Is riding gravel in Mallorca difficult?

We have heard a few people mention that they have heard or read online that riding gravel in Mallorca is difficult. We think riding bicycles on the dirt and gravel roads here can be accessible to most cyclists but want to help answer the question.

Three types of challenges come to mind.

What does it mean when people say that gravel riding is hard or difficult?

  • Route Finding or getting lost
  • Steep routes or physically demanding
  • Technically challenging gravel routes

Getting lost on Mallorca gravel routes

We will admit to getting lost once or twice in Mallorca. It has happened on hikes, driving in the car, riding the road bike or even on a gravel ride. Geordie once was following someone else’s route and ended up trapped behind some tall fences. Our goal is to provide routes that are easy to follow with a GPS computer and to prevent you from getting lost. We don’t think that route finding is a big challenge for riding gravel in Mallorca.

Signs on gravel road near Campenet, Mallorca

Physical demands of Mallorca gravel

Many of the gravel roads in Mallorca are in the central part of the island and serve agricultural areas. These roads have some rolling hills, but rarely do they include the long climbs typical of the Tramuntana. Some routes in the mountains or to monasteries atop hills can be steep and physically challenging. However, there are plenty of flat gravel rides and hill climbing is not necessarily required.

Technically challenging gravel rides

At some point, a gravel ride becomes a mountain bike ride. Perhaps it’s tree routes, soft sand, or rock gardens. Or maybe the single track is narrow and twisty and hard to negotiate. We have all encountered such sections on a ride before and sometimes they can cause a rider to walk for a short section.

We feel that it’s ok to have a few short sections of technical riding on a gravel route. This could mean sand or single track or maybe some larger stones in the road. Some “champagne” (cava?) gravel roads are smooth enough to be ridden with a road bike and narrow tires, but we think that tires between 35-42 mm are the best choice for most gravel routes. If tires above 50 mm are necessary, it’s starting to look like a mountain bike ride isn’t it?

Sand on Mallorca bike route

We don’t think most gravel rides in Mallorca are difficult or technically challenging. We generally ride with 40 mm tires with a smooth / herringbone tread. Geordie is an experienced cyclocross racer and has good technical skills, but Allyson is newer to the sport and does not regularly experience challenging sections that force her to dismount.

In our opinion, suspension isn’t needed on a gravel ride in Mallorca. Riders looking for extra comfort may enjoy a Lauf suspension fork or a suspension stem from Redshift or FSA, but usually lower pressure and wider tires is remedy enough.

There are some rare cases where carrying or walking with your bike might be necessary. Our Siller Hike-A-Bike requires some walking and you probably will walk a little on the sand on our Albufera route along the sea.

Is riding gravel in Mallorca hard?

We don’t think that riding gravel in Mallorca is difficult and we think gravel cycling here can be enjoyable for cyclists of all ability levels.

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Best Gravel Tires for Mallorca

What’s the best gravel tire for Mallorca? What tires should I use on my gravel bike?

That’s probably the most common question when visiting a new area, riding a new route or signing up for a gravel race. (My British friends probably ask a similar question about gravel tyres…)

Every rider will have their own opinion and most are probably valid. 

What is probably not debatable at this point is the need for tubeless tires. In my opinion, tubeless tires are mandatory for gravel riding. They allow you to run much lower pressure without the risk of pinch flats aka snakebites.  Wider volume tires on wider rims at lower pressures is the secret to riding gravel.

gravel tires

When selecting a gravel tire you first have to ask yourself a few questions:

  • 650b or 700?
  • What will fit on my bike?
  • What kind of rider am I? 

650b certainly has its fans, but it’s not something we have personal experience with. You certainly get a lot more rubber between you and the road, so 650b is a good option if the going gets rough.

I’m a roadie at heart and I enjoy going fast on a nimble bike. I’ve done some mixed surface rides on an aero race bike with both 25 and 28mm tires in the past. Plenty of Paris Roubaixes have been won on skinny tires. Don’t assume that a route is impossible without big knobby tires.  I’m sure I’m not the only person who has explored some Mallorca gravel roads on a rental bike with 25 mm tires.

At this point, I’ve ridden 3 different tires on my gravel bike. All were 700c and set up tubeless.

32 mm Continental GP 5000 TL

Continental GP 5000 tubeless tire

I’m a big fan of the GP 5000 tires. It took Continental a long time to get into the road tubeless game, but these are my go to tires for my road bikes. I run the 25 mm tires on my Scott Foil (rim brake) and they have done pretty well on tamer gravel roads.

Both Allyson and I have run the 32 mm GP 5000 on our gravel bikes. They are wonderfully fast and smooth on the tarmac and handle surprisingly well on gravel.  They aren’t mountain bike tires by any stretch of the imagination, but the difference between 25 mm and 32 mm is noticeable.

If you mostly plan on riding on the road and want to take a shortcut here and there on gravel, these would be a great choice.  If the gravel gets adventurous, you might need to slow down a little and descents might not be plush. However, you can probably take them more places than you would expect.  At 80+ kilos I run these at about 50 PSI or 3.5 bar.

In October of 2021, Continental announced their newest iteration of this tire. 

They claim that the latest GP5000 S TR tire is significantly improved over the previous Continental GP5000 TL. According to Continental, the