Tips for Mountain Bikers in Spain
As any keen mountain biker will know, there are some important rules to follow and bike handling skills to master before subjecting yourself and your bike to the thrills and spills of off-road riding. Although most of us ride within our capabilities most of the time, riding on different trails in hot weather conditions can present a new set of challenges requiring some new biking skills and knowledge.
Here in Southern Spain, I spend most of my time riding in warm and dry conditions, on shale/gravel trails in relatively remote areas, at medium to high altitude (1000 - 4000 ft). I say relatively remote, in that I seldom meet other bikers, hikers or other like-minded individuals. In other words, you must be prepared to patch yourself up and get yourself off the mountainside in the event of an accident.
Here are some points to consider before embarking on your Spanish MTB adventure.
Map it out - When planning routes for yourself and other bikers to ride, get hold of a map first. I use the 1:25,000 topographical maps published by the Centro Nacional De Informacion Geografica (CNIG). They show most off-road vehicle tracks, forestry access roads and some single track/footpaths.
Note: I am not sure how often they are updated. Some trails marked on these maps can suddenly disappear. On the other hand, I have ridden trails, which are not indicated, on the maps.
Terrain and time of year -Taking into account the distance, terrain, altitude, gradients and vegetation you can plan a suitable route for the time of year.
Mid-summer (early morning and evening riding advisable) look for shaded trails, low gradients with less altitude gain and think about places to refill water bottles.
Mid-winter This time of year it can be lovely and warm (15-20 deg C ) at sea level and pretty chilly (0-5) at 1000+ metres. When ascending you are generating a lot of heat, coming down the other side at 40Kph + you are subjecting your body to a wind chill factor which can drop temperatures a further 10 degrees. - carry extra layers of clothing.
Rider - You of course, must be fit for the ride and this cannot be achieved the night before.?? although it can be enhanced by laying off the San Miguel. Eat a decent breakfast, mainly carbohydrates, Cereal, toast and fruit for example. Stretch before you leave and spin in a low gear for about 1 km when you first set off (especially in winter). Know some first-aid that you can administer to yourself as well as to others. E.g dealing with Bleeding and serious grazes.
Bike & bits - Bike set-up and Maintenance is much the same everywhere so I won't bore you with details of what you already know, however pay attention to the following.
-Check for any play in wheel, steering and bottom bracket bearings. With a lot of fast descents and rocky ground it is worth a quick adjustment before any loose bits get worse.
-Chain needs regular attention in these dry, dusty conditions (every 2-3 rides). Run it through a cleaner, apply fine oil and then remove any excess lubricant, which only acts as a magnet to any dirt. Clean shocks and apply thin film of silicone-based lubricant
-Tyres, nice 'n' knobbly if you're intending to be off-road 90 % of the time. With a lot of climbing on loose surfaces and descents on rocky stuff I get more traction and comfort with wider tyres at a lower pressure.
-2 spare tubes ( at least) - There are some vicious plants in the campo, especially prominent in the summer months, with thorns like you wouldn't believe. Check inside surface of tyre thoroughly before fitting new tube - where there is one thorn there could be many.
- Helmet and gloves - This should go without saying.
Water - I usually allow for 1L of water per hour of riding. In the winter on a leisurely low level ride you may drink less than this, during the summer months it can be double. When the weather is hot, I carry 2 bottles on the bike and 2 in my rucksack. Most villages and towns have a natural spring or potable water available somewhere, on longer routes it is worth knowing where the nearest habitations are.
Food - Unlike thirst, hunger pangs will pass. On a short ride in warm conditions you may not even feel like eating - the wet stuff is far more important. However it is not advisable to deplete energy reserves so always have some driedfruit/muesli bar with you - Newsagents are not a common feature of Spanish villages and café/bars may not be open all day.
First-aid kit - This doesn't need to be bulky. A small well-packed container, including the following; Bandage, gauze pads, safety pins, plasters, antiseptic cream.
Clothing - for comfort and protection from exposure to the sun and cold.
-2 or more thin layers especially on upper body for better temperature regulation, increased insulation ( more air layers) and protection against grazing if you fall off.
- Bandanas one folded and tied around the forehead keeps sweat out of your eyes.
Another folded diagonally and tied loosely to keep sun off back of neck. - Sunglasses - High protection sun-cream on any exposed skin.
Safety on the trail:
Hazards such as loose surfaces, ditches, eroded gullies and the like will always be present - it's something that appeals to us MTBers. Accidents occur when we are unfamiliar with these conditions, over confident in our ability or meet with something unexpected in our path. Good bike handling skills can prevent or help get you out of a sticky moment, however when taking on steep descents and tricky technical sections be prepared for the unexpected.
Dogs - Some people are put off from biking and walking in Spain because of the dogs they may encounter. More often than not this will be when passing by/through a farmyard. In my experiences (which doesn't include any nasty ones yet - touch wood) Spanish mutts come under the following categories;
1. Bark and run away
2. Bark and chase
3. Total disinterest in your presence.
In most cases it isn't always clear whether the dog is of type 1 or 2 until you have committed yourself to entering its territory. If you are starting a long descent when they give chase, you can give a two-finger salute and go for it. If however you are grinding uphill in 1st gear and the blighter is loping at your side with plenty in reserve it can be a bit intimidating - and you probably won't care much for my categorising.
When passing farm buildings, I always assume that dogs are present. If they do appear but remain at a distance and bark, I stand on my pedals to make myself taller and ride slowly but confidently past. If a dog/dogs begins to advance I shout "FUERA" the term often used to send a dog out or away. This will usually work and also bring your presence to the attention of the household. You can advance and repeat this procedure if the animal is reluctant to give way. Stooping as if to pick up a rock can also intimidate Spanish dogs.
If you feel at this stage that it is still too risky then trust your instinct and retreat to find an alternative route.
In my experience, dogs will not attack if you retreat in a calm but confident manner - DON' T RUN.
Plan your ride
Don't ride alone on unfamiliar trails
Carry spares and sufficient water
Protect your body from falls and extreme weather conditions.
Then get out there and enjoy yourself!
Steve Murray lives in Spain and runs an Adventure Sports Company Abdal Adventures.
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