Bikepacking Southern Spain: The Hard Way (part 1)

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La primera transmisión from a bikepacking trip across southern Spain via the GR7, TransAndalus, and other impromptu diversions.

Our first report from an attempt to cross southern Spain via the GR7, one of Spain’s long-distance footpaths that runs from the southern tip of Spain to France…

Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus

  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus

One week ago we landed in Madrid with the goal of taking a train to the GR7 trailhead. From there, we’d devote ourselves to following the exact route… cycling, pushing, and plodding along every inch of the GR7, covering as much distance as we could prior to our mid-December deadline. We projected the terminus would be in Valencia, or maybe Barcelona, if our legs didn’t fall off first. Like all good adventures, surprises have popped up, requiring us to change some plans and alter our trajectory. Instead of sticking with a pre-determined route, things are gonna get a little more interesting.

Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus

The familiar GR red and white markings.
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus

The first two adventure curveballs came before setting our feet to the pedals. It took two days to get one of the bikes passed through customs. After we finally got the bikes put together, we had to change our start location. Several rail lines were closed for renovation, including the two that would make it possible to get to Tarifa, with bikes. Spain’s high speed trains don’t allow bicycles unless they are in a tiny parcel (i.e. folding bikes in a bag); the key is to use the Media Distancia trains. So we rerouted to Cadiz where we would begin on the TransAndalus in order to get to the GR7.

Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus

Lunch in a grove of giant cork oaks.
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus

Before we get too far into the ride, a little background. We cycled in Spain almost two years ago, taking on the GR48 and part of the TransNevada. In addition to those routes, we also heard of the TransAndalus and several other smaller routes. Bikepacking options abound here in Andalusia, and they all seem like promising and tempting off-road cycling routes. But, with our limited insight, the GR7 stuck out as the most interesting and comprehensive way to transect the country.

Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus

  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus

The GR7 is a long-distance footpath that begins in Tarifa, the southern most point of western Europe. From Tarifa, the route runs across Andalucia, Spain’s most southerly autonomous community, then northeastward through Murcia, Valencia, and Catalonia. From Catalonia, the GR7 winds its way into France, then Andorra, and back to France, where it reaches it conclusion in the Alsace region of northern France. This historical route is undoubtedly beautiful.

Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus

Both of our 27+ bikes are proving perfect for the mixture of rocky trails, rough forest roads, and piste: Gin on the Jamis Dragonslayer and I on a Marin Pine Mountain 2 (more on these later.
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus

However, the GR7 is a walking route. This means steep climbs, boulder fields, steps, and other such non-bicycle friendly bits and bumps. Most cyclists have just nodded when we tell them our goal. Perhaps they think they’ve misunderstood us… our mastery of the Spanish language being as absolutely non-masterful as it is. Otherwise, I think we’d be getting a lot more looks of bewilderment.

Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus

The typical tostada con tomate y aciete breakfast… loading up on olive oil has proven to be a great way to start the day.
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus

Fortunately, when entering the picturesque town of Ubrique, we met a friendly cyclist who, in addition to sharing his lovely home for the night, gave us a much needed “talking to”. Juan, co-developer of cycloturismo.sur, offered us this bit of advice. To paraphrase: the GR7 is a hiking route. The TransAndalus is the cyclists’ response to that route. There are other great cycling-specific routes that closely follow the GR7. They’ll be way more enjoyable to ride.

Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus

Yep, the GR7.
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus

So, that’s the new plan. With many a map and gpx in hand, we’re going to cobble together a GR7/alt bike track to work our way northeast. The rest in photos and captions. Stay tuned for more from the GR7.

Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus

  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus

Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus

  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • cycloturismo.sur
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus

5 Tips for Bikepacking in Andalusia

  • 1. Get there by Media Distancia Trains. They allow you to roll your bikes on and off, anytime.
  • 2. Enjoy the cuisine. Tapas, huevos tortillas, fresh local goat and sheep cheeses, free-range Ibérico pork. All make excellent fuel, and in rural Spain, it’s easy to eat on the cheap.
  • 3. Use some of the great resources to plan your trip. Like TransAndalus, and Cicloturismo.sur.
  • 4. Avoid the rains. We’ve been lucky, but the mud in these mountains can eat drivetrains.
  • 5. Time your rides around towns. If you time your daily rides just right, you can roll through a village and catch their late lunch from 2-4pm. Conversely, it’s also nice to time their breakfast (you can get a coffee and tostada for less than $2 US).

Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus

Into the Parque Natural de Grazalema.
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus

Gear that’s working

Not a complete list, but here’s some gear choices that have impressed, so far. More on these and additional gear selections soon.

  • Surly wool. We both brought Surly wool zip jerseys and have proven that you can wear them for many sweaty days, and they don’t develop a smell. Their socks are great as well.
  • WTB Trail Boss 3.0 Tires. Fast rolling, grippy and tough; love them so far.
  • Marin Pine Mountain 2. I am really enjoying the 27+ platform, and the Pine Mountain 2 has a great sure-footed geometry for multi-day bikepacking.
  • Jamis Dragonslayer. Another 27+ chromoly steed; Gin finds it to be her most comfortable bike to date.
  • OR Versaliner Gloves. A nice warm glove with an optional weatherproof glove… great for winter camping and riding.
  • Orange Seal Endurance Sealant. No flats yet; and this is acacia country.
  • Revelate Terrapin V2. The air release valve on the removable dry bag is killer.
  • Zpacks Solo Down Sleeping Bag and Katabatic Alsek 22. Both of these UL down bags are incredibly light and warm.

Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus

Gin running down bacon.
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus
  • Shimano XT 1×11. Perfect, although on the steeps I could use one more gear.

Bikepacking Spain, GR7, TransAndalus

Coming to you live from a cheap hotel room in Ronda… with these badass blankets.

Tags

  • Nate Nykamp

    When I look at the pictures, I’m filled with a strange feeling. I can only describe it as wanting to smash my head through the monitor in a desperate attempt to get out there RIGHT NOW.

    Keep up the good work.

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    That’s our goal! Thanks!

  • http://www.uninspiredramblings.com/ Chris

    Ahhh this takes me back to last year… And somehow you are testing both of the off the shelf 27+ bikes that I’m considering at the moment. Awesome! I will await more on the Jamis and Marin, with my hand twitching around my wallet…

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Did you do the full TransAndalus? Both bikes are great by the way; I am loving the Marin, and Gin the Dragonslayer. Too bad we’re not the same size as it would be nice to switch and compare…

  • http://www.uninspiredramblings.com/ Chris

    I think all other things being equal, the Dragonslayer might sway it for me just based on the name…! Although I wondered whether it would feel weighty… and the Marin also?

    I did most of the northern part of the TransAndalus… I picked it up close to Beas de Segura (NE of Jaen) and rode West, detouring into Cordoba on GR-48 and local roads. Followed GR-48 from Cordoba to pick up the TransAndalus again just East of Cazalla de la Sierra and then stayed on it all the way to the coast just south of Huelva.

    I had the same experience in some parts of France and Spain as you, including on GR7 further north in Catalonia and Valencia. At times it became very clear that the GR routes were most definitely walking routes. And whilst there is some challenge in hauling a loaded bike up a goat track, it does get old fairly quickly when you’re doing it day in day out on a long trip. I definitely found more enjoyment riding the mountain biker’s response to these routes (eg the GTMC in France and the TransAndalus in Spain). Would love to go back and do the southern stretch.

    My TransAndalus related posts are here: http://www.uninspiredramblings.com/category/routes/transandalus/

    Beautiful photos as always.

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Thanks Chris. That name is pretty awesome. Look at what components suit you on the bikes as well. The DS has a sliding rear which could accommodate a Rohloff (if and when they introduce the 142 thru-axle with a boot extender plate. The Marin has a sweet 1×11 XT drivetrain, which I am really enjoying. More food for thought.

    Regarding the TA, maybe we can colloborate and get that route up. It actually shares trail with the GR7 quite a bit in this section… we may duck onto it through a couple more sections as well.

  • http://www.uninspiredramblings.com/ Chris

    Yes – the Paragon dropouts look good… definitely would help the adaptability in the future.

    Definitely up for doing something on the TransAndalus route with you. I think I may have been meant to send you some info on the Westcountry Way also. I have the photos, just need to get some info down.
    (The last two months since Colorado have involved mostly work … *smashes head into monitor just like Nate*)

    Enjoy Spain!

  • http://www.offroute.ca Skyler

    BTW, steel 148mm spaced frames can be “replaced” (I.e. professionally bent) to 142mm, and then converting to 135 is only a matter of swapping for other pmw dropouts.

  • http://www.uninspiredramblings.com/ Chris

    Hmm.. So my existing Rohloff could potentially be used?

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Or semi-professionally ;). That said, 142 Rohloff will be out in January.

