Why You Should Ride a Motorcycle in Italy Once in Your Life with VIDEO

Recap of my motorcycle ride of central Italy and what you should know before going on an organized motorcycle tour

By Genevieve Schmitt, Editor

For a long time I’ve wanted to host a motorcycle tour where I could ride with like-minded motorcyclists in an amazing place on earth. This year felt like the right time for me to resurrect my Ladies First tours, a concept I created in 2001 when I hosted a motorcycle tour to Copper Canyon, Mexico, during my time as founding editor of Woman Rider magazine. “Ladies First” means a man can join the tour only when accompanied by a woman. It’s a concept that works in many ways.   For the inaugural WRN Ladies First Motorcycle Tour, I chose Italy because of all the reasons you’d guess, not the least of which is the amazing scenery and the culture.

why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life tour grouop
The riders and tour guides minus one, who accompanied me on my inaugural WRN Ladies First Motorcycle Tour of Italy. Overlooking the Tuscan countryside, we stand before our mix of motorcycles that included Harley-Davidsons, a Ducati, BMWs, and a Moto Guzzi. Left to right: Enrico, Monica, John, Janet, Michele, Bill, Angie, Cindy, Maria, Genevieve, Shellie, and Tricia.

This past May, 10 women riders and one male rider (the significant other of one of the women) from the U.S. and Canada, joined me in Rome for the start of a nine-day adventure on rented motorcycles. I worked with Hear the Road Motorcycle Tours Italy to create a custom itinerary that had a balance of riding time with off-the-bike sightseeing and relaxation.

Italy Through the Eyes of a Motorcycle Rider

You’ve probably heard the expression “when you’re in a car you’re driving by the scenery, but when you’re on a motorcycle, you are part of the scenery.” No more was this true than when cruising through the Tuscany and Umbria countryside regions of central Italy, the focus of our tour. Italy exceeded my expectations on all levels: beauty, color, texture, and old world culture — and being on a motorcycle all my senses were heightened.   During this tour, a Sena Prism Bluetooth Camera was attached to the right side of my Arai CT-Z 3/4 helmet recording all the scenery and roads, with a Sena 20S Bluetooth communication system on the left side of my helmet allowing me to narrate the video on the fly, and communicate with my colleague Tricia Szulewski, WRN’s assistant editor, and staff writer with Motorcycle magazine, who was also on this ride. My review of the Sena camera and Bluetooth communicator can be found here on WRN.

This short video provides a teaser of the sights and smells that were everywhere on our tour. There’s another, longer video at the end of the story, on page 3, with more detailed riding shots and narration, including what its like to ride in rush hour traffic in Rome.


Where We Went

Our tour started and ended in Rome at the small boutique Hotel Locarno Roma serving as our home base. The upside to commencing a motorcycle tour in this historical city is that you can arrive earlier then your start date to sightsee and check some of the world-famous must-see Italian attractions off your list.   Tricia and I, and several of the other tour participants, walked to the Vatican Museum and the attached Sistine Chapel from our hotel while others took a shuttle over to the Roman Colosseum. Some of the ladies tacked on a few extra days at the end of the tour to see Rome as well.

why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life vatican museum
The term “hyper-tourism” has been coined to describe serene places on the planet that are being flooded with tourists. The art-laden halls of the Vatican Museum here look more like a New York City sidewalk during rush hour: tourists clamoring shoulder to shoulder on their way through the maze of hallways to see the piece de’ resistance, the Sistine Chapel. Expect these kinds of crowds at any of the major attractions in Italy during tourist season, which runs May through September.
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life sistine chapel sign
At nearly every hallway junction in the Vatican Museum are signs in Italian pointing to the Sistine Chapel. This is as close as you’ll get in this article to seeing Michaelangelo’s famous frescoe of God and Adam reaching out their index fingers to each other in what is called The Creation of Adam as no photography is allowed.

The downside to starting in Rome is navigating through the infamous Italian traffic on a motorcycle at the start and end of your tour. I had asked WRN Facebook fans before the tour what they wanted to know about riding a motorcycle in Italy. Most were interested in the traffic in Italy, with one fan saying she’d heard it was “horrendous.”   If you’re a sharp rider and can negotiate moves quickly you shouldn’t have any issues riding a motorcycle in the heavily-traveled-multi-lane metro areas of Rome. The craziness for us happened when trying to keep 13 motorcycles together on a Friday in rush-hour traffic on our last day.   A lot of Italian drivers drift out of their lane for no reason. They rarely use turn signals, and they expect that you see them, not the other way around. This can cause tenuous moments if you’re not acutely aware of your surroundings while riding very defensively.   A no-passing zone seems to mean nothing to Italian drivers. Several times we were on a narrow two-lane road with a solid white line and a very short distance to pass and every type of a vehicle from a large box truck and an eco-friendly auto to a sportbike-riding motorcyclist attempted to pass our whole spaced-out group while playing Russian Roulette with the oncoming driver. The passing vehicle, realizing a little too late he was not going to overtake our group, squeezed into our lane at the very last minute. Italian drivers take far more risks in their cars than we do in the U.S. and that’s saying a lot considering how Americans drive!   Scooter riders are everywhere — way more than motorcyclists — and anything goes with two-wheelers navigating through traffic. Lane splitting? That’s a tame move in Italy!  

