Bikepacking in Italy - Interview with Giacomo Maltman

Bikepacking in Italy - Interview with Giacomo Maltman

Glower were lucky enough to spend an evening being guided around the Surrey Hill trails near PeasLake with mountain bike and bike packing enthusiast Giacomo Maltman. Afterwards we caught up with Giacomo to find out more about his passion for mountain biking, his love for pizza and newly found interest in bike packing.

Bikepacking Tuscany Trail Giacomo on bike in mountains

While we sit in awe of his recent adventures, Giacomo describes himself as an “Average Joe” who likes the outdoors, to explore and get lost.

“…I'm either fixing bikes, out riding, or thinking about riding. I've been told I talk about bikes too much.”

Aside from a bit of trail running, climbing and bivvying, he is a big bike fanatic. In his own words, “at the moment my life revolves around bikes, eating and beer”.

Where does your passion for biking come from?

I like exploring new places, seeing what's around the next corner, the big mountains and getting a thrill. I like to try to find my limits, so if I'm feeling good I will carry on to try to keep going until it hurts or until it's too dark.

I’ve always mountain biked. My first race was when I was 11. I rode the “Malvern Classic” which doesn’t exist any more; it was a Mountain Bike festival. I borrowed my friend’s mother’s mountain bike and wore a helmet that was twice as big as my head, bit like a mushroom. I’ve not always been into racing but my dad was a keen cyclist when I was growing up.

Giacomo young on bike and race

I actually built my first proper mountain bike from that same frame when she got a new bike. It was an old steel Kona ‘Fire Mountain’ bike sprayed glittery gold. I was probably 13 or 14. I spray painted it blue, got parts for it and did it up. I’ve kind of been building bikes since then really.

Tell us a bit about your bike packing events.

Bike Packing is essentially the mountain bike version of cycle touring. The events I’ve been doing are called Independent Time Trials. You are basically racing yourself and the clock. You are on your own and you can’t have outside support. You’re pushing yourself as an individual and where you finish shouldn’t matter in relation to other people but inevitably…you try to do it as quickly as possible.

Last year, I completed the Bearbones 200 in Wales, 220kms in 24 hours and 27 minutes, and this year in preparation for the Highland Trail (approx. 1000kms), I travelled to Italy to take part in the 600km Tuscany Trail. Tuscany was my first multi-day event. Really enjoyable; good weather, good food and I finished it! I completed it in 2 days 16 hours and 5 minutes.

"You are basically racing yourself and the clock."

I’d been out with friends doing multi-day bike packing but not with a time limit, it would generally be at the weekend and was pretty casual with beers and good food. A friend pointed me towards the Tuscany trail. They made this little marketing video and it just looked amazing. I had to do it.

Tuscany Trail || unsupported bicycle adventure || from Martino Vincenzi on Vimeo.

I went into it thinking I’m just going to take my time, test my equipment and test my legs and head. Cycling for that long on your own, I didn’t know how I would cope, you know physically, mentally and with my kit.

How do you start preparing for an event like the Tuscany Trail?

I did quite a lot of research. At these events you get given a gpx file to load into your GPS, so it’s quite easy to navigate. But I wanted to figure out where the big climbs were, what days would be hard, where I may do less miles on a day and that sort of thing. I also didn’t know how populated that area would be, so tried to figure out towns and food stops.

I also did some research around wild boar cause they worried me a bit! There are a lot of them in Italy, especially around that region. I got woken up by one on the second night outside my tent, grunting and digging. I was desperate for the toilet so I was dying for it to go away. The grunting and snorting got quieter and quieter and I managed to go to the toilet getting out butt naked as it was so hot and thought “if it starts chasing me I’ll end up naked in someone’s garden”.

What about your training?

My training rides were often with the fully loaded bike. I’d leave from home in South London and head out to PeasLake, do all the trails and then ride back via Box Hill against all the road cyclists.

“I made it my goal on the training ride to not get overtaken on Box Hill.”

I made it my goal on the training ride to not get overtaken on Box Hill. I didn’t achieve it every time but I did manage it most times. I started doing it at Christmas and did that sort of distance (about 80 -100 miles) every week, sometimes twice on back-to-back days and then maybe again on the weekend if I was free. I’d also get on the turbo trainer back home just keeping my legs going.

Did you do any prep in terms of bike maintenance?

Because it’s an independent time trial you can’t get outside help. You can go to a bike shop but they are few and far between, so you need to be fairly confident you can fix any issues that might arise. I had a month after finishing studying and decided to fix friends bikes in my kitchen and that was helpful.

It was quite interesting when I got to Massa at the start. Everyone slept in a gym hall, about 200 people, and everyone was putting their bikes together after travelling so they could at least assemble their bike out of a bag.

There were these three girls from the UK who arrived quite late that evening and it was really funny to watch all these Italian guys surround them and offer them help. I later found out that one of them was a successful 24 hour racer and has since completed the epic Highland Trail 550, one was a pro road cyclist and the other worked for a bike magazine. They were like, “it’s OK, we’ve got it”. They should have just let them do it!

So Bike Packing; what did you pack on your bike?

How to pack your bike bikepacking Tuscany Trail

In total my bike weighed 19kg. It’s a carbon hard tail with 29 inch wheels and very spongy grips, cause you’re in the saddle for a long time. It included:

  • A dry bag from Revelate Designs on my handle bars with sleeping bag, light weight trekker tent and Thermarest Neo Air sleeping mat. The sleeping bag was custom made before the event by UK based PHD: 400 grams, no zips, down, super lightweight.
  • A handlebar bag behind the stem full of snacks and small things like spare batteries, phone, etc.
  • A seat bag made by Bikepack for clothes, wash kit, including a sawn in half toothbrush (to save weight, yes), and medical stuff including chamois cream: that was essential.
  • A frame bag that sits in the front triangle and takes up the whole frame. In there I had a 1.5 litre water bladder with the hose coming out by the handlebars so I could just lean forward and drink.

"I mean, who actually takes a tent to Italy?"

I had completely over-packed for the weather conditions but wanted to test some new gear in preparation for the Highland Trail. I believe that with more experience, you become more efficient at packing and figure out what you do and don’t need. If I showed my kit list to someone who had done it loads they would have probably laughed at it. I mean, who actually takes a tent to Italy? A fellow rider had nothing more than a bivvy bag – not even a sleeping bag!

How did you feel at the start of the event?

In the morning of the event, we had to ride a mile or so from the gym to the start line and we rode together, just chatting away in various languages. It was pretty relaxed. The cafes were open early cause they knew we were going to be there at stupid o’clock so people were getting coffees and pastries. I was excited. I didn’t have much of a ritual or anything. I just avoided all thoughts about how difficult it was going to be; just get going.

Giacomo on bike at start line Tuscany Trail

For short distance races when it comes down to minutes or even split seconds where you’re sprinting flat out you don’t want things to go wrong right at the start. For long distances so many things go wrong during the ride that it’s not really worth planning too much. You can plan to a certain extent and make sure your gear is ready.

What was your hardest moment?

I'd ridden all day on the 1st day, about 130 miles, coming out of the Apuane mountains and going into Prato and it was getting dark. We did this amazing descent, followed the river to Florence and got to the Il Duomo Cathedral in the main square. There was only 1 pizza place open, I ordered pasta and pizza and I couldn’t finish my pizza after riding all that time. I was looking forward to devouring it and couldn't finish or put it anywhere. That was my lowest moment for sure, I was absolutely gutted!

And more seriously; finishing. I didn’t want to finish. This sort of event is really nice because you just sort of ride and you sleep and you do it again and life is really simple. Nothing to worry about, it's great and I didn't want that to end. That was quite hard. Is that a bit cliché?

"I was looking forward to devouring it and couldn't finish or put it anywhere. That was my lowest moment for sure..."

Any part of the trip that stood out as being particularly special?

The 2nd night, which is the same night I got woken by the wild boar. I'd managed to find a shop and in my kind of rubbish Italian managed to charm the lady there who gave me free salami and focaccia which I took to the top of a hill with a beer.

Me and a friend I’d met at the event sat there and watched the sun set above a disused quarry, which is nicer than it sounds. That was really, really cool. I'd done a long day, it was 8pm and I got a really good night’s sleep afterwards.

Looking back on your adventure, what did you like about the event?

It’s worth going back to the night before. They’d organised a meal for us at this restaurant, not everyone made it, but there's maybe 70 or 80 people having dinner together from all over the world so that was awesome. We had a few beers and then back to the gym to sleep. There was a good sort of camaraderie.

What’s really nice about these events is that you meet people. By the end of the first day I met a guy who was a similar pace to me and I rode the majority of it with him from then on. We weren't drafting, you're not allowed to draft or help each other but we were kind of overtaking each other at cafes and shaded rest spots, riding at a very similar pace. So it wasn't lonely at all. I enjoyed every minute of it. I like riding. A lot. And the scenery was epic.

“Very few people experience that solitude and I think that's a shame. Cause it gives you time to think and reflect.”

People’s lives are so hectic these days especially in London, there's always stuff happening and you're always around people you know. Very few people experience such solitude and I think that's a shame. Cause it gives you time to think and reflect on stuff. If you're in a good place in life then it's positive if you're not then maybe you're gonna ride off a cliff; I don't know. I'd encourage people to spend that time on their own as you learn a lot about yourself.

What would you say to first timers?

There’s Pizza. There's always pizza. Also, don’t forget the ass cream. And don’t worry too much about the bike and gear. It makes it easier to have good equipment but you can do it without and as you carry on you accumulate stuff and slowly get kit to make it easier, you don't really need it all I guess.

 

For me it’s also about pushing myself and finding out my limits. Say you're in a difficult situation, like up a mountain and cold, too cold, and haven't eaten for ages and are in real bother. On your own, knowing what you're capable of, and getting through that, I think every kind of adventure I've been on makes you a bit stronger for the next one. And if it doesn't make you stronger for the next one it's not really an adventure. If that makes sense.


Giacomo with his Glower I See Mountains tshirt You can follow Giacomo on Instagram for more bike love and travelling adventure. He never ceases to amaze and might just inspire you to take on your next challenge or just get riding whenever wherever. Check out what he's up to and say hello. 

 



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