Biking Spain's Canary Islands

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By Jay Jacobson (member since the 1990's)

My 30th Backroads cycling tour in December turned out to be one of the most
challenging in my life.  There were plenty of big climbs and some prolonged downhills
but hardly any flat stretches!

Somewhat resembling the Hawaiian volcano lava setting with high deserts, snow capped mountains, canyons and cacti and downhills ending at beach-studded Atlantic coastlines.  It was indeed a scenic feast.

Our group of 26 cyclists (about the maximum size of a Backroads group) hailed from all U.S. regions and was comprised mostly of business owners and executives and their wives. There were two families including high school and college students and two solo women and five men.

We were supported by a Backroads staff of 2 very capable and multilingual trip leaders,
Jakub and Eva and their several assistants who drove 3 vehicles and performed other duties.

In its inaugural year Backroads is running this gorgeous five night/six day trip a number of times in December and January.  The temperature was always between 60 and 75 and it didn’t rain at all while we were on our bikes—perfect cycling weather!  BTW this weather is typical for the Canaries all year round.

The price of this expedition is about $4500, which includes deluxe lodging, most (excellent) meals, use of a state-of-the-art well maintained titanium bike (triple of course), guide services and well researched and planned routes.  Extras could include a single room supplement, tips, travel insurance, some alcoholic beverages and airfare.  Based on the quality of all the services provided I felt that the cost was worth it.

The islands are located just off Northern Africa in the Atlantic, a 21/2 hour flight from mainland Spain..  We met our group in Las Palmas, the major town on Gran Canaria Island.

We were shuttled in a Backroads van through some urban or otherwise bicycle-unfriendly stretches.  The vans were always available to carry tired or slower cyclists.  Incidentally almost all of the members of our group (M/F & all ages) performed very well!

The roads were mostly very good and the motorists were always very courteous to us bikers—maybe because it was Christmas but I can’t remember any problems or tensions at all with drivers.  I didn’t see any oxcarts and this island is definitely not a third world area.  It had no apparent major infrastructure issues.  The islands’ vast tourist industry enjoys being Europe’s closest destination with these mild temperatures.  There were some beach areas crowded with European “holiday makers” but they seemed to be in a different world from us
Unlike them, we were in remote interior areas much of the time.

On the morning of our 4th day, we flew 30 minutes to another major island, Tenerife.  We entered El Teide National Park, the world’s second most visited national park (after Yellowstone).  Cycling through a stunning red/orange lava background we had a 30 kilometer downhill.

Unlike almost all the other roads we used, this one was rough and had loose gravel, no guard rails or shoulders, was narrow and had somewhat heavy auto traffic.  Just below these shoulderless and guard rail less road were embankments or precipices of 50 feet or more with sharp lava rocks.  For me that protracted descent was harrowing.  As soon as I approached the start of the downhill my bike seemed to fly!  I had to strain my hands, fingers and wrist to control the brakes.  Several times it was simply impossible to stop.

Eventually I opted to take a biking hiatus and rode in one of the support vans until we reached a point where the road conditions seemed to have improved from a safety standpoint.  Jakub, the leader (who was also my guide on last year’s tour in Majorca) made a brake adjustment on my bike which seemed to be helpful. By the end of that day all the conditions I mentioned seemed to improve and Day 5 and 6 were nearly perfect cycling days.

A total of 220 challenging miles in 4 full and 2 half days were available to the ambitious
cyclist.  A few days after I returned I was on a NYCC ride—River Road in Alpine, N.J. seemed to be a piece of cake.

Contact the writer at: [email protected]

cycling trips