5 Things You Need to Know About Riding a Motorcycle In Italy

why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life bmw
1. Drivers travel on the right side of the road, so the same direction as the U.S. Maria, on her rented BMW, leads the way over this old bridge.
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life road sign
2. Road signs are all in Italian so familiarize yourself with the basics before getting there. This sign does not mean that a galleria mall is up ahead. Galleria means tunnel in Italian.
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life left turn sign
3. Road sign colors, shapes, and the symbols on them are different than in the U.S. so reading them is not intuitive for Americans. This sign does not mean that there is a fire hydrant up ahead, like I thought at a glance. It means there’s a left turn.
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life roadway
4. In the countryside where we traveled a lot, the roads are narrow with no shoulders most of the way, just like on this stretch of pavement here. I love this shot because it shows the diversity of trees in Italy.
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life narrow road
5. While there are a lot of scenic vistas (photographers will be in awe), there are few places to pull off and take a photo. And unlike in the U.S., I never saw one designated pull-off area. I think this is because Italians take their scenery and beauty for granted, just like they take their history for granted.

There are medieval castles and ancient forts in so many of the towns. People live and do business in these centuries-old structures. It’s nothing for them to call a 15th century building their home. I joked that if they preserved every old building and designated it as a piece of history, there’d be nowhere to live or set up a shop.

I asked a 21-year-old taxi driver who was picking me up in the medieval walled city of Siena after dinner one night to return me to my hotel what he thought of living among such ancient buildings. As I suspected, that concept was lost on him. “It’s all I’ve ever known,” he responded.   Which leads me to my biggest take away from riding a motorcycle in Italy: being amidst the rich and deep history for which Italy is known. Rolling into these small villages on two wheels (instead of the cocoon of a car), the energy of bygone days is almost palpable.   Off the bike, I closed my eyes while standing on the worn and weathered brick foundation of an 11th century abbey we visited and marveled that my body is in the exact same place humans stood more than 900 years ago. You don’t have that in America. Settlements in the U.S. didn’t start until the 1600s, and even then how many buildings from that era are left standing?

Our Route

Our custom itinerary had us leaving Rome and riding north 90 miles to Orvieto, a city in the Umbria region of Italy. We stayed at the Altarocca Wine Resort, a 5-star all-inclusive spa hotel that had all of us wishing we’d lingered there longer than the one night.    The next day we pointed our bikes north and rode 100 twisty roller coaster miles to Siena, and took a step back in time to medieval Tuscany. There is so much antiquity to be experienced and explored in this region so we spent four nights here using the Podere La Strega B&B, a quaint farmhouse on the outskirts of the city, as our home base for our one rest day, and our three scheduled days of riding the area. Click on images to view larger in a slideshow.

