Mountain Biking in Axarquia, Spain

The last time I hired a bike in Spain must have been back in 1977 when my girlfriend (now my wife) and I hired a tandem while holidaying in the Costa Blanca. I have been back to Spain many times since and never thought of hiring a bike to do some serious cycling until 2011 when my wife, her sister, brother in law and I booked a week in Nerja on the Costa del Sol. I love the sun but unlike the women I can’t abide lying under it all day and there is only so much shopping a guy like me can handle, fortunately, Brian, my brother in law is of exactly the same attitude. We thought it would make a pleasant change to stick on a short sleeve cycling jersey and baggy MTB shorts and find some altitude.

Although the Costa’s are the obvious location choice when visiting Spain, I am always drawn towards the Sierra’s particularly since I was told that “Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe”. While there will many ways to prove or disprove that statement, there is no getting away from the fact that there are shit load of mountains there. So looking do a day’s mountain biking my first point of call was to type “MTB Siarra Navada” into Google, well I knew that Nerja was fairly close to the Seirra Navada range which is home and mainland Spain’s tallest mountain “Mulhacen” at 3,478 metres, I figured there must be some trails near there. After a couple of clicks I stumbled upon a few web sites; one called switch-backs.com was located in a village called Bubion, elevation 1,378 metres, that’s 6 metres higher than Ben Nevis. While it ticked all the boxes, the trails looked really awesome on the video and the bikes were a good quality full suspension job, we were slightly deterred by the safety and insurance cover requirement. We weren’t really looking for anything that arduous, didn’t fancy Spanish hospital food and deterred by the length time it could take getting there negotiating the windy ass roads into the mountains.

After several more clicks I found and contacted sedikisandalusie.com who operated from an out-of-the-way base just a little north of Frigialina, elevation 320 metres. This was about a 15 minute drive from our villa and they offered a guided tour Axarquria on and off road, there was no insurance or body armour required and there was Spanish Tapas at the end of the ride. We booked the ride via email opting for a Monday morning 26th September; 9am start and was emailed the driving directions from Nerja to the meeting point at start of the ride.

On Monday morning we drove up into the hills past the white house’s of Frigialina then took left turn onto a narrow twisting road and arrived at the location, a villa at the edge of a small avocado plantation. We were greeted by Harald who was checking over the bikes, we had a short discussion about the ride and what to expect. I switched on my GPS unit to map the route, picked up a bike then rode back up the road we had just driven down. At the top of the road we turned left onto the MA-9102 up to the Hotel Los Caracoles where we headed right onto a dirt track. The track wound down hill to another tack that eventually took us to the outskirts of Torrox, here we crossed a bridge doubled back climbing on a dirt road towards the mountains.

By this time we had done a combine climb of over eight hundred metres and the heat was starting to get the better of me, it was over 30 degrees Celsius and I had virtually emptied my 2 litre water bag and the fatigue was really setting in. I just had to stop to take a breather, one of the obvious problems of riding in Spain is the heat and for this reason most of the cycle trip organisers will only operate in early or late season when the days are cooler. Harald had brought some energy snacks, sugar coated Belgian waffles and nutty muesli. I also had some bananas and a couple of 500cl bottles of water which I had frozen overnight, these were now melting nicely. Ah, to feel the ice cold water on me lips and pour it on my head and splash it in my face was just heaven.

We continued to ascending another 250 metres up the dirt path then onto the A-7027 road towards Competa. I could now clearly see road descend but I had feeling that I was travelling on the Spanish version of Electric Brae, that’s the weird hill in Scotland that looks like it’s going uphill but bikes freewheel down. I had to literally pedal down the hill to the dirt track where Harald and Brian were waiting for me. It was at this point nearly 20 kilometres into the ride that we discovered that the rear brakes had been binding slightly, no wonder I was absolutely knackered. Once the problem was fixed we continued along a dirt path down to ford into National Park "Sierra de Tejeda" then uphill to El Acebuchal, a village abandoned 1949 by order of General Franco and rebuilt in 1998. We continued to climb out of El Acebuchal to Quatro Caminos then took a right turn down a dirt track back to MA-9102, then took the narrow road back though the Avocado Groves to Haralds Villa.

According to the GPS data we had traversed total accents of 1,945 metres over a distance of 31.8 kilometres in temperatures upward of 30 degrees Celsius. So it goes without saying that we didn’t take much encouragement to get stuck into the cold San Miguel and tapas prepared by Haralds wife, Gwenny.