Describing Mallorca to another cyclist is a lot like recounting a well known play, like Hamlet. The Island’s virtues has indeed been so well documented over the years that it’s switchbacks and col’s will feel familiar even to a newcomer. But therein lies the charm. The place is so convenient and loaded with everything that all a returning visitor needs is a fresh pair of legs and a bag of kit. Like the old adage goes, the island will provide.
Day 1: Orient and Soller
After having caught the 6am flight out of Copenhagen we landed on the Island of Bikes at 10am. Unfazed, we were on our way from our basecamp in Alaro to the first climb of the week. We didn’t expect to be riding at all on the first day as there’s usually something broken, missing, late or forgotten. But there we were, rolling the first few clicks to the classic starter climb of the week – Col d’Orient.
Now, before we go further, I should probably describe the village of Alaro to you. It’s smack in the middle of the island but right at the foot of the mountain range that stretches along the north western coast. As such you have both Soller, Orient and Batalla within well under an hour of riding and endless access to the flat land roads.
Anyway, for our appetizer, and since it was Viv’s first time, I thought it would be fitting to just put her right into the thick of it. The charm of Mallorca is that you don't have to traverse suburbs or fight through busy urban centers to get to a climb. So within minutes the road started to pitch up towards the Orient valley.
Rest? Nah, Ride!
It’s by local standards nothing special. However, it’s a great intro for someone who’s just sat down on the island for the first time.. Orient takes you to Honor and from there it’s a swift and winding descent that ends in the amazingly scenic Bunyola – a picturesque little town with it’s orange juice cafes that we shall leave for some other time. Bunyola offers crossroads to the south or for you to continue up the Island's classic climb of Soller.
Why not? Keeping you within a forgiving 6-7% and well within the range of an 11-25, the innumerable switchbacks among grazing goats were the perfect way to dust off any remaining cobwebs. A quick stop at the top for ice cream and then back home again for some much needed zzz’s after having been up at 03 to drag bike boxes to the airport.
Day 2: Puig Major
Like yesterday, we headed back over Orient and Soller to scratch up some extra elevation before tackling Puig Major from the west. Going down the back of Soller is a crash course in break zones and accelerating out of corners, if you are into that stuff. Or, it’s just an excellent opportunity to snap shots covering 2-3 ramps at the same time. The last stretch into Soller is incredibly fast but as the mountain road has joined up with the main pipe our speed slows as the traffic starts to get heavier.
As a preamble for Viv, I had spent some time hyping up Soller and Bunyola. It’s the island's highest peak – although the last 400 meters of elevation up the fire road are reserved for the military.
Being relatively benign in gradient makes the Puig one of the few climbs on the island that has you ascend fast and high enough to get some buzz in your ears from elevation and that familiar increase in pace of breath as the air thins out ever so slightly at around 800m above sea level. There is a bizarre end to the ascent with a quick dive into a tunnel that keeps going uphill for a hundred meters or so before it spits you out on a short flat next to the reservoirs. The descent from Puig Major down the east side of the mountain range is very fast and rather sketchy. Keep your wits about you and watch out for the goats patrolling the area.
A playground for cyclists?
One of the great things about Mallorca is the sheer flexibility of the island.
As you land under the white arches of the George Blau aqueduct you have the choice to either sit down at the crazy busy cafe, turn west again to Sa Calobra or head east down the mountain through col de sa Batalla. Or indeed, go back up Puig Major for a second serving and and to enjoy the incredibly entertaining descent down the west face. I struggle to recall a mountain range with these many options available within just a few clicks. It’s like the island was put together by cyclists for cyclists.
Anyway, to keep with the story, we went homewards down the Batalla which is hands down the most scenic peace of forest-covered road on offer. Immaculate tarmac, sweeping views over the valley, and tight switchbacks that keep you smiling for the descent.
