Majorca for Cycling by Peter Witting
Majorca is a cyclists’ paradise. It has the early season weather, it has a wide range of terrain, it has a wide choice of routes, and despite being a tourist haven, still has quiet roads inland. The advice given is intended to allow you to get the best out of a cycling holiday, with a fixed base in the Puerto Pollensa/Alcudia area. It is not intended to be comprehensive alternative to other sources of information; but the advice and routes are based on visits over more than 5 years by an experienced all-round cyclist.
Although not a racing cyclist, Peter Witting has successfully completed the 1200km Paris-Brest-Paris, won the British Cycle Tourist Competition national title, been awarded a certificate of merit by the Cyclists’ Touring Club, and has been a long standing member of the Rough Stuff Fellowship and the Tandem Club.
Taking your own bike
Up-to-date models can be hired on Majorca, but you would need to reserve your specified machine beforehand, and take your own pedals and saddle. http://www.cyclinginmallorca.comgives access to info on at least one hire business. If you want to take your own machine, ensure when you book the holiday that the airline agree to carry it. Be prepared to pay a standard £15 each way charge; the letter of receipt can then be shown at check in. You may be told the bike etc must be within your overall weight allowance, which is virtually impossible if boxed, but I have never known the bike to be weighed at check-in for a UK package airline flight. Decide in plenty of time if you will need a soft bike-bag, a bike box, or a DIY job using cardboard from a delivery to your local bike shop. At most airports the bike would need to be checked in, and collected from, a separate oversize baggage area.
Don’t depend on the transfer coach being prepared to carry bikes/boxes. Space may not allow, or the pressure from local van drivers may influence the coach drivers! Advice is to ask the holiday rep to speak with the coach driver first. For a group it is advisable to book a van, and split the cost. One firm that advertises in the UK has a websitehttp://www.cyclinginmallorca.com. UK phone is 01773 872720, in Majorca it is 971 28 00 01. Pre-booked 2002 prices are £30 return per person. Steve Palmer Transport also do bulk bike transfers, Majorca number is 971 51 07 78. Other strategies involve leaving bikes at the airport, and returning the next day in a hire car.
Packing up the bike
Protect the frame with pipe insulating foam tubing, and masses of bubble wrap. Tyres can be protected with “Tubular Protectors” from good bike shops. Prevent the fork ends, front & rear, from being squashed by fitting old hubs; else make wooden blocks. Remove the pedals and pack the pedal spanner for re-assembly. Protect the gear mechanism, and gear hanger, either by fitting an ATB gear protector to the old rear hub, or unscrew the mechanism from the frame and bubble wrap and tape to the frame. Leave the chain on the biggest chainring to protect the teeth from being bent, and strap the crank to the chainstay. Remove the saddle and seatpin after noting position! Also remove wheel quick-release squewers, and maybe the bottle cages, and computer (against the cold). Removing the bars from the stem is easy with “ahead” stems. Strap wheels either side of the frame. You may be asked if you have deflated your tyres – they clearly have no knowledge of physics, that modern bike tyres happily operate at around 8 BAR, and another 1 BAR won’t harm them – just say “yes!”. Baggage handlers have been known to totally deflate tyres, before wheeling the bike about the airport.
Before you go
· Batteries – replace them in bike computer, its transmitter, and heart rate monitor kit. They always fail when needed.
· Reset all clocks on computers, heart rate monitors etc, while you have access to the instruction manuals.
· Mobile phone overseas – Visit UK service provider’s website for info on local service providers, print out & take, and get travel facility set up weeks before.
· Check 5-day forecast to decide clothing required – BBC2 Ceefax page 410 seems more reliable than websites.
· You need a Majorca map suitable for cycling, rather than driving; but there is no ideal product. The German 3 language “Hildebrand’s Travel Map” 1:125,000 is preferred to Marco Polo 1:120,000 Holiday Map, but shows some un-rideable roads; the latter does identify roads recommended for cycling, while failing to highlight the “Waterpipe Road”. Ideally have both! Alcudia Tourist Office have cycle routes.
· To protect the maps, cover the front with a sheet of adhesive clear film. Then use self-adhesive coloured dots to mark routes – different colours for different routes – which can be peeled off later.
