Closed roads for cyclists are usually reserved for high profile races or relatively expensive sportives, but in Northern Italy they’re being rolled out for free in an attempt to increase cycle tourism.
Over the weekend Dolomites Bike Day saw a 58km (36 mile) loop closed to motor vehicles and around 5,000 cyclists enjoyed the event in its inaugural year.
Roads were closed from 10am until 3pm, and cyclists could join or leave the route at any point – for free.
The route swooped up and over three stunning passes: the Campolongo, Flazarego and Valparola and comprised 1390 metres (4500ft) of climbing. The arrival of each pass was marked with a banner, giving the total distance, percentage incline and Giro d’Italia KOM time.
Cycling Weekly was invited to take part in the day. Along the way, we were passed by the gentle hum of e-bikes, and took time to cheer the impressive efficiency of a mother chugging her way up the 10.6km slopes of Passo Flazarego with a tag-along attached to a hybrid bike.
It’s not the only such event in the calendar. Next weekend, on June 25, the Sellaronda Bike Day takes place.
Now in its 12th year, the Dolomite event routinely draws around 20,000 riders eager to celebrate the 30 mile closed road loop. The following weekend will also be given over to cyclists, with the Maratona Dles Dolomites Gran Fondo taking place on Sunday, July 2.
The area is also experimenting with more regular closures – such as the decision to close the Pordoi Pass to riders every Wednesday over the course of the summer.
Commenting on the success of the first Dolomites Bike Day, Nicole Dorigo, who works at Alta Badia’s tourism office which was involved in the organisation told us: “The organizers are very happy about this first edition… It was a day full of peace and calm among the nature with a very nice non-competitive spirit.”
She added that there was no resistance to the event from local businesses: “they recognized the importance of initiatives like this… cycling tourism is very useful for the area to extend the summer season and fill out quite empty periods of the year.”
The closest example of such an event in the UK is the HSBC UK City Ride initiative (formerly Sky Ride) run by British Cycling, which sees roads closed in major centres for traffic free, family friendly rides.
Outside of these city events, Box Hill in Surrey recently experimented with the idea of making the climb one way over the Easter weekend to improve the experience for cyclists, but closed roads free of charge seem an unlikely addition to the local calendar.
Commenting at the time Countryside manager Andrew Wright commented: “We’ll see how it goes, but might do it again for the May bank holiday weekends if successful”.