Saturday 1 February 2020

Navigli of Milan and suburban bike ride

Darsena bassin, at the start of the Navigli
Ever since I left Milan a few years ago I have made a habit of returning there once a year. I didn't manage to get back last year, so I thought I would redress the balance as soon as possible.

What better time to do it than right before "Brexit Day", the day the United Kingdom officially left the European Union. Although we have to resign ourselves to this fate I am not particularly happy to see happening. So being away from the UK when it all kicked off would make me feel completely dissociated from what was going on, which for me, was no bad thing.

Hoping to get to Pavia

Once I had dropped off my bag in my flat near Porto Romana I caught up with my friend Ilaria, and then went to collect my hire bike from Biciclette Rossignoli in central Milan. Given that I would only be in Milan for a couple of days, and would be travelling to Courmayeur and Chamonix for skiing, hiring a bike was the practical option.

Furthermore, it can cost up to £90 to take a bike on a flight. Rossignoli were charging 90 euros for two days' bike hire. So the decision to hire was a no-brainer!

All set to start my afternoon ride
It was nice of them to have a bike ready for me at short notice, and after my quick trip over to Corso Garibaldi in the Brera I emerged with a carbon fibre Cinelli Saetta.

Friday's ride started with a quick trip along the Naviglio Pavese, with my intention of getting to Pavia - a place that I regularly used to go to and found really pretty.

It all seemed to be going well in the afternoon sunshine, until I got close to Binasco, not far from the start of the professional Milan - Sanremo bike race. The path, which is normally beautifully surfaced was closed off and undergoing works, so I made a detour along a quiet road through some fields and a nearby village, but things did not get better.

Not knowing where to pick up the Naviglio Pavese, I asked some local walkers, who pointed in the direction of a trail, saying "yes ride along that path and it will take you all the way to Pavia." What the man didn't tell me was that it was a dirt track, and I was on a road bike.

Normally, I wouldn't be so phased by a bit of off-road. After all, folks ride road bikes in Strade Bianche races on unmade roads. But this path was very rough, with massive ruts and stones, and it wasn't clear how long this would last for.

The Naviglio Pavese - how it should be (photo from a previous trip)

With a full schedule of things to do, today was not the day to have a frustrating ride, so I decided against going to Pavia, and instead opted to stay within the Milan area.

Sadly no Pavia, but a bit of Abbiategrasso

My ride then took me across some suburban roads to places like Noviglio, Rosate, and many places called Cascina something-or-other. The terrain was pretty unchallenging and in parts, slightly dull being surrounded by arable fields, but it made for very easy riding, and was a place where you could get in a good bit of chaingang riding. In fact there were a few groups out. Some of the roads in this area had a cycle path alongside them, which was quite handy given that the main carriageway had quite a lot trucks on their way to the nearby motorways.

Even though this area was a little non-descript it felt quite refreshing and peaceful to be there on this sunny, Friday afternoon. It was also made a change to just see how ordinary folks, away from the hurly burly chic of Central Milan, lived.

I passed one village called Gudo Visconti where it looked like the kids had knocked off from school early - or maybe it was the school holidays - and they were out dancing and having a barbecue - in January!

Eventually I reached the Naviglio Grande, which was the prettiest part of the ride. At least that canal towpath wasn't dug up, which was a relief. Nearby, at the end of the Naviglio Grande is the Roman suburban town of Abbiategrasso. This place used to be one of my regular training ride destinations when I was based in Milan. On one occasion during the summer I remember seeing people walking around the town dressed in flamboyant medieval costumes.

At first I thought it was just what folks normally wear out there, until someone told me they were holding Il Palio - a crazy barebacked horse race that is most associated with Siena! No one was dressed like that today; folks were just going about their normal business, which included enjoying a stroll or a ride along the Naviglio.

Home-run to Milano

Naviglio Grande at Gaggiano
Other places I passed along the way included the pretty suburbs of Gaggiano and Trezzano sul Naviglio, where a man, in typical Italian style shouted "Ciao" to me and attempted to strike up a conversation, asking me what I was doing and where I come from. I would have loved to stop but I was in a slight rush to get back home and get ready to meet my friend, Silvia. Italians do like to talk.

My ride back into central Milan was straightforward and quick as the road surface was smooth, perfectly flat, and mostly traffic-free. It was also a trip along memory lane, as I passed Corsico, a place where I would go for my early morning runs prior to going to work. There was also San Cristoforo church, which was on my cycle route to get to work; Porta Genova where there was a flea market and also a place for finding stolen bikes - probably including my Specialized road bike that was lifted by a scumbag while I lived there.

Naviglio Grande at Trezzano
The last part of the Naviglio is not so easy to ride as you are weaving around tourists and locals at the canal-side cafes having aperitivos. So it was better to get onto the road at this point and join the rush hour traffic, and bounce the bike over the cobbles and tramlines to reach my base at Porta Romana.

My cycle route on Strava

Related posts
My Tour of Lombardy: Naviglio Pavese and Naviglio Grande

Giro dei Navigli - Naviglio Martesana

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