· When a map is needed, the “Maptrap” is invaluable to clip the map to the handlebars. This is available from CJ Designs, Station Approach, Wormley, Godalming, Surrey, GU8 5TB. Tel/Fax 01428 683302, and also from CTC Shop on 0870 8730069 – ask for the Chris Juden Map Trap.
· Select suitable tyres: Avoid ultra narrow tyres, in order to protect rims when you hit a pothole. Avoid ultra expensive tyres, if they have to be replaced. Avoid cheap tyres, that don’t offer good grip, or puncture resistance. What does that leave? Michelin Axial Carbon 700 x 23 at 8 BAR worked ok, but use common sense.
Things to take
· Toolkit – but not in hand luggage – the pointy bits may be taken from you, making re-assembly difficult. (Be aware that massage oil may also be considered a hazard in luggage).
· Spare Bolts – they tend to break when re-tightened – common with seat bolts, and old-style expander stem bolts; and small bolts can roll down drains.
· Rags – take a bag full – you take them for granted at home. Also old brushes for cleaning.
· Spokes – Especially if you are using exotic new wheel types.
· Inner tubes and fold-up covers – you don’t want to spend your holiday doing repairs.
· Pressure Gauge, and full size pump if mini-pump carried on bike.
· Flashing/continuous lamp for safety in the short tunnels on the hilly routes.
· Bring own cereal bars etc – local items seem to involve chocolate, which melts in jersey pockets.
· Music – Bring own – local radio as bad as anywhere, but try Alcudia Radio 94.7 FM in morning.
· Own pillow unless you can sleep on anything – can be used as padding in bike box!
· Instruction Books for all electronics – Mobile, computer, Music kit, HRM etc – take or copy.
· Your UK “E111 Form” plus photocopies are vital. Keep one with the bike at all times! Also travel insurance policy details. To avoid undue delays waiting around at the state facilities, it’s worth noting the private Salus Medical Centres’ freephone number 900 221 022, or 971 54 85 59 at Alcudia. Show them your insurance papers, and you should be covered. (They say accidents always involve those without their papers!).
· Anthisan Plus or Wasp-eez spray should be carried with you – hornets can sting through lycra shorts while you are riding, even early season.
When You’re There
· Water – You will find everyone drinks bottled water, as the salts in the tap water can even taint a bottle of Isostar! A daily task is to buy a 5 litre water container.
· Isostar – Available in some shops and Pharmacies, but ask for “Eezo-star”! Else try bike shops.
· Energy bars – To avoid chocolate in your pocket from local products, either bring your own or take a trip to a good bike shop. A Spanish favourite sweet is Turron Blande, a soft nougat bar eaten at Christmas, but sold at airport shops all year. It’s too oily to carry, but wonderful with black coffee, and packed with calories!
· Bike Shops – Local shops in Alcudia and Pollensa, and a clothing boutique in Puerto Alcudia. Limited stocks may result in you returning “Mañana”, but fairly reliable. Else take a trip to Gomila’s at Binissalem, or Palo Tunel factory for clothes (see Routes). Other shops at Manacor (Can Nadal) and elsewhere. You may be able to ask the mechanic at a training camp for assistance, if it’s genuine misfortune and not negligence! But don’t forget the gratuity.
· Avoiding Stomach upsets – Wash, dry and sterilise plastic bottles daily; cheap local brandy does the job! Avoiding ice, ice cream etc is standard advice abroad. Red wine has been shown to work every bit as well as over-the-counter remedies, so prevent problems by taking with evening meal! If allergic to seafood, be aware that black rice uses squid ink for the colour.· Language – English is generally understood in the holiday areas, but some Spanish phrases are useful ordering Un Bocadillo, or Una Ensaimada (light pastry whorl) at café/bars in inland villages. They also appreciate your use of some Mallorquin phrases such as Bon Dia, rather than Buenas Dias. Hence the place names can be different in each language.
· Money – There are plenty of cash machines in the tourist areas. Hotels are generally happy to change clients’ money. Banks can be very slow, and have limited opening.
