Now close your eyes and imagine a family gathering on a stunning mountain refuge. You arrive there on your bike, with bags and sleeping kits. You crawl a steep climb, fist-bump people in line to get your first beer. Then you just have to pinch your tent, wipe your body off so as not to smell while spending the next 24h eating popcorn, chat, dance, listen, and shout all your happiness out from your lungs. Did you visualize it? Well, that ain’t fantasy, all this happens every year and it is called BAM: Bicycle Adventure Meeting.
Friday Night: time to warm up
Well, now you can open your eyes and continue reading because this is not the description of the BAM but my personal story of my weekend spent with all and new friends, all on bikes, all with a huge smile on the face.
I arrived in Verona Friday evening, the trip from Zurich was long, toughened by the Italian trains with no place to seat or air to breathe. Fortunately, I didn’t have to pack and bring over my bike, I was promised by my hosts (the Scott and Bergamont team) that they would take care of me with a shiny bike for the weekend.
It is my first time in Verona, and I love the vibes of the city, especially because is the night of the first game of Euro 2020, Italy vs Turkey. I walk through a deserted city, nobody is around, maybe the heat, maybe the game, maybe you know what I mean. I eat complex and tasty dinner in the peculiar San Zeno neighborhood and then I pull out the 2 or 4 drinks I exceeded with a long walk until the hotel. After a shower, I go sleeping chilled and happy, thank you AC.
Saturday Morning: time to Roll
It’s Saturday already, before going to the meeting point I need to quickly stop at the supermarket: my backpack misses toothpaste, baby wipes, and a sanitizer, you need to have these things at the BAM.
Crossing the street I see already the team with whom I will tackle the climb till the refuge, plus somebody else. I’m talking about Andrea Benesso, the organizer of the BAM. You can see clearly his smile behind the mask, he is radiant, the days of the big party finally arrived.
We were talking about the group who will ride until the BAM: 4 guys from Scott and Bergamont, they will take care of us with bikes and good mood, and, hey, they are really good with it. Nicola has a radio voice, and he likes complaining of the strong pace on the climbs, while he pulls the peloton most of the time, then there is Roberto who can handle his Bergamont like a **Fabio Wilmer **on drop bars. I saw him jumping and wheeling more than drinking water. In the same group, there is also Paolo: they call him the kid, probably because is the fresher of the bunch, and Andrea, the mechanic wizard. Close to them, there is Alessia, Andrea’s girlfriends, she watches at us from far away, checking we don’t mess up too much with the route.
On the guest side, the side that sees my light, there are: Caterina, bike-journalist who knows about wine as much I know about, about, mmmm, about Napoleon’s battles (maybe more), Gianluca and Alessandro aka Adventure Addicted, two alpinists and adventurers with so many tasty stories as downhill skills. That’s it, I would say, this is the squad, for now, but we are missing talking about my rig for the weekend: a Bergamont Grandunrace Expert. Gravel bike with endurance geometries, comfortable like the sofa on my guests’ room, stiff like my humor on early Mondays, fast like my reading skills while I’m hungry seating at the restaurant. Shimano GRX FC-RX600 groupset with double chainring (last time I rode a double it was on my Yellow Hammer road bike) and 35mm X 700c tires, maybe a bit on the thin side, but perfect for roads like these. I jump on it and it feels like home, I will love this bike.
Verona, already in the early AM, is hot as a roasting pan, so we need to move fast to get some water and start the ride. We say hello to Andrea B. who will reach the summit with his car and our luggage, and we move fast to the infamous Arena. Everywhere we see cyclists, all different in style, skills, clothing, and bikes, but all the same in smiles. We need a quick stop for water, coffee and to pick up the last member of the group. Veronica aka Cara Biga, cyclist, and instagrammer from Bologna who is already there waiting for us.
I stop for a talk about steel frames, then I swallow a firing coffee and we go. The group is bigger than the one I mentioned because, in an event like this, you collect people at any corner. During the ride through the city, I talk with Peppe about riding in Calabria. He is from Sicily, even if he works for an American company, but he wants to go riding in my region. Shame on me, I’ve never ridden any bike there, but for sure I have many tips to drop on him. We cross the Adige river, and we land on a fast single track where aside from the sound of my tires I can hear clearly the noise of a chicken coop. We cut into a vineyard, and the real road to the Rifugio starts. 30km of a pure climb, into shadowy forests, open fields above the treeline, stone villages, and mountain pasture. Not so much gravel, but empty and pristine roads just like a balm for your eyes.
The crew is pretty relaxed, we stop for coffee and drinks a couple of times, for a relatively solid bite another time, we wait at crossroads, we chat about style, bikes, and food. Once or twice I also stop for a quick shot or to get the best angles on Roberto’s wheelies.
