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Planning A Bike Tour In Andalucia

Posted December 5th, 2010

Our next bike tour will be in the Andalucia region of Spain and we’ve spent the last month or so slowly planning it.

Going downhill, but mostly up on this day!

Our last trip to Andalucia looked like this. (January 2007)

What fun! It’s just so wonderful to spread a bunch of maps out on your living room floor and dream. So, after a fair bit of idle dreaming and some semi-serious research, here’s what we’ve decided.

The synopsis: We’ll fly into Madrid in mid-December (we’re flying easyJet: cheap and hopefully bike friendly). We’ll take the train a short distance out of the city and then spend 3 weeks cycling on our new Santos Travelmaster touring bikes. We’ve based large sections of our trip on the TransAndalus mountain bike trail but we don’t want to miss the cities entirely, so we’re also taking in places like Ronda, Granada and Jaen.

The current map goes something like this:

Google Map of Spain Route(click for the interactive version on Google but give it a while to load).

So far it’s a rough guide. We don’t like to plan our trips too carefully, but you get the idea. By creating a GPS track and plugging it into the Bike Route Toaster, we come up with an elevation chart like what you see below. A few mountains, but that’s the way we like it!

Elevation Chart of our Andalucia Bike Tour

How we planned it: We used a variety of sources and techniques to help us plan this trip.

First, we thought about what we’d done before and therefore didn’t want to do twice. That’s why we are skipping out on the area west and south of Seville.

We also considered distance. We’ll be away for 22 days. Two of those days will be taken up as we arrive in and leave Madrid. That leaves potentially 20 cycling days. Inspired by this formula for calculating distances on a bike tour, we decided to make one of our own. Ours is quite simple. We know that:

  • We can usually bike 80km a day without issue
  • Allowing 1-2 days per week for sightseeing and bad weather is a good idea.

By averaging the distance on riding days throughout the week, we arrive at a figure of about 60km per day of holiday.

20 days x 60km / day = about 1,200km

With the region and distance roughly decided, we started to plot a general route, drawing lines on Michelin regional maps (1:400 000 scale) with a highlighter. These maps aren’t super detailed but they do show a lot of back roads and will be fine for most of the on-road riding we do.

We also looked at the maps on the TransAndalus trail website and roughly drew where the trail goes off-road or on back roads too small to be included on the Michelin maps. To actually cycle these roads, we’ll print out more detailed maps for the relevant trail sections from the excellent TransAndalus website.

A little rest on a hot Spanish dayHow did we pick the route itself?

  • We focused on smaller roads, in particular anything marked in white (back roads) or a green strip (scenic route) got preference.
  • We tried to include a mix of countryside and towns or cities. In our experience, it’s nice to have a mix of wilderness and city life. So, we’ll be out in nature for 3-5 days at a time before arriving in a city to wash up, have a good meal and head back out again.
  • We looked for national parks and mountainous areas. Both are favourites of ours.

We also read a few journals and descriptions from other cyclists to get inspired. This included reading descriptions from tour companies (a bit flowery but still good for a general idea of what there is to see) and of course perusing the journals on CrazyGuyOnABike. Finally, we checked out Climate Charts to see what the weather might be like. It could be a touch cold at the higher elevations (we don’t mind, we’ve got hefty sleeping bags and Exped mats) and possibly wet. Let’s hope not!

What we’re taking: Not much. We’re making a new effort to go lighter on our trips, at least on shorter journeys where carrying things like water filters, a million books and tons of tools shouldn’t be necessary. We’ll have back racks only, so our luggage carrying capacity is limited to 2 panniers and a tent.

10 Questions: Bike Touring In Spain

Posted November 16th, 2010

Fin & Zoa GypsyFin & Zoa started a long-term bicycle tour in 2008, with their dogs Jack & PocoLoco.

Part of their 17,000km journey included an extended stay in Spain, and they rate the southern part of the country as one of their top 5 bicycle rides.

In this week’s 10 Questions, they tell us more about their favourite parts of Spain for bike touring, some of the challenges (surprise: Spain can be rainy!) and practical considerations like where they slept and what the food was like.

Read more in 10 Questions: Cycling Around Spain

An audio flashback to Pamplona

Posted May 10th, 2007

They make good use of space!With all the rain the last few days, we had enough time to put together our latest radio show, and even a few hours of sunshine where we were able to record it without the sound of water falling in the background! We hope you enjoy this interview that takes us back to Pamplona, where we spent a very enjoyable day in Aitor and Ibon’s bicycle shop. First we talk to Ibon and then to Txibi, someone who has travelled widely both by bike and on foot. The show is a bit longer than normal, but we felt their thoughts on bicycles and touring were well worth sharing.

