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Tired of trains, planes and automobiles? Touring a country by bicycle seems to offer a chance to get away from airports, depots and rent-a-car lines. Doug Lansky put his mettle to the pedals in Sicily and he says if you're envisioning simplicity, biker beware.

Postcard: Sicily by Bike

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Ah, the joy of traveling by bicycle. The quaint, winding backroads, the romantic little vineyards pumping out home-bottled wines, locals that stop you for a chat and invite you into their homes. You may have indulged in such bike fantasies yourself. I know I did.

But then I went on an actual bike trip. A month-long do-it-yourselfer in Sicily.

The first thing I figured out is that there is no conceivable way to save money on a such a trip. Okay, saving money was never my goal, but biking around a country has this budget ring to it - a ring that will last between 3 and 20 minutes, or however long it takes you to get to your local bike shop.

Once there, I bought, for example, a $50 biking shirt. A bright yellow one that would theoretically catch the eye of drivers, or just make them think I've got the overall lead in the Tour de France. It also had a zipper on the front that went all the way to my navel. My navel never required ventilation in any other sport, but apparently biking is different.

I also purchased a complete set of tools, only half of which I knew how to use, but I figured I may get some value out of them later if I ever buy any Ikea furniture.

And Lights. Gotta have lights. Might end up biking after sunset. I bought the cheapest ones for 20 bucks, which got me a white light in front and a red one in back. Impressively, there were five modes on each: normal, bright, flashing, strobe, and this side-to-side scanner effect that looks like a cheap version of the one on Kit in Knight Rider, David Hasselhoff's talking Trans-Am.

One of the most sensible things you can do is take a bike maintenance course, something I never did. And not long into my trip, my bike started to click annoyingly when shifting. I decided on an immediate course of action: ignore it. This was not for lack of the necessary tools. I had, as I said, all of them. I just didn't know which tool to use for "clicking." Have you looked at a high-tech mountain bike lately? The deraileur is more complex than a pacemaker.

I had asked the guy who sold me the bike which of the many screws I'd need to turn to fix it.

"Those screws on the deraileur?!" he asked, making it sound as if I wanted directions on how to switch a set of spent nuclear reactor rods by hand, "you don't want to mess with those."

Since then, I've been scared of the deraileur. It became the closest thing to a shrine on my bike. I fed it expensive oil everyday and prayed it won't let me down.

You get used to a lot of things on a bike trip: sore legs, being sweaty most of the day, and, perhaps most impressive, you even stop feeling like a complete wanker when you walk around towns in your bicycle shorts GǪ shorts that, I might point out, have a built-in pad that makes you look like you require adult undergarment protection, and don't mind showing it off with tight-clinging spandex.

On the last day of the trip, I finally got some use from my bike lights. In the dark, at 4:30 AM, I set it on "strobe" and headed off in the general direction of the airport. It became immediately apparent the lights were meant for drivers see me, not for me to see the road. I kept unexpectedly riding into potholes.

With the highway off limits to bikes, another thing became perfectly clear as I tried to navigate in the dark on the confusing backroads: airports aren't exactly designed for bicycle entry. In otherwords, to begin and end your bike trip, you'll probably need a car.




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