Saturday, 28 September 2013


Despite having climbed abroad a lot I'd done very little biking outside the UK, a wet trip to Ireland and a couple of mountain biking trips to Peru and Cyprus being the only exceptions. So a long weekend road biking in Majorca would be quite different. Nine of us were going but flying from different airports so transfers were a bit tricky to arrange.

The main problem with flights on the cheap airlines (or Budget carriers as they like to call themselves) is the anti-social flight times. Our flight out left at 0630 which meant getting up at 3AM! :-( As it happened the return flight got delayed and it was 0145 before we got home.

Rather than take our own bikes, Cath and I decided to hire: for a long weekend there's not much difference in cost between hiring and baggage charges plus you get the chance to try out a different bike. Andy had a series of routes planned for the weekend so after a bit of lunch we set off. We were stopping at Puerto Soller on the north of the island which has three roads leaving it - all uphill. Our introductory route was out by the easiest of these, round to Valldemossa and back over the Col de Soller.

Climbs on the continent tend to be different to those in the UK. Here we take the line that means least amount of building work so the gradient varies enormously. Also whilst the actual elevation gain isn't much the desire to take the shortest route possible means that the gradients are often severe. Continental road builders tend to pick a gradient then stick to it so when a sign says "5Km 5.4%" That's pretty well what you are going to get. There is some variation of course but not to the extent of UK roads. All this means that you need a different approach to cycling up the hills: rather than pushing through short steep sections you have to find a gear that you can keep spinning for the whole climb. You might go up or down a gear occasionally but generally that's the strategy.

Of course since we were setting off in the mid afternoon we were in the full 30C mediterranean heat which despite our brilliant summer was a bit of a shock. Cafe stop in Valldemossa then a zoom downhill and along the plains to get to the foot of the Col de Soller. This used to be the main road but there's now a tunnel through the mountain and bikes aren't allowed so it's up and over.

The final switchbacks to the top of the Col de Soller. There are five cyclists in the shot.

On the descent we seem to be waiting a long time for Andy, when he arrives it's because his pedal has come out of the crank. It happens again just before reaching the hotel and it seems like the bearings have seized so he hires some from the shop. Not to be the last "mechanical" of the trip.

Cath isn't impressed with Andy's mankini impression.

Day two was to be the longest ride of the trip: same climb out of town then along the coast to Andratx and back via the Col de Soller again. Some truly amazing scenery and at times it felt as if you were floating above the Med as the road twisted in and out of the ribs and gullies dropping down to the sea. By the time we were heading back it was hot again and we'd still the Col de Soller to do. Dropping off this Tim came to a halt - a broken spoke. Which shouldn't be so bad except he'd got some stupid bladed things which are very hard to get hold of. Back to the shop.

In the morning they said that they'd lend him a wheel while they sorted his out. Then the problems started: Tim's bike was fitted out with Di2 electronic gear shifting and when putting in the new wheel they trapped and broke the wire so he couldn't change gear. They decided to lend him a bike for the day while they fixed it. Today's ride was basically ride up to Puig Major, down to Sa Calobra then back again. Out of 75Km of riding just 8km could be regarded as flat!

Again the difference between UK and continental climbs became apparent - the climb to Puig Major was 13.5Km at an average gradient of 6%, it took me just under an hour to do. In the UK even the biggest climbs only take 20 minutes or so.

Down the other side then turn left and over a small col for the descent to Sa Calobra, which is back at sea level. The road is one of the tourist attractions of Majorca and is truly spectacular, in order to keep the gradient to a reasonable level the road designer had to build in a 270 degree bend where the road cuts back under itself. 9.6Km of descent gets you to the village which isn't much to talk about really. What gets you is that the only way out is back the way you came. Only one thing for it: man up and ride the bike!

Rick heading back under the loop on the descent to Sa Calobra.

The problem isn't so much the 7.1% gradient but the tourist coaches - you just hope that you don't meet them on a bend. There's a lot of cyclists on the road, it's a popular ride in spectacular surroundings, but mostly you just keep pedalling away counting down the kilometres to the top. Fortunately there was some cloud keeping the sun off otherwise it would have been a cauldron with all the limestone reflecting the heat. All that's left is the climb back up to Puig Major and the long blast back down to the hotel.

Ian, Rich and Tim in front of a heat damaged road sign - the boys were scorching!

Our last day was meant to be a ride across the island but eventually we decided on getting a taxi through the tunnel and riding the first day's ride in reverse. There were just six of us doing it and the first flattish section became a bit of a chain gang - we only took 36 minutes to get up to Valldemossa where we thought we'd better have a coffee as otherwise we'd get back too soon. Coffee done, we'd only two short climbs on the way back to Soller but with the first day's two long climbs as descents.

All that was left was to take back the hire bikes; pack our kit and wait for the transfer taxi.

1 comment:

  1. You didn't miss any of the proper hills!

    It is a great place - we will be back in Puerto Soller in about a month from now.