Written by Filippo
This a translation from Italian to English of an article about me that appeared on the main local newspaper of the town where I was born, Ferrara.
My name is Filippo, I am Italian and this is the story of how the bike saved my life.
I am 38 y.o. and I spent many of those years enjoying the wind through my hair, a joy that only a bike can give you..
My story starts with a little kid bike on the Po riverbanks with which I dug a trench going back and forth a thousand times while my parents were grilling with their friends on the dry sandy river banks during the hot Italian summer.
Later, I started to widen my cycling horizons thanks to school. We lived close to the city center in a small town called Ferrara, famous for being the most bike friendly city in Italy. A ‘Little Amsterdam’ let’s say.
First, to primary school and later to secondary school, the commuting by bike over the old city walls was pure adventure.
One day my beloved aunt gave me as a birthday present my first serious road bike, a Bianchi. It was 1989 (I still own that bike, it is in the shop window in Prague).
Ferrara is like an Italian Amsterdam were cyclists rules
I then found out, thanks to that new racing bike, that cycling is not only pleasureable but also painful. My father took me to a gathering for amateurs organized by a famous local prosciutto factory. Even though I loved prosciutto, the idea of it at the end of the ride was not strong enough not to make think about the pain after the first 30 km or riding.
A year passed by and the bike, like for every citizen from Ferrara, became part of my life. Not only for commuting but also for weekend adventures. Small towns and villages just outside Ferrara felt exotic like foreign countries to us and we wanted to visit them all. On Sunday, when our local football team called Spal was playing home, we would go to the stadium with our girlfriends sitting on the crossbar. It was amazing to see all those people gathering to the stadium by bike and when the team would win everybody ws ringing the bell like crazy.
But biking in Ferrara meant flat and long country roads cutting the fields in two. It was only during the compulsory army service I had to do in Lago di Garda area that I fell in love with steep descents and rocky trails and I got mountain bike fever. Once back from the army, I started to work as a manager in a hypermarket. Every Saturday, after closing the premise, I didn’t lose one minute and with my friend Ivo we got on the highway that in a couple of hours would take us back to Garda or to Cortina d’Ampezzo or to some nice place in the Dolomites where we could get drunk of mountain biking (and climbing).
Mountains were and still are one of my biggest love
Later on, those weekend escapes were no longer satisfying me so I tried hard to move north and after several attempts, I succeeded and moved to the Alps in a city called Trento.
A fantastic period would follow. I was just doing as much outdoor as my body would get and at that time, as I was young and strong, it was really a lot. I was in the sales field travelling around by car. Every day I was in a different gorgeus mountain valley. Madonna di Campiglio, Val di Fiemme e Fassa, San Martino di Castrozza just to give a few examples. A typical day for me would be a short via ferrata basically running instead of lunch and a bike ride or more climbing in the late afternoon after working hours. Weekend was dedicated to tough epic trips.
And just when I got really good as a biker, my girlfriend and I decided to leave everything and travel the world. We travelled and lived in English speaking countries with the purpose of learning English which , at that point, I understood being very important for the kind of life I was planning, namely becoming a manager in some big multinational. So I went for it.
We started in Ireland where we lived and work in Dublin. After a few month though we got depressed about the weather and we moved to Australia were we spent a very nice year before transfering to New Zealand. We didn’t have a big budget so we had to work hard to make it possible and as our English was not profi we are mostly talking of hard labour. I have done the craziest jobs in order to meet ends. I have done landscaping, worked with chickens, organzized and worked in a woodcutting championship, picked vegetables, washed dishes, shoveled poo, made pizza, made hammocks, picked bananas, worked in a freezer and many more. We also travelled a lot around and lived in a mini van that we transformed into a campervan. Sometimes it was hard but it was a great life experience that transformed me into a man. Once back from Australia, after approx. 2 years, I splitted up with my girlfriend after 8 years of relationship.
Living and working in Australia gave me a lot in terms of self confidence and open mindness
A new chapter of my life was about to start. I got hired by a big company and they sent me to Central Italy in a region called Marche. It is a fantastic place with real nice wild mountains and my love for mountain biking, never extinguished, came back stronger than ever. That summer I decided to celebrate with a European bike trip. I trained to go as far as North Cape, the furthest point in Europe but at the last minute a good friend of mine decided to join. He was not trained enough for such a trip and, therefore, we decided to change the route. This was a crucial event that changed my life forever…for the better!
We started cycling from Ferrara in the direction of Prague through Slovenia and Austria. The day before getting into Prague we spent the night in a lovely Bohemian town called Tabor and there I met my future wife, Denisa. It was a funny meeting with her. We were super hungry after riding more than 100 km and went to a restaurant but we were late and the kitchen was closing so we got only one main dish. Once they kicked us out we started to roam the narrow medieval streets looking for a place where to eat more but they were all full. Finally we found this little bar and we asked to a nice girl if we could eat something. With the best smile on earth she said that the kitchen was closed but she would make some toasts for us. That was Denisa. To today her kindness still bright up my days. But coming back to that night, toasts was all we got so we started to talk but I didn’t want to appear like a typical Italian so I just asked her a tip about a nice club where to go. I thought that if she was interested about me she would join later. I also asked her email which was very sensible as it turned out. So we left the pub becasue it was closing time and we went to the club she suggested but once I got there I decided to go back to the pub, steal a flower from a vase and wait for her outside sitting in a public bench. In the meantime she exit the pub from the back door, wnet to the pub, didn’t find me there and went home. My friends were in the pub and saw here. Immediately they run to me to tell me what was happening but it was too late. We walked for an hour up and down the center but nothing. All was lost. Wait a second, I have her email!