  • http://www.shanecycles.com Shane

    Brilliant comment and certainly the way I feel too.

    I’m hoping to find time this winter (fat chance) to do the Northern part of the Transandalusia. I did parts of the Southern half last winter: http://www.shanecycles.com/transandalucia-pt1-seville-cadiz/

  • mikeetheviking

    These both look like good bike choices for that terrain. Glad to see these being run through the ringer. Looking forward to reviews.

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Definitely… digging 27.5+/B+/27+ or whatever you want to call it.

  • http://www.shanecycles.com Shane

    Copy/paste ” info” from my blog for others:

    Random thoughts on cycling the Transandalucia mountain bike trail:

    1. First of all a big thanks to the volunteers from http://www.transandalus.es who have put together awesome, accurate and detailed route guides including good gps tracks, all organised by province and FREE. This takes all the hard work out of trip planning and navigation. The forum and Facebook page are friendly and the volunteers are eager to give tips and advise.

    2. The route was not quite what I’d expected. I had hoped for more single track, the route was mainly good quality dirt roads with some quiet tar roads, often only a couple of kilometers single track/ mountainbike route per day. That said if there was more track and less road it would take quite a long time to complete the full 2000km route.

    3. Do you need mountain bike experience? Nope, I had non and had only ridden my new mtb 50km (though I do have a lot of experience riding crappy dirt roads). The few really really white knuckle downhill parts are short and not a problem to walk your bike.

    3. Does my bike need shocks…..? If you have them fine, if not fine too.

    4. Cycling in winter…..? Probably better to go a month or two later than I did (I was there late Jan to mid feb).

    5. Language…..Not a lot of Spanish in the mountains speak English so if you speak some Spanish its handy. I don’t and got by, the people were generally friendly and patient with the dumb tourists too lazy to learn Spanish before going on holiday.

    6. Accommodation out of season is reasonably priced as is eating out(single room in a hotel 20-30 euro, menu of the day around 10).

    7. Bike shops can be few and far between, spare brake blocks can be very handy when descending 1000-2000m a day.

    8. The route is rarely technically difficult, and rarely too physically demanding (though some climbs feel endless). The physical challenge is mainly the fact that if you want to cycle more than 50km a day you will be climbing 1200-2000m a day in Malaga/Granada.

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Thanks Shane!

  • Rob Verhelle

    So I’m not the only one having hard times with the Spanish railway network. While reading your post I’m kind of dwelling the streets of Valencia awaiting my train to Murcia, with the bike fully loaded. Just did half of the Grand Traversee du Massif Central and it’s taking me 3 days/7 trains to get me there. Enjoy guys!

  • http://www.offroute.ca Skyler

    I also already own a 135mm rolloff and my strategy would be to just swap out the drop outs for qr, and clamp the hub in. But, old school pro-shops with experience from the change of road hub widths over the years often have the tools to respace steel frames with some precision.

  • Alberto y Lucy

    Nice one! If you are still in Iberian-pork country, try and get the “pluma” or “secreto” cuts from a good carnicería – pan fry them briefly and eat them straight away. In my opinion, the tastiest and juiciest meat you can find. Also, for those who do not know and plan to get around Spain with bikes, it´s often very easy and relatively inexpensive, if not free of charge, to get them on the bus. Sometimes they do ask you to wrap the bike in some sort of plastic (bin bags or cling flim).

    The title should read “la primera transmisión” :). Cheers and keep the photos coming!

  • Christian

    Did you miss Rohloff on this trip? I have a Rohloff Pugsley for bikepacking and love it, but I’m not sure if I would add Rohloff to one of those new delicious 27.5+ off-road tourers if I decided I need one more machine.

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Ah yes, Secreto! Interesting point on the bus… might be a good option to return to Madrid; thanks! … and thanks for the Spanish correction :)

  • http://pedalspacksandpinots.wordpress.com/ Ben Handrich

    Ahhh, a classic ‘pedaling nowhere’ style entry – this post brings me back to the days you were touring Zambia, Malawi, Morocco and beyond. And just like those posts, I sat down with my morning coffee and was whisked away into the Spanish hills right alongside you. Thanks for sharing Logan. I’m glad you guys are back on the trails again.

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Thanks Ben! Glad you enjoy the ‘off the road’ style of writeup …

  • Bernat Vilaginés

    Hi Logan, if you get to the Pyrenees, north-east, north from Ripoll, we will be happy to host you. Cheers!

  • Booz

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