2009 was my first visit to Mallorca to ride a bike. After many years of spending a couple of weeks a year in mainland Spain during my winters, it took me a while to get around to dipping my cleated toe in to the Balearic island.
Bradley Wiggins described Mallorca as a Scalextric track for cyclists, and he’s right, the Tramuntana mountains that range across the North West of the island are most cyclists’ idea of heaven and contain many of the classic well know rides. You also have access to some interesting flatter inland routes through the camis and the quieter roads too.
Staying, as many of us have done, in the Po Park in Puerto Pollenca back in March 2009, they’d screen off most of the enormous dining room to stop it from looking so empty. Now….? No way, I’ve seen estimates of 150,000 to 200,000 cyclists every year visiting the island, many in March and April although the season is expanding either side of the traditional spring months. Whilst summer tends to be quiet, October and November are becoming increasingly popular months to ride. Hotel dining rooms have never been fuller.
The pros still tend to be out there in the winter months, November to February mainly, and whilst the conditions aren’t balmy, the experience of riding in 16 degrees on a sharp January day on deserted Mallorca roads is well worth packing some leg warmers for, trust me, it’s beautiful. Certainly well worth missing a reliability trial for if you have the time and money.
In the olden days, there were very few places to hire a bike and when you could find something, the choice was limited and the quality hit and miss. Hotels catered for cyclists in a spirit of reluctant tolerance rather than open armed bonhomie on the proviso they didn’t have too much impact on the real guests and didn’t nick all the bananas from the breakfast buffet.
Woe betide if you had a mechanical over there, needed a massage or a guide or wanted to top up on gels and powders. Possible, but tricky to find when you wanted it.
Okay, so enough of me doing the job of the Balearic Island Tourist Board, we all know Mallorca is bloody brilliant, right? The point I want to make is the cycling scene in Mallorca has changed significantly over the past few years, both in terms of the islands’ offering and the riders who, if you will, buy in to the concept.
Nowadays you can hire a bike of your choice either through your hotel or independently – you can specify crank length, cassette ratios, saddle type, pedals etc. You can book a massage, find guides to show you the best routes, arrange to be picked up in the event of a breakdown, buy photographs of you descending Sa Calobra etc. Hell, you don’t even have to bribe the driver to let you take a bike box on the coach anymore. This, I hope you’ll agree, is a big step forwards.
In the past, riders would go to Mallorca on a ‘training camp’ to prepare for a domestic cycling season. Yeah, okay, it was really a cycling holiday with your club mates but you could kid yourself and significant others it was a vital ingredient in your quest for a 22 min 10 mile TT if you tried hard. I know this. I’ve done it. Many of us have.
More recently, chatting to fellow riders I've found many are training in the UK for a week in Mallorca – they are preparing at home so they can get the maximum out of a week on the island rather than the training for something else. It’s become a destination where you show your cycling form rather than a place you develop it for use elsewhere. Or maybe they are just more honest than me. You decide.
In most aspects, cyclists in Mallorca are now as well catered for as skiers in Meribel. The parallels (no pun intended) between the two activities are striking and, as Mallorca continues to develop as a cycling Mecca, no doubt the similarities in terms of what is being offered to consumers will grow.
There is however at least one distinct and notable difference. And no, it’s not snow.
As a novice skier, you wouldn’t think of hiring your skis and boots, getting a ski pass, taking the lift to the top of black run and chucking yourself off. You’d be out of control, out of your comfort zone and be a danger to both yourself and others. As a novice skier, you wouldn’t join a line of young experts following each other down a tricky off piste section in close formation unless you were 100% sure you could do so safely without ploughing in to the back of them would you? Of course you wouldn’t.
You’ve probably worked out where I’m going with this but, as a cyclist inexperienced in cycling in the conditions Mallorca presents – mountains, switch back climbs and descents, large groups of riders with mixed abilities, fast speeds etc you CAN do exactly that on a bike. You only have to look at the queues outside A&E at Inca or Playa de Muro hospital to prove you can and what the results tend to be.
A novice skier would go to ski school in the morning to learn how to ski safely and proficiently before going out to practice on the slopes to develop his or her skills. Similarly, an inexperienced cyclist should be able to learn to ride safely and efficiently in Mallorca before tackling its more challenging elements. In fact, I’d go as far as saying, particularly as the number of cyclists has increased exponentially but the standard of riding has declined, learning the ropes is essential for your safety and enjoyment.
Not only is the learning process great fun, just like ski school, you make friends and take away some skills that will improve your riding, and the pleasure you get from it, immeasurably. It will also make you safe and competent ensuring you have a better chance of going home with all your skin still attached to your body.
Compacted snow hurts when you hit it at speed, tarmac more so. Plus, the last time I skied down a slope, I didn’t have to contend with a hire car driver coming up the other way.
So, look out for RideFast Mallorca Bike School, coming to a bit of traffic free Tarmac in Puerto Pollenca in October 2017 and then again in the spring of 2018. A couple of hours learning or reprising the basics and you'll be well on your way to a better Mallorca cycling experience.
The ramblings of a cycling coach...