passing vehicle, realizing a little too late he was not going to overtake our group, squeezed into our lane at the very last minute. Italian drivers take far more risks in their cars than we do in the U.S. and that’s saying a lot considering how Americans drive! 

Scooter riders are everywhere — way more than motorcyclists — and anything goes with two-wheelers navigating through traffic. Lane splitting? That’s a tame move in Italy!

5 Things You Need to Know About Riding a Motorcycle In Italy

why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life bmw
1. Drivers travel on the right side of the road, so the same direction as the U.S. Maria, on her rented BMW, leads the way over this old bridge.

why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life road sign
2. Road signs are all in Italian so familiarize yourself with the basics before getting there. This sign does not mean that a galleria mall is up ahead. Galleria means tunnel in Italian.

why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life left turn sign
3. Road sign colors, shapes, and the symbols on them are different than in the U.S. so reading them is not intuitive for Americans. This sign does not mean that there is a fire hydrant up ahead, like I thought at a glance. It means there’s a left turn.

why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life roadway
4. In the countryside where we traveled a lot, the roads are narrow with no shoulders most of the way, just like on this stretch of pavement here. I love this shot because it shows the diversity of trees in Italy.

why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life narrow road
5. While there are a lot of scenic vistas (photographers will be in awe), there are few places to pull off and take a photo. And unlike in the U.S., I never saw one designated pull-off area. I think this is because Italians take their scenery and beauty for granted, just like they take their history for granted.

There are medieval castles and ancient forts in so many of the towns. People live and do business in these centuries-old structures. It’s nothing for them to call a 15th century building their home. I joked that if they preserved every old building and designated it as a piece of history, there’d be nowhere to live or set up a shop. 

I asked a 21-year-old taxi driver who was picking me up in the medieval walled city of Siena after dinner one night to return me to my hotel what he thought of living among such ancient buildings. As I suspected, that concept was lost on him. “It’s all I’ve ever known,” he responded. 

Which leads me to my biggest take away from riding a motorcycle in Italy: being amidst the rich and deep history for which Italy is known. Rolling into these small villages on two wheels (instead of the cocoon of a car), the energy of bygone days is almost palpable. 

Off the bike, I closed my eyes while standing on the worn and weathered brick foundation of an 11th century abbey we visited and marveled that my body is in the exact same place humans stood more than 900 years ago. You don’t have that in America. Settlements in the U.S. didn’t start until the 1600s, and even then how many buildings from that era are left standing?

Click to next page to see the route we took and a gallery of photos. 

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