I appear to be cycling on the moon. That or in one of those paintings of Hell by Hieronymus Bosch. Huge volcanic mounds rising from a dead ocean of gnarled, blackened lava rock; a lunar-sea of rubble broken only by thin ribbons of silken tarmac which slide sinuously through the hellish terrain.
First impressions: if this is hell, then it’s got great roads to cycle on.
Lanzarote is a bit of mecca for cyclists given the year round sunshine, near traffic-free roads and abundance of nice steep hills on which to flagellate yourself. Easy to see why Pro-teams such as BMC-Etixx spend their winter seasons training here before heading race-wards.
Many of us lesser mortals also grab the opportunity of some winter sun and cycling, the airport and hotels being awash with a combination of lycra, carbon and bike bags.
Staying with friends on the Costa Teguise on the east of the island I was determined to get my bike fix both on and off road. I love cycling in new places, especially abroad, it’s such a brilliant way to not only see, but experience a country and a culture. There’s nothing like sweating on foreign tarmac to bond you to a place! Being minus a bike is never a problem for long so, after trudging round the bike hire outlets on day one, I got lucky. Evolution Bikes supplied me with everything I was going to need:
- A decent Felt Z85 road bike (Shimano 105 drive-chain, compact front cranks)
- A Trek X-Caliber 29er hardtail mountain bike (Shimano Acera, Rockshox 100m forks).
Also included were those essential little extras, bottles, tools, tubes and a helmet that made my head look like a blue hard-boiled egg. Playtime!
Hitting the road
Usually, I enjoy cycling on my own, especially road riding but I was seduced by a guided tour leaving the next day, 60 miles/100km ish which took in a good portion of the island, including the volcanic hills by Timanfaya National Park. Despite the fact I’d only ridden half that distance of late, how could I resist?!
The next morning the wind is blowing a treat as I meet up with Mick (from Bueno Bike Lanzarote) a perennially cheerful and chatty Irishman who’s turned a hobby into a job, guiding cyclists around the abundant roads and trails. Lucky so and so!
Cycling up an away from the coast the view quickly becomes barren and rocky, positively lunar, but it’s also strangely inspiring, the desolation is beautiful as is the almost complete absence of traffic. Over the entire ride I would estimate the number of cyclists easily tripled the number of cars encountered and you can see why. The tarmac is clear, smooth, empty.
Threading through ocean of lava the roads are like causeways through the volcanic landscape, the path at the parting of the red sea, pushing through rocky swells which look set to sweep back in and engulf it at any time.
If you squint a bit, and mentally airbrush out (or in) Bosch’s tortured souls enduring their various afterlife punishments, what remains is a backdrop of towering volcanic cones reflecting red in the sun, earth the colour of ash, red and black.
It’s surreal, it’s hot, it’s windy and it’s one of the most unusual places I’ve ever ridden*.
*Interestingly this construction is not ad hoc. The island’s most famous resident, the sculptor/artist Cesar Manrique was a staunch environmentalist ahead of his time. His influence on the urban and rural development of Lanzarote ensured a cap on high rise buildings, the maintenance of traditional structures and the layout and positioning of roads to work in harmony with the landscape. A policy which has had positive, long-lasting effects on the sympathetic development of the island, seen in few other holiday locales.
There’s an abundance of hills too and the conversation quickly becomes one sided as I opt for breathing over talking during the long climbs. Mick is unperturbed and chats away. God, I hate fit people! But then, cycling that landscape every day you can’t help it. I can see why it’s a training paradise.
A coffee and cake stop at a wonderful local bakery and an emergency chocolate milk stop towards the end of the ride and we finish after a well-earned 62 miles. More than I’ve ridden in quite a while. The only way to top that, a dip in the ocean on the walk home to soak tired muscles. Perfect.
Mountain Biking it up.
Two days later and my legs surprisingly have some life left in them so I meet up with Mick again to head back out, this time off road.
It’s my first ride on a 29er (29 inch wheel) mountain bike and it feels like a cross between riding a bus and a bulldozer.
I’m sitting considerably higher above the ground, the huge wheels cruising over large rocks as if they were little pebbles. It feels big, powerful, I am invincible (sort of).
The downside is there’s not corresponding power-steering. My arm muscles, not that well-developed, are definitely lacking the power to throw the bike around tight turns. In fact, steering in general is a bit lack lustre. This is especially problematic given that the ride starts along a narrow section of coastal track, a dramatic and precipitous rock strewn path along the cliff edge with the sea and plunging rock walls just inches from my right hand side.
I’m utterly terrified of heights and my lack of steering ability on the new bike does little to help as I totter along, embarrassingly cautious and slow as the big rocks throw the wheels off course towards the cliff edge.
Turning inland my heartrate slows somewhat and the 29 inches start to eat up the ground. Hills are fun (nearly).
The welcome coffee and fuelling stop behind us we arrive at a section of single-track known as ‘The Rollercoaster’. Downhill dirt, the trail has a beautiful flow helped by many berms and hindered by few rocks.
The first run down was the exploratory one, after that I spent a happy chunk of time re-riding the rollercoaster, getting to the bottom in a satisfying plume of dust and instantly turning round to ride to the beginning again, like a kid in a theme park, each descent faster with me grinning insanely. Awesome fun.
All too quickly, good things come to an end. It was a wrench leaving the island and some of the best biking I’ve experienced in a while both on and off road. It was definitely one of those trips when all things magically combine to produce something special be it weather, trails, equipment, legs, bike-love, who knows but I’m leaving with a big grin and as usual a full complement of bruises.
I’m always happy to recommend good service and it was received in abundance. Thanks to Claire and Gav at Evolution for the bikes and Mick at Bueno Bike for 2 great tours and some cracking photos!