If you are going to Pamplona, Aitor & Ibon and their bicycle shop 2.ejkua can be found at Carmen St. 17 in the city, not far from one of the pilgrims hostels for the Camino de Santiago. You can call them by phoning: +34 948 213668


72km Irotz to Saint Jean Pied de Port

Posted April 27th, 2007

Working our way up the Pyrenees passSheep in the fields as we enter France“Grandiose Vista
No, not Microsoft, the view
Biking down the road” — Andrew

“Mountains rise ahead
Sun warms our toes as we bike
To their misty peaks” — Friedel

We took a tip from Keith, a pilgrim we met in the hostel in Pamplona, and spent our morning composing haikus while cycling towards the pass over the Pyrenees and into France. We were quite pleased with our efforts – maybe not up to Japanese expert level but we thought they were pretty good for an amateur attempt. It was a good way to occupy our minds as we pedalled up the hill.

The crossing was actually quite tame, more so than we expected after hearing so much debate from other cyclists on where to cross the mountain range. We feared a killer climb but ended up with a gentle uphill ramble through woodland and then spent most of the day cruising downhill to Saint Jean Pied de Port, a key starting point for the trek to Santiago. It’s nice to be back in France, a country we both love and where we both speak the language. We always feel at home here. It’s our first time in the Pyrenees though so there’s lots to explore.

Just today coming down the mountain we noticed long-haired sheep and a type of pig we haven’t seen before and there are lots of signs for cheese and wine tasting alongside the road. Our progress could slow quite a bit over the coming days! Another pleasant surprise is the return of the municipal campground. We loved these in Portugal as they usually meant clean but cheap camping. Spanish campsites were always privately run and the prices were pretty outrageous so we’re very happy to once again have a reasonable option when we need to clean up after a couple days of wild camping.

In the campground we met Richard, a cyclist on his own and planning to follow the trail to Santiago, before turning south to Porto and then east to Salamanca. We invited him to a dinner of salad, pasta and wine and really enjoyed hearing his tales about other cycling trips (Lands End to John O’Groats and around the Orkney and Hebrides islands) as the rain poured down around us. Our tarp once again came to the rescue and gave us lots of dry space to sit. We hope our evening meal was a sign of a better trip to come for Richard since he was hit by a car on the first day leaving Biarritz! Luckily he wasn’t hurt and we were amazed that he was not too shaken up to continue. In Richard we also found a man in need of a Spanish map (the one he was planning to use was 40 years old, from the honeymoon he and his wife took after their marriage) so we happily gave him our road atlas.

15km Pamplona to Irotz

Posted April 26th, 2007

Seeing through the bikeWe had good intentions of starting out early today and crossing into France and the nuns in the pilgrim hostel where we spent the night certainly made sure we got out of bed in good time. At 6:30am the lights went on in all the bedrooms and, while we rolled over and tried to ignore the inevitable, many pilgrims jumped to their feet, eager to hit the trail. Just an hour later the hostel was nearly empty as the sixty or so people who spent the night there filtered out into the streets of Pamplona to knock off a few more kilometers in their quest to get to Santiago. Our quest was much simpler: coffee.

With the price of a morning cuppa getting more expensive as we go north, we decided to buy a litre of milk and make our own in own of Pamplona’s many public squares. By 9am we were done our coffee and headed off to a bike shop we’d spotted the day before to get some new brake pads and to ask for an opinion on whether it was time to replace our tires so far into the journey. This turned out to be one of the best stops we made during our whole journey. The two brothers who run the shop – Aitor and Ibon – were helpful and quite funny, joking continuously with us as they examined our bikes. In the end we decided we could get a bit more out of our tires, but not today as Aitor and Ibon invited us to lunch. We couldn’t refuse of course and were treated to a wonderful meal of salad, a rice dish with seafood and a desert of soft cheese and fig jam. Delicious!

This was also a wonderful view for us into Basque culture as Aitor and Ibon are very proud Basques and were happy to answer all sorts of questions for us about the language and the history of the Basque people. Late in the afternoon we finally set out from their shop and followed a trail along the Arga river to leave Pamplona. At the trail’s end we found a place to set our tent for the night, before continuing into France tomorrow.