A mellow climb I said, apart from the last chunk: about 1km on raw concrete with a 20% average to finally cross the party line. Exactly on that climb, I meet my friend Federico with his Enough Cycling buddies. Purple jersey, bright glasses, big smiles: “Did you really stopped to get a Radler? Would you mind if I don’t talk to you until you don’t drink a proper beer?” Well, it won’t take long, as after the covid registration queue I receive a goodies bag and a fresh beer, that I drink after high fiving my road companions.
Saturday afternoon: time for BAM
I get into the BAM and I immediately understand that’s exactly the spirit I was looking for: a camping site full of tents and people who arrived up here with bikes and the unique goal to exchange experiences and a good mood. And help each other: when I find myself on the first bump assembling my borrowed tent not nimbly, Carlo comes over asking: “do you need some help?” – “Ehm, is it that visible?” – We put it together in about 5 minutes and now everything is ready to start. Wipes and fresh clothes to go down where the hearth of the party is, I get into the Scott tent without knocking and I find Nicola with an iced cold beer can ready for me. Tons of ideas out from this conversation, poppy as the corns the guys were distributing from their bar. In that tent I meet many many people, really.
Francois: Belgian guy with a project in Parma to teach people to go on the bike safely and enthusiastically.
Raffaele and Sara aka Plastic Free Ride: won’t add anything here, Bruno wrote everything already.
Manuel: working for a big player in the outdoors and talking about languages cultures of Germany.
Omar: riding the world on top of his Graziella.
Lorenzo: just back from riding the length of Siberia, in winter.
And so many more, I can’t remember, I swear. But stop now, it is time to go and hear Cara Biga on the mic, talking about his new experience with bikes and what she does to promote it. But I have been a lier here, I heard Veronica just for a few lines. In the beginning, I was still there inside talking with dunno whom.
Saturday evening: chill down and heating up
I think it is time to go up again and pick up my jacket, it’s getting chilly. On my way to the tent I meet Lorenzo, he works for Decathlon and he shouts at me: “The best podcaster ever” – “Come on buddy, please, stop having fun of me” – my dry answer. “No really, I really wanted to stop and thank you for all the hours on keeping me company with your stories”.
It is cool, it is really cool having people acknowledging your hard work. We chat for a little while, he also shows me the newborn of the Riverside fleet, he is superproud of a project who took into consideration the opinions of so many riders.
Jacket on, coming back down to get some food, but here I meet Andrea from Komoot: “Stefano, finalmente!” Yes, with Andrea, we always just chatted digitally with Andrea, and now we take our time (I mean, probably 1.5h) to have a proper talk, a private one, so 👋.
Ok, time to eat: queuing for the order, I get my perfect mountain meal: Gnocchi di Malga and Canederli. Buttery good, I’m so hungry.
I go out waiting for my dishes to arrive, and here another bunch of nice words: “Stefano, you are the one telling the stories about the Atlas Mountain Race?”– “Absolutely, why?” I silly ask. “Because I heard your voice many many times talking with the riders there, and man these people are just out of this world”. Well, just a bit, I would say off records.
The rest of the night keeps on chatting and listening to the concert who made everybody get their moves back. I went to bed relatively early as my people told me it went on almost until dawn. But I have to take some rest, sleep listening to the songs of nature, and keep on reading my awesome mountaineering book.
Sunday Morning: waking up
The sun is up when I wake up, put together some stuff and open my tent where I find a bag with 2 chocolate muffins: thanks Alba Optics for this awesome present. I meet Gianluca and Alessandro on the breakfast line, we get our coffee while we listen to some adventures on the microphone: Federico and Niccolò talking about their route to arrive at the BAM; Fabio aka 160cm who fights against his sclerosis using his bike (that’s an incredible story, we need to talk about it).
I check the faces of the Scott people, they didn’t sleep so much, apparently. Well, it’s time to regroup and to start planning the way back: “we set down the tents, get cycling clothes, have lunch and then sign off, what do you think?” Deal!
I go up, and while putting the tent back in its bag, I listen to the story of Michele who leaves in a little town in Lombardia and loves riding on gravel, but also organizing food events. Nice.
While I go down, I stop listening to a pretty much-needed masterclass about packing bags on a bike. People are starting to leave, I wave to almost all of them, and I reconnect with the group: we need to go down as well.
Sunday Afternoon: the wrap
On the way downhill back to Verona I’m mostly alone, as my downhill skills are as bad as usual. So I have time to think about how easygoing and not pretending is the bikepacking world. We just want to stay in nature, be relaxed, and not judge or be judged. I hope everything stays like this, and I’m confident that if people like Nicola, Roberto, Andrea, and Paolo will keep this spirit from the industry side, and Andrea Benesso keeps on organizing gathering in these amazing places, and people will keep on listening to my chats of the internet, we have a lot of hope that we can continue to have fun while cycling on dirt roads, and in any road as well.
That’s a wrap: back where we met the morning before we say thanks to anybody and give air hugs. Because of C19, of course, but also because we don’t smell that good to exchange body proximity. And the situation didn’t get better in the next 6h on the train without AC.
Thanks BAM, see you next year.