The trip that changed my life with my friends Andrea and Ivo
From that time on, a period started of uncountable trips back and forth during which I got to know the Czech culture and came to love it. In the meantime, my career in the marketing world was going really well and taking me to live every year in a different city: Rome, Florence, Perugia are just a few examples. In the blink of an eye, I found myself in the deepest and darkest crisis. I felt depressed and without energy. Of biking and climbing, I saw neither hide nor hair.
I was working crazy hours for something I didn’t believe in and I knew that the more I would advance in the hierarchy, the more I would get closer to the abyss. I started to feel anxious and I couldn’t sleep well. I woke up in the morning without any enthusiasm. A doctor I visited declared me depressed. It was a real nightmare. I started to be afraid of public spaces, planes, meetings. Once I was walking in the center of Rome and I couldn’t breathe anymore so we called a taxi to go home real quick. My job position carried responsabilities so I couldn’t just be at home on sick leave easily. Days at work became unberable. From time to time I had to go to the toliette to breathe and calm down. If you ever found yourself in that state you know that you have the feeling that everything is lost. Especially if you were a sportsman you are very connect with your body and all sudden your body is betraing you. Also going to an analyst didn’t help me much. All they kept telling me was that I needed to realize that I was very lucky and to accept my life with gratitude. Until I met the right analyst, a very nice lady who had a different vision of life. With her help I understood that I was just in the wrong enviroment doing something thI didn’t belive in. She called it a golden cage. So I just looked for the door and I found it open…
Surrounded by a global economy crisis that was shouting at me to hold my job tight, I resigned, keen on starting everything again from the scratch. I decided to take a sabbatical year and move to Prague where cost of living is much lower than Italy. My wife Denisa started to work at the University while I was trying to figure out what to do next with my life. It was then that I made the bicycle my medicine. I started to ride every day trying to get back into shape. At the beginning I still felt sick and didn’t feel like going to far from home but slowly my mind understood that I was free and recovered. Thanks to my day trips I soon realized how Prague surroundings are good for mountain biking and biking in general. Just 15 minutes from the center I could already enjoy steep and technical trails I would never have imagined of with the Charles bridge and Prague castle on the background. One day, after a particularly nice and long ride, it all became clear to me so I just ran to Google and held my breath while typing in “mountain bike tours Prague”. Nothing. Nothing! Only agencies running tours in the city center on cheap bikes, a concept I wasn’t interested about because unfortunately Prague Old Town center is terrible for cycling due to traffic, lack of cycling path and cobblestones. I was ecstatic. I finally found my way, actually not way, my (bike) trail 🙂
One of my favourite trails in Prague from The Great Escape MTB tour
After visiting many MTB locations in my life, not only in Italy and Europe but also in other continents, I really saw in Prague a huge potential but of course I was having doubts like why nobody did it before. I made a corridor test with people around me and they were all pointing out that people don’t come to Prague for mountain biking or road biking but for culture. So what if I combine real quality mtb and culture? Everybody told me I was crazy but my wife. She supported in pursuing my dream since day one.
I got to work and quickly realized that my available funds were not enough to buy a large fleet of bikes, rent a shop, hire a few employees. I didn’t get discouraged, I actually told myself that finally I had an ideal occasion to use all the marketing and sales skills I had acquired until that moment. I studied all winter how to build a website and once was done I published the first tours. Together with Denisa we designed all the promotional materials, the logo and all we needed to start spreading the voice about our project. You cannot sell quality tours on poor quality bikes and good bikes cost a lot- way more that I could afford back then. So, I talked to three of my closest friends into buying me 3 very high end mountain bikes with the promises that I would have paid them back in a couple of years. Another friend from Prague allowed me to use the cellar of his tattoo shop as a starting point for tours at a very low price. We called the agency BIKO Adventures: BI like the first 2 letters of bike and KO like the two first letters of Kolo, which means bike in Czech. It was May 2011 when the first customers knocked at our door, a British couple whom I will never forget.
Our Biko shop in Prague
The first tour was a success and so was the second and the third. The first year of BIKO didn’t bring enough money for me to live on it so I had to teach Italian and work as a freelance marketer thanks to the connection I had from my previous life. Anyway, even if not many, the clients we had the first year gave me so much energy to keep me going and believe in the project. It was the right choice to hold on.
My first MTB magazine cover
At the time of writing our 6th season has just finished. We put on the bike more than 1500 people. We have more than 40 bikes in our garage. Several magazines wrote about us including National Geographic. We are in Lonely Planet and some other guides and we won the Trip Advisor certificate of Excellence for 5 years in row. Our team includes 14 enthusiastic outdoor lovers. We have a small but real nice shop built by us with recycled materials. We are supported by the international bike brand Giant and I am a brand ambassador for Endura. Lately, our portfolio has grown bigger and we offer also hiking, skiing, running and multiday bike holidays. We also design and produce bike related t-shirts and we sold almost 3000 pieces around the world just by word of mouth in just 3 years. It was hard but we made it.
Today I am damn happy and in a good physical shape. The bike saved my life.
Below the original article from the local newspaper “La Nuova Ferrara”