A Bike Tour In Spain: Mud & Mountains

“Go back, go back!”

Andrew is shouting but it’s too late. Friedel is already in the midst of the mud that’s washed over the back roads of Andalucia during the recent heavy rains. Once across the worst of the mess, we stop to inspect the damage.

From the front it doesn’t look too bad….

Muddy tires in Andalucia

But from the side it’s obvious we’re in trouble.

Muddy mess

These wheels aren’t going anywhere. The good news is that we’ve managed to plug our wheels full of mud next to an irrigation channel, so after a mere 30 minutes of “spray treatment” using our water bottles as pressure washers, we’re able to hit the road again. On we roll, through olive groves, and past castles.

Olive Groves north of Jaen

Castle of Berrecuo

We stop briefly in Jaen for a night, to see the city and admire the cathedral.

Jaen Cathedral

Then it’s out early the next morning, following a bike route to Granada suggested to us by cyclists from Jaen. Pedro and Andres, we’re sorry we didn’t get a chance to meet you, but we wouldn’t have found this beautiful road without you!

Andalucia is mountainous. There’s hardly a flat stretch to be found and the climb out of Jaen towards Granada proves to be one of the tougher ascents of the trip. At our hill-climbing speed of about 5km/hour, we see Jaen slowly shrink out of view behind us.

Jaen shrinking out of view

After an hour, we reach a small plateau. It feels like we are cycling in the sky itself.

Cycling In The Sky

We look at this local map, and we quickly realize our climbing is far form over. To paraphrase a quote from the Wizard of Oz: “Toto, we’re not in flat Holland anymore!”

Hills on the map

Time for some sustenance. At this local bakery, we pick up a bag full of muffins and half a kilogram of coconut macaroons. Our cyclists’ appetites have returned!

Spanish Bakery

On the way out of town, we can’t stop marvelling at the small-town life that we see all around us. Sometimes it feels like Spain is in a time warp (in a good way), with images that have been all but lost in other parts of Europe, like these two little girls going to do the morning shopping.

Girls going to do the shopping

As the day progresses, it only gets more interesting. Our road runs out. Literally…

The road runs out

We get our first view of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Sierra Nevadas

And we climb ever higher, stopping to admire the views. Andalucia is hard work on a bike, but the scenery is your reward.

Olive Groves for miles

B&W impression of Andalucia

And there are some friendly locals too 🙂

Cute Dog

The mountains keep coming. They’re steep and long enough that it’s soon clear we can’t cycle from Jaen to Granada (a distance of 90km) in a day. Instead, we find a spot in a pine forest to set up camp. Andrew cooks supper by lamplight, and we rest our legs for the next day’s adventures.

Andrew cooking supper


  1. Graeme Willgress
    4th January 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    It certainly looks worth the effort from my nice comfy chair, lol. Glad you’re havinjg a good time 🙂

  2. Doug W
    4th January 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    Looks like your having a great time and have some beautiful photos to show for it.

    Enjoy the ride!

  3. shane
    4th January 2011 at 8:11 pm #

    Got your nice new bikes dirty already 🙂 I like it!

  4. Ingrid
    4th January 2011 at 10:15 pm #

    Now is the right time to ask you what I wanted to know since you presented your new bikes: why didn’t you decide for disc brakes?

    • Friedel
      4th January 2011 at 10:48 pm #

      Ingrid, we are too worried about disc brakes being damaged (they’re easily bent during transport, for example). Also, I’m not sure how easy it would be to find replacements in remote areas? It’s much simpler to carry a pair of replacement brake pads.

      • Doug W
        6th January 2011 at 1:32 am #

        I’m a diehard disc brakes guy, but to add to Friedel’s comment, disc brakes wouldn’t have prevented that. I hit mud like that once in Utah and that type of clay-based mud clogs up the entire gap between the tire and frame (not to mention fenders) and fork. Sure, it was good to know that the mud wasn’t on my brake pads, but that was the least of my worries. I had to drag a suddenly 70-pound bike back up the hill and spent nearly an hour cleaning the mud off before it turned to cement.

      • Hans
        18th January 2011 at 9:24 am #

        Besides, the more the braking power is away from the center of the wheel, the more effective.

    • sz
      6th January 2011 at 11:20 am #

      Because Santos doesn’t offer any disk brakes 😉

      • friedel
        6th January 2011 at 1:10 pm #

        Don’t worry, we invested enough money in these bikes that if we’d wanted disk brakes, we would have bought bikes with disk brakes 🙂 They just aren’t something that’s appealed to us for touring.

  5. Shaun
    5th January 2011 at 2:38 pm #

    It’s lovely scenery. Back in 1991 I had a cheap flight to Malaga from the UK and a week off.

    I rode up from the coast to Granada, rode about Prado Lano / GR420 for a few days offroad on my mountain bike and then back down to Malaga cooking my rims on the descent – Maguras are a win there. Disks would be toast in no time at all.

    Just watch out camping in the hills in Andalucia. They have wild boar!

  6. Dusty Track
    18th January 2011 at 12:10 pm #

    I love the photographs of rural Spain. I walked last Summer in the North of Spain and it reminds me a lot of the rural life. Hope to do a cycle tour one day to get a different perspective. I know what you mean about ‘time warp’ yes, in a good way. Thanks for a great web site.

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