So, quick report on the cycling in Ticino:
1. It rained 80% of the time. That sucked, but I still managed to get in three rides by keeping an eye on the radar pictures. Although during one ride I got soaked twice and ended up shivering down on the descent.
2. AMAZING area for cycling! Totally recommended, and the pdf (see earlier posts) was invaluable. The hotel had an original copy in large form that I took with me.
3. Bring your ID/passport - so much fun being able to ride into Italy
4. There are a few direct trains each day to Locarno, which is worth it to not have to bother changing trains with the bike. The bike spots are limited though, so suggest getting to the train station as early as possible. Taxi to Ascona was approx ~28chf with bike. Ride #1 - Ascona to San Carlo return (Valle Maggia and Val Bavona)
This was the only nice weather day of the four day weekend. The gradient in Valle Maggia is quite easy, and part of the ride has separated bike lanes. I used these on the way up, but stuck to the road on the way down. Worth doing though because they take you into the beautiful little towns along the way.
Val Bavona is much steeper and a good challenge. All the way along you're following the river and there were constant waterfalls at the side, most notable the big one at Foroglio.
The descent back through Val Bavona is steep and twisty and a lot of fun, but I hit a strong head wind in Valle Maggia and it turned what was supposed to be an easy 20k back into a slog (with a puncture 12k from the end, just to top it off!). Apparently this is not uncommon in Valle Maggia.
Strava link: http://www.strava.com/runs/7490403 Ride #2 - Ascona to Cannobia (Italy), Val Cannobina and Centovalli
I waited until a break in the rain on the afternoon of the second day then decided to give this long ride a crack. It was AMAZING. The climb up Val Cannobina starts off quite steep then settles into a managemable gradient. It gets steep again near the end though, and quite narrow. I almost had a heart attack a few times when the drivers came down honking their horns before corners. The first part in the forest is absolutely stunning, again lots of waterfalls and an incredible gorge off to the side with a fast flowing river.
By the time I reached the top of the 20k climb I was over being wet and cold, and happy to start the descent. And wow! what a descent! It starts of super twisty and steep so I wouldn't recommend doing this ride in the opposite direction. Wet roads and rain made me a bit cautious but can't wait to do this again on a dry day. The towns of Malesco and Re are quite beautiful and worth a stop on a nicer day.
I stopped over the border for a hot chocolate and some Smarties at the service station, and to warm up a little. Thankfully there weren't many cars at all because after that point there is a brilliant descent through Centovalli. The roads are well maintained and the scenery is awesome.
Strava link: http://app.strava.com/activities/7564867
(Note on Strava, the elevation seems to be way out on this ride, refer to the elevation graph not the elevation gain that's quoted.) Ride #3 - Ascona to Sonogno return (Valle Verzasca)
I got up very early to beat the weather on this one, and it was totally worth it. I was able to ride right along the shores of Lago Maggiore on the usual pedestrian path only as there was no-one about. The climb from Tenero to the Contra Dam (James Bond Dam) is pretty intense, but worth it for the photos at the dam - so cool, and totally empty at 7:30am.
After Contra Dam the gradient is quite relaxed, and the valley climbs and climbs. There is the beautiful village of Lavertezzo along the way, with it's old stone bridge (as seen on postcards of the area). The river was an amazing blue/green colour from all the snowmelt.
Eventually arrived in Sonogno, which is a well maintained stone village at the very end of the valley. Thankfully even at the early hour the cafe was open and I was able to get another well earned hot choc before starting the descent back to Locarno.
The descent is AWESOME. The part up until Contra Dam is not too steep but you can still get a bit of speed and it's a really pleasant ride. I was a bit surprised when I reached Lavertezzo so quickly, you forget how much you have climbed. The final descent from Contra Dam to Tenero is not for the faint-hearted, but if you're any good at these kind of steep, twisty roads, it's absolutely brilliant. I was lucky enough not to have any cars near me so I could fang it the whole way down.
Strava link: http://www.strava.com/runs/7615547
All up, despite the horrible weather, it was a fantastic weekend. I will definitely be going back there again to re-do the second ride and hopefully try out some of the other rides as well.