Cycling in Spain

General information and useful tip

Cycling in Spain

Spain is one of the foremost cycling countries in Europe, where cycling is a serious sport and a relaxing pastime. Bicycles ( bicicletas) are inexpensive in Spain, where you can buy a men’s 21-speed mountain bicycle ( bicicleta de montaña) from a supermarket.

Bicycles should be fitted with an anti-theft device such as a steel cable or chain with a lock. If your bicycle is stolen, report it to the local police. Bicycles can be rented in major cities and most resorts by the hour or day. Not surprisingly in a country with so many hills, mountain biking is a popular sport and bikes can be rented in many mountain resorts and can even be taken on specially-adapted chair lifts to the tops of mountains.

Cycling in Madrid and other cities can be dangerous and isn’t recommended (if you cycle in cities, you should wear a smog mask, a crash helmet and a crucifix). In addition to the hazards of traffic and pollution in towns and cities, cyclists must contend with the often debilitating heat, interminable hills and poor roads in many areas. However, cycling is usually pleasant in coastal areas and the flatlands outside high summer. Cyclists must use cycle lanes where provided (although there are few in Spain) and mustn’t cycle in bus lanes or on footpaths. Spanish motorists usually give cyclists a wide berth when overtaking (but don’t count on it), although tourists aren’t always so generous, particularly those towing caravans.

It isn’t necessary to wear expensive sports clothing when cycling, although a bike helmet is advisable for all riders. Head injuries are the main cause of death in bicycle accidents, most of which don’t involve accidents with automobiles, but are a result of colliding with fixed objects or falls. Always buy a quality helmet that has been approved and subjected to rigorous testing. Reflective clothing is also advisable. Take particular care on busy roads and don’t allow children onto public roads until they’re competent riders.

Cycling races in Spain

Cycling is a popular competitive sport in Spain where over 5,000 annual cycling races and events are staged at all levels throughout the country. These include many professional races such as the tour of Spain ( Vuelta de España  – in English, French and Spanish), the third most important world cycle race after the tours of France and Italy, is in its 60th year and is held over three weeks in September/October. Other national races include the tour of Andalusia and the tour of the Basque Lands. Spain has a number of top cycling teams, including Euskaltel-Euskadi and Illes Balears.

Top cyclists in Spain include Pedro Delgado, winner of the Tour de France in 1988, Miguel Indurain, Spain’s greatest cyclist, who won the Tour de France from 1991 to 1995, Oscar Pereiro and Carlos Sastre, second and fourth respectively in the Tour de France in 2006.

Madrid (as well as most other large towns and cities) has an annual bicycle fiesta in May when the roads are closed to vehicles and taken over by some 300,000 to 400,000 cyclists of all ages. There are road and track cycling clubs throughout Spain, although aspiring champions should bear in mind that they must be extremely fit to join organised trips over mountain routes.

For information about clubs and competitions contact the Spanish Cycling Federation (Federación Española de Ciclismo), C/de Ferraz, 16-5º, 28008 Madrid (915-400 841, ). Many companies organise cycling holidays in Spain, including TurEspaña, Spain’s national tourist board. Useful books describing many beautiful cycle routes in Spain are España en Bici by Paco Tortosa and María del Mar Fornés (RBA), Cycle Touring in Spain by Harry Dowdell (Cicerone Press) and The Trailrider Guide: Spain: Single Track Mountain Biking by Nathan James and Linsey Stroud (Revolution Publishing).

This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain.
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