28 April 2013

A Monday morning in the Sierra de Madrid

The first proper bike I got as a teenager was a mountain bike. I do not think road cycling was (or still is, for that matter) as popular as mountain biking in Spain. We don't have a vast network of tiny lanes like the UK, France or Germany, and so the roads always seemed intimidating to me.

That bike was made of cromoly steel, had no suspension, no v-brakes and no fancy accessories like today's rigs. We did not have GPS and only one of us had a cycling computer. Back then, when I first took on the the Madrid trails we did not have personal computers, and our only access to good routes was cycling magazines and other cyclists that we encountered on the Sierra.

One of our favourite routes used to start from Cercedilla train station, where we would cycle up to the Puerto de la Fuenfría (Fuenfría Pass) along the Camino de la República, and back down the valley on pretty technical singletrack full of roots and boulders. I still remember how sore my wrists were going down on those trails without suspension, but it was of course all great fun.

The start of the ride
It has been a while since I last cycled on those trails, and so a quick ride up and down the area was on my agenda. After I secured a borrowed bike for a few days, I set out to adjust a few things on it before hitting the trails. My mtb skills are definitely not up to scratch, and so I had to choose an easy route to get me back safely on a bike that I am not used to.

At 9:30 am, with the thermometer indicating 12 degrees C or so, I commenced going up the first few hills on the road of the Camino de la República. The first thing I noticed was that those massive hills that I had imprinted on my memory, were no longer that big. In fact, they felt fairly easy to cycle up. While on the road, I learnt that not only this is the official Camino de Santiago path from Madrid, but also that this road was built  as the only pass from Cercedilla on to the other side of the Sierra. It was also intended to be passable all year round, even in quite adverse conditions, and was almost completely sheltered from the high winds of the area by the high pine forests. Equally, they protect you from the heat in the summer.

Leaving Cercedilla for the Fuenfría Valley
May be nice to do the Camino from home, sometime
The road climbs steadily from about 1100 to 1900 meters for 12 km. The first 6 km or so are steeper than the rest, but nothing compared to the 25% hills that are so common in the UK. Sure, they do not go on for 12 km, but they do tire you out more quickly.

Climbing on the middle ring felt easy, and so I made good progress until the first mirador Vicente Aleixandre (view point) two thirds into the climb. I was still quite warm, so spent a bit of time taking in the views of the whole Northwest corridor of Madrid.

Pine forests to shelter you from the wind
View point Vicente Aleixandre (~ 1600 m)
After the miradores the climb eases out considerably. I rolled at almost 20 km/h all the way till the top, where another lone cyclist was taking in the great views. After a couple of minutes I started shivering - the temperatures were surely in single digits, and you could feel a breeze coming from the valley. Luckily I had brought a rain jacket and some long finger gloves.

Interesting cloud formation
Overlooking to the West on to the "El Escorial" area
Mirador de la Reina (Queen's view point)
I had made such good progress on the climb that I had lots of time in hand for my train back home. It was pretty much all downhill from here on, but I was going to take a different route that I hadn't done in the past, so wasn't sure what to expect. There even was some snow leftover from recent snow storms from a couple of weeks ago!

Probably the last snow I will see until the 2014 winter
Most of the route is on easy trails like this one
The downhill was a bit trickier than expected. Although the terrain wasn't particularly challenging, it was full of boulders and the front suspension of my borrowed bike did not seem to work well. Also, the disc brakes squeaked and vibrate quite significantly, making for some unpleasant braking and some rest stops were needed. It was also freezing cold now, as I was now on the Northern side of the Sierra, in the province of Segovia, and I wasn't able to warm up much in the shade. 

At some point the wide path became a singletrack, which was a nice change. My handling wasn't at its best after so many miles on roads, so had to take it fairly easy and dismount and push on a number of occasions. 

Heading into Segovia
Not sure what bird this was, but was fun to see it thermal flying
Shade and Northern face made for very cold conditions
The last 15 km or so included some gentle climbing if it not were for the very rough terrain, with lots of roots and big boulders that made for some sections that I had to walk. As I was still feeling quite cold, I ran up the hills and managed to warm up a bit.

Up towards Cercedilla on the Segovian side

Some walking was needed
The downhill into Cercedilla was a welcome sight, especially since the pine forests disappeared and let some sunshine warm me up. Eventually I made it back with just under an hour to spare, so had no option but to head into town and have a couple of cañas.

It had been a great day out and a reminder of how good mountain biking can be in Madrid.

Last few km back into Cercedilla

The infamous caña y tapa

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