why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life pasta dinner
Monica, Michele, Joy, Maria, and Angie all came on the tour not knowing anyone else. And that’s the beauty of a WRN-promoted motorcycle tour. You can travel by yourself knowing you’re going to meet like-minded women. This photo was taken the first night at our meet-and-greet dinner in Rome.
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life harley davidsons
Joy in the front on the Harley-Davidson Road King with Monica behind her on the Street Glide lead the way for Cindy, on her Sportster 1200, up the narrow, steep hill that’s exemplary of the roads in these ancient towns. Also, notice the large road sign on the right with arrows to all the nearby places. You better know where you’re going and you better read fast.
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life roadway
Joy is all smiles as she cruises through a neighborhood in one of the old towns we ventured through that is dripping in color, texture, and history.
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life harley davidsons
Our first stop on riding day one was for an Italian espresso in Civita Castellana, a town that dates back to the year 994. As we posed for a photo in the village square a local, who was in awe of our group of mostly women riders, joined in on the fun. Can you spot him?
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life espresso
Tricia and I enjoying our first Italian espresso. We were both expecting to feel a jolt of caffeine, but actually the caffeine level is quite moderate in the Italian coffee. We never got that coffee buzz we were after, especially late in the day when we needed it on the last leg of the ride.
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life civita bagnaregio
It’s nice when a tour operator does the legwork on finding the best ride routes, and the must-see attractions along the way. Civita di Bagnoregio is one place I’m so glad we visited. This town built atop a mountain was founded by the Ertuscans more than 2500 years ago! It is in constant danger because the edges of the plateau on which its built continually erode.
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life civita bagnaregio women
Tricia (left), me, and Michele Carter, owner of Adventuress Skin Care, a longtime WRN supporter, smile before walking up the steep, but short walkway to visit the shops and restaurants that keep the ancient village of Civita Bagnaregio alive. Because of a recent boom in tourism there, a modest entry fee of 1.50 euros was recently implemented.
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life rainbow orvieto
There were many magical moments on our ride including this one being the timing of seeing a rainbow off in the distance over the hillside city of Orvieto.
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life woman rider
Taking pictures was the main activity on our ride as there are photo opps everywhere! I love this picture of Shellie grinning because she got the rainbow shot. Shellie was uploading pictures of our trip almost hourly to her Facebook page as family and friends back home were anxious to see what she was experiencing.
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life cobb salad
I found the Italian food to be a bit monotonous after a few days. Italian food restaurants are everywhere and they pretty much consist of the same courses of pasta, meat, a veggie and an iceberg lettuce salad. I was excited when I found a hearty cobb salad at one of our lunch stops.
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life piazza del campo
The Piazza del Campo in Siena (the city center) is considered one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares. I marveled at the locals sitting on the centuries-old brick foundation of the this shell-shaped piazza after work to relax, drink wine, and socialize. Reminded me of what people do in New York City’s Central Park, except here these folks have centuries of history underneath them.
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life san galgano
Tricia and I pose on the 11th century foundation of San Galgano, a stunning old abbey that still stands today.
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life podere la strega
This was our dinner table at Podere La Strega, the restored 16th century farmhouse that we stayed at in Siena. Felt like we walked into the setting of a shabby chic catalog shoot.
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life shoe in road
I couldn’t believe I saw a shoe on the side of the road in Siena. I wrote an article about this roadside phenomenon, and here’s proof it occurs in Italy too!
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life toilet
I have to be honest here and let you know that nine of out 10 women’s public restrooms do not have seats. I’m guessing it’s the same in the men’s room. From gas stations to fancy restaurants, most commodes are seat-less. I took this photo to prove it.
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life roses
One of my most favorite photos: roses are in full bloom in late May, when we went, and temperatures averaged in the high 70s in the day to low 60s at night.
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life scooters
We saw many more scooters than motorcycles as scooters in the cities are the primary form of transportation for a lot of residents.
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life rider
I was also asked on Facebook if there are a lot of women motorcycle riders in Italy. In our 10 days there, I only saw two women riding motorcycles, both in Rome. And the one in Rome whom I didn’t photograph was actually riding in high heels and fashion clothes. I managed to grab this woman rider in time to take my picture with her.

Future Tours with Women Riders Now

At the time of writing this article, ideas for a second WRN “Ladies First” motorcycle tour are still being bounced around, but there are no plans in place yet. This tour of Italy that WRN hosted with Hear the Road Motorcycle Tours Italy was a one-time opportunity. I am taking what I learned to organize a future tour at a different, but no less amazing destination.    If you wish to tour Italy on a motorcycle, you can rent a bike and map your own route, or hire a tour company like we did. You should expect a tour company to go beyond finding the best roads and booking the best hotels. We all could do that on our own.

Important Questions to Ask a Tour Operator

  1. What is the pace of the tour? Fast, slow, a more wanderers pace? While experienced tour operators will tell you the ride captain goes only as fast as the slowest person, you never want to feel like you’re the slow poke holding up the group. So, it’s important the ride pace is communicated to you ahead of time. 
  2. What are the roads like that you’ll be riding? Most likely they will be twisties of all kind since that is so much of what makes motorcycle touring exciting. We had our fair share of curvy roads that made the experienced riders excited, but the less experienced ones a little skittish. I recommend at least 10,000 miles under your belt riding on all kinds of roadways and in all weather conditions before thinking of riding in a group of other riders you don’t know. 
  3. How long has the tour operator been in business and how many tours has he or she and their ride captain / tour guides done? Obviously longevity indicates experience. The more experienced they are, the better your experience will be and the better they’ll be at anticipating your needs. I find women appreciate this more than men. 
  4. What is the tour company’s policy on drinking alcohol during riding hours? I say this because in Italy, wine is considered an acceptable beverage at lunch because of its minimal alcohol content. If riding with folks who’ve indulged during lunch bothers you, you should know ahead of time. I put together a list of more questions to ask after I went on another tour in 2010. You can read that story here.