· Communications – Public phones plentiful. Mobiles work well, but Movistar not compatible with BT Cellnet, so get info before departure. Digital satellite now provides access to Sky and other digital services including BBC at many hotels etc. European editions of English papers widely available; also English language Majorca Daily Bulletin – ideal for reading in bar, then stuffing up jersey before big descents! Fax is widely used in preference to the unreliable Spanish postal service. Internet café spotted in Puerto Pollensa, but opening times uncertain.
· Opening Times – You will find groups of tourists staring into the windows of shops that have closed at 1pm, or midday, or 2pm. Never mind the Euros lost by Gomila’s bike shop – they close at 1pm. When you need water, the shop will be closed. Yes, they open later in the day, but can you survive? Holidays and Saints Days also introduce uncertainty. You just have to accept the custom, and beware. There’s always “Mañana”!
· Finding your way – There’s no substitute for “The Knowledge”, as London cabbies will agree. Maps tell only part of the story. Until you have the knowledge after a number of visits, you will be frustrated at every village you try to navigate through. Unfortunately Sa Pobla is one of the worst! Just use the sun, the few signs, much patience, and maybe a few words with the locals; else find someone with “The Knowledge”. Sometimes you can follow signs to the centre, and there find signs to your next village. At all costs avoid the main C713 Alcudia-Palma road; from Palma it is motorway, but east of Inca it is still very busy with coaches and lorries and little room for cyclists.
· Cycling from Palma Airport – A full description from 1998 is on the website of touring info available exclusively to members of the Cyclists’ Touring Club. Recent developments may involve changes. You need to avoid being sent on the flyover to join the motorway into Palma! They suggest you use the tunnel to the left (wrong side) of the flyover; but in 1995 there was an unsigned access road to the right of the entrance route, but also leads towards Palma. Best to try to get info from the airport information bureau, if you can find it.
· Legal Issues – Where there is a cycle path alongside the road, use it; the police may warn you first, then wait around the bend to check. A dozen cyclists may have £500 of tyres at risk from grit and glass, but that is of no concern to the police! And ride in single file if the road has a white line and no cycle path. New legislation, after discussions throughout 2001, needs to be checked. Helmets would be required while touring on lanes between villages, but not in busy towns! In early 2002 this was not being enforced, but you can’t trust insurance policies to pay up if you can be shown to be “negligent”. The same legislation would appear to give motorists priority over cyclists at junctions, but you won’t need warning to trust no one. Vehicles are required to sound horns before blind bends, but seems the exception because of the high proportion of hire cars. If the police are required at an accident, don’t be surprised if a driver suddenly faints – samples can only be taken with the driver’s permission! This happened when an English rider had suffered a fractured pelvis after being hit, and the driver responsible chased by another motorist. Local papers daily carry the gory details that highlight the deplorable driving standards.
· Road Surfaces – The main roads generally have excellent surfaces, as do some of the side roads. Some of the minor roads are heavily patched, and potholed, but nevertheless provide attractive routes for touring. The mountain roads are however deceptive. They can have potholes, so never follow a vehicle too closely on a descent. More crucially they lack grip, even in the dry, and even when climbing! The hard stone chips (granite?) have been polished smooth, so offer no resistance on bends. Imagine you are descending on polished marble, and you’ll get the picture. In the wet it is lethal for cycling – don’t even think of it. In the dry you are still at risk of slipping on grit, mud, pine needles, irrigation water or oil left by olives crushed under car wheels. If you get it wrong, any Armco barrier won’t stop your fall over the edge. If you are lucky you’ll land in the rocks below. If you are unlucky you may find a rusty stake below – yes it did happen to an English rider, who was helicoptered away to hospital. Even the damp ridged concrete on the Soller pass caused a front wheel to slip, and that was on the climb up. But if you ride the hills as if on ice, you should be OK!
Some Suggested Rides
The following routes illustrate the range of possibilities for cycling in Majorca. There are many other roads which can be discovered once you have started to follow these rides; and you’ll want to come back again, though you may decide a triple chain-ring is justified next time! If you want the best training, buy Cycling Weekly in the Autumn and check the adverts for the Spring training camps for next year.