Ciclismo Classico was born out of founder Lauren Hefferon’s passion – her passion for cycling, for travel, for Italy, and for cultural immersion.
An avid cyclist since her childhood in Keene, New Hampshire, Lauren knew early on that she wanted her bike to be at the center of her life and business. Yet she also saw that bicycle as a vehicle – not just in the most basic sense of transportation, but also a vehicle for exploring new cultures, meeting new people, and building new connections. Ciclismo Classico grew out of that conviction.
“Cycling always brought out the wild spirit in me. It was also a way to get around and expand my horizons, even as a young kid. It was a great way for me to be outside in nature, and I loved the pace of cycling, and the fact that I could go really far,” Lauren says.
Biking the hilly landscape of southern New Hampshire also made Lauren strong and fit, and she soon began getting into the sports side of cycling, participating in a few races in high school and learning more about biking equipment. Her first long bike trip was a three-week camping adventure from New Hampshire to Nova Scotia following high school
When it came time to choose a college, Lauren selected Cornell University both for its excellent academics and for its beautiful location for cycling. She spent the next four years exploring the rolling hills and Finger Lakes of western New York and traveling during the summers. While at Cornell, she took a bicycle tour guiding class and led freshman orientation programs and other student bike tours. She also became an instructor, teaching bike touring seminars for the school’s Wilderness Reflections.
Upon graduating from Cornell, Lauren was awarded a Rotary Scholarship to study art in Florence, Italy. She spent three months touring Europe by bicycle, including exploring her Italian family roots by meeting her mother’s cousins and other relatives in Le Marche. Her Italian cycling adventures later became the basis for one of Ciclismo’s most popular tours, Bike Across Italy.
Once settled in Florence, Lauren quickly sought out one of the city’s top bike shops and got her first Italian bike. “I kind of turned into an Italian cyclist,” she says. “Italian cyclists are faster, more interested in gear, and more competitive. It was a whole different kind of cycling. I was racing with Italians every weekend. It was like nothing I’d ever done before.”
By the time her three years in Florence were up, Lauren knew just about every road within a 50-mile radius. During the summers she led fully loaded bicycle tours for teenagers, including one from Rome to Paris. Using skills she had developed during a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) course a few years earlier, Lauren discovered that leading tours fit her personality and gave her great pleasure. Yet although she enjoyed leading student trips, she sensed it was not her niche. She decided to start a bicycle tour company for adults.
“There was no one really specializing in Italy, so I said, ‘I’ll do it,’” Lauren recalls. Her first tour in 1988 had five women on it; the second had eight. From the start, cultural immersion was the focus. “I wanted to make the trips very rich in history and culture – intense cultural experiences. It’s always been about immersing yourself in an environment, in a place.”
As Ciclismo expanded, Lauren began offering trips to destinations no one else was doing in Italy, such as Puglia, the Piedmont, and Sardinia. By 2000 Ciclismo was well and firmly established as a leader in bike tours to Italy. Since then the company has maintainted its focus on Italy while expanding into other destinations throughout Europe and beyond. In the future, Lauren envisions adding even more destinations, as well as more thematic trips, while continuing to share the joys of bicycle touring with as many travelers as possible.
Lauren’s wish for Ciclismo guests is for something magical to happen on every tour. “There’s going to be something,” she says. “You’ll come around a corner, and there’ll be an amazing view. Or you’ll have a gorgeous morning of riding when you’re just in your zone. It’s a beautiful cross section of just losing yourself and being in an exciting place, stimulating all your senses.