More Suggestions if You Travel to Italy

  • Bring more Euros than you think you’ll need. In some of the smaller towns, credit cards are not accepted everywhere. 
  • Bring several credit cards in case you lose one, or one gets stolen while you’re on vacation. The couple on our tour was notified by their credit card company that their card number was being used fraudulently so subsequently that card was no good the rest of the tour. Fortunately, they had another one with them.
  • When choosing the motorcycle you will rent from the tour company, choose one smaller than you’re used to riding. Italy, with its narrow roads, off-camber turns, and tiny parking spaces is not a place to test ride a bigger model you’re thinking of buying, as one of our participants did. We should have advised her otherwise. There are enough “foreign” variables to deal with when riding in Italy or any foreign country for that matter. Handling and maneuvering your motorcycle should be easy and stress-free. 
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life women on harleys
Joy on the Road King (foreground), Monica next to her on the Street Glide, and Michele behind them on the Fat Boy all commented they wish they had chosen smaller motorcycles.
  • What kind of insurance coverage is there on the motorcycle you’ll be renting? Make sure you read the contract inside and out and know exactly what you’re signing should something happen to the motorcycle, even if it gets a scratch while you have it.
  • Pack light. While we had a chase vehicle that carried our luggage, I wish I didn’t bring as much as much gear as I did. Motorcycle outerwear is bulky and takes up a lot of space in your suitcase leaving little room left for your regular clothes. Do your best to pair down to the minimal essentials. I probably didn’t need two pairs of gloves. I had an extra pair in case I lost a glove.
why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life what to bring
I packed many of the moisture-wicking easy-wear-and-wash clothes that I hike in, including socks, underwear, and shirts so I could launder them in the hotel sink every few days and hang to dry.

There is so much more I could share about my tour and touring in Italy in general, but this is a good guide to get you started. If you’re seriously considering riding a motorcycle Italy or using the tour company we went with, please feel free to contact me in person at gschmitt@womenridersnow.com and I can answer any questions you may have. 

why you should ride a motorcycle in italy once in your life lunch
This sums up my experience of this WRN Ladies First tour: the camaraderie of riders enjoying a local’s lunch in Italy, all of whom were strangers just a few days before this photo was taken.

To see more photos, visit my Postcards from Italy: Preview of Inaugural Trip story I posted as a teaser when I first returned.

Further research:


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Postcards from Italy: Preview of Inaugural Trip
Women’s Cross Country Ride Scheduled for July 2016
Thinking of Going on an Organized Motorcycle Tour? Read this first.
All Touring and Adventure Articles on WRN

4 thoughts on Why You Should Ride a Motorcycle in Italy Once in Your Life with VIDEO

  1. I read this article with interest. I too love to ride in Italy. It is a privilege to experience their much more ancient culture and there is no better way than on a motorcycle. But I must disagree with your assessment of Italian drivers. Yes, they ARE much more aggressive, but they are also more skilled. It is up to us as visiting drivers to first observe and try to understand our host country’s rules of the road (or lack there of). Traffic signs and markings in Italy are more or less just a suggestion. Unlike in the US they do not expect everyone else to look out for them (though they do expect everyone to be aware of them). They may seem pushy at times, but mostly they just don’t give you a lot of time to take your right-of-way and if you give them an opening they’ll take it. They expect you to do the same. When riding in other countries it will benefit you greatly to throw out your old driving attitudes and try to be more like the locals.

    1. You are right Karen. The onus is on us to adopt their way of driving and adhere to the way they do things. When in Rome do as the Romans do! Isn’t that the saying?That said, what I shared were my first impressions, and when on a motorcycle trip there for the first time, one better be on his or her game or you’ll get clobbered by all the chaos. And I do mean chaos because again, if you’re not used to it, it will seem like all rules and regulations have gone out the window. You speak from an authority of someone who has been there and is used to it. And indeed after just one visit there, one will certainly be more aware of what the driving customs are. Thanks so much for your valuable feedback.

  2. I just returned from Italy so I totally can relate to many of your comments in this story. I belong to Women on Wheels and Edelweiss Bike tours put a package together for us to ride scooters in Tuscany. Many of us added three days in Rome at the beginning of the trip and two days in Venice at the end. I was very glad not to be riding my scooter in Rome since we witnessed many of the things you mentioned about the lack of traffic rules! I too marveled at the fact that we were walking in the same places as people did 900 years ago. We toured many, many churches that dated back to the 1300s. I was trying to figure out how they can allow the volume of people through the Vatican and museum that they do since it has to be doing a lot of damage to the building. We were fortunate enough to have a tour guide that got us to St. Peters Square in time to see the Pope give his Sunday morning sermon. The rides we took through Tuscany on the scooters did provide us with some fantastic scenery and lots of curves and twists. I was glad to be on a scooter that I didn’t have to be constantly grabbing my clutch! Now that I am home I relish my memories from such a beautiful country!

    1. Hi Marlene,Thanks for sharing your experiences. What a neat opportunity you all had. Glad you could vouch for me on the Italian drivers. I felt bad having to write that, but it’s so not what we are used to in the U.S. All the scenery and culture certainly makes up for the bad drivers though.

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