Day 3: Sau Creu
A quick nip south to the outskirts of Palma to latch onto a military road turned glorified cycle path over and through Sa Creu. Entering what looks like a cycle path only slightly wider through a military complex is the humble beginnings of 100k of back-to-back epic sights. It’s one of those half-desert half-pine forest biotopes that is so common on the Balearic islands. A lack of air and a toasty chalk white floor is easy to forgive with a pitch black strip of perfect tarmac snaking it way up through what can only be described as some sort of zen garden for climbers.
We kept south heading through Calvià and Es Capdellà which serves up some pretty epic Costa Rican looking jurassic park roads. Past Capdellà the road kicks up again through a pass that was a lot rougher in surface and weather than the previous ones. The walls on col Capdellà are loose, porous and quite colorful and much like everything in the south west corner of the island the place feels rougher. It started raining on us just as we crested the pass, so we didn’t stress and took our sweet time descending the west face of the ridge but kept smiling throughout at the amazing switchback bonanza and cute villages dotting the hillside.
No Shortcuts. No Issue Here.
Landing in Andratx we turned to the coast road and fought the wind up the shoulder of the island. The Ma-10 stretch between Andratx all the way up to Banyalbufar is something that is both quite wild and precious at the same time. There is a lot of exposure to the mediterranean wind but there is frequent respite to be had in the twists and turns the road takes.
Everything you could possibly hope for on a ride is really on offer here. Longer climbs mixed with shorter punchy ones, road side cafes in villages, landslide shelter tunnels and even little castles and forts clung to the steep hillsides. There are no shortcuts or sideroads to be had so we stayed on until it took us inland again after Banyalbufar and enjoyed a by comparison more calm and collected descent down back to Alaro.
Day 4: SA Colabra
We split here for the first time since we arrived on the island to give each other some room to tackle the Calobra climb as we saw fit. The baseline benchmark for good is 30 minutes. For a desk worker like me, though, that is quite far out of reach. But I rolled in at a humble but respectable 36.
How best to describe Calobra?
Well, I would probably answer brutal every time. Sure it’s as scenic and spectacular as anything else on the island, but it’s generally much steeper than anything else you’ve ridden on the island up to this point which makes it the queen climb of the island in many ways.
The most familiar part likely being the first part where the road turns on itself passing through a short tunnel before it continues down a series of steep ramps. The other given photo opportunity is very likely to be the chicane where the road goes into a small rock outcropping with a hole cut in it wide enough for one car to pass at a time.
While it’s a must ride climb for sure, the Calobra is far from being a favourite of mine. It was with a great sense of completion for us, the main challenge of the Island being dealt with.
Day 5: Cap Formentor
After having spent one whole day indoors waiting out a rain storm, we set out in a chilly 12 degrees to visit the northernmost lighthouse of the island. It's probably the single most scenic stretch of road on Mallorca but for that reason also the busiest. The road from Alaro to Port Pollenca is great as long as you stay on the small roads. There’s little to no climbing until you emerge on the south side of the beach, which is where things can turn awry if you are out during peak hours with plenty of cars and caravans about.
... Scenic AF!
As the short but busy climb crests, the wind will undoubtedly start to take hold. This is also where things get scenic af. Apart from a pretty normal stretch through a flat valley, the route soon starts to cling to steep hillsides with sometimes only a vast blue ocean behind the bollards. You’re greeted with one last swooping bend cutting through the white cliffs before the lighthouse finally emerges. Inside it, probably the most expensive cafe on the whole island.
The road back felt a lot easier than riding out, probably owed to the fact thad we had finished what we set out to do. It was the last ride on the last day and we were in no rush.
5 days in a cyclist’s paradise covering nearly 500km with over 8,500m of climbing. Everything from the bikes to the clothes and the hotel had gone off without a hitch this time – which is more that can be said about most our field trips. But this is Mallorca. It’s a very forgiving place to bring a bike to and even easier on the cameras. If you ever have the chance to go, I highly recommend taking the trip.
For more of Erik's photography: @Erikjonsson
MAAP FIELD TRIPS
From local trips to global adventures, MAAP Field Trips bring committed crews of people from across the globe together to take on imposing routes and terrain that often get overlooked or ignored, share in common experiences, and create new stories with others passionate about progressing the sport of cycling.