On the third Sunday of January, the increasingly popular atypical bike event L’ Artica (The Arctic) was held in the Berici Hills in the north of Italy. Despite of being early season, despite of a freezing cold, 534 cyclists took the start in the town of Lonigo with bikes often older than the riders themselves.
L’Artica is a non-competitive cyclosportive for classic bikes. In Italy alone, there are over sixty of such events, a number that is growing every year. The events lack competition and have a surplus of culture and gastronomy. And while the rides are specifically for vintage bikes, they are about much more than bikes and cycling.
L’Artica has three different distances, 22 kilometres, 55 kilometres and 100 kilometres of which the 55 was by far the most popular.
Last January it was the fifth edition of L’Artica. The first in 2013 had only 14 participants. Back then it was just a group of culture minded classic bike enthusiasts who went for a ride through the Berici Hills.
Fast forward to 2017 and over 500 riders line up at the startline on Lonigo’s Piazza Garibaldi. Some try to recreate the past meticulously, for others it’s just fun. L’Artica attracts many people; history lovers and pure sportspeople and anything in between.
World of recycling
A universal rule in all classic bike events is that bikes have to be built before 1987, they should have pedals with toe-clips, exterior brake cables and shifters on the downtube. L’Artica is accompanied by a vintage bike market where complete bikes, parts and clothes are for sale, sometimes for more than their original prize.
There is something very environmental friendly about classic bike events. Vintage cycling is all about re-cycling. Old bikes, old parts, old clothes get restored and are re-used.
Eating and drinking is an important part of L’Artica. The event has its own menu. The ride is a three course dinner: tea, gluhwine and cakes at the first stop, barbecued salami served with warm bread at the second stop and polenta with baccala and grilled cheese at the last stop. All courses are accompanied by local wines.
The local delicacies of the Berici Hills go well with cold weather. Founder Francesco Noro of L’Artica: ,,Our typical foods are fat foods. They can be appreciated more in the cold. It’s only for the food and wine that we hold this event in winter.”
The cultural and culinary focus doesn’t make L’Artica less of a cycling challenge. The course is spectacular. The flat first twenty kilometres are the entree of a main course of steep hills, gravel roads and icy sections. Bikes and riders are put to the test.
There is certainly a sport element in L’Artica but that is not what the participants come for. ,,This is real passion”, says Enrico Raffagnato from Padua at the finish-line in Lonigo. ,,I like the atmosphere, the wine, the local food. When I ride a granfondo (a cyclosportive with competition), it only goes fast. I don’t really see the countryside. But now we stop and see the hills.”
Riding L’Artica feels as rewarding as finishing a race with a prize. L’Artica may not have results and medals but it gives each participant an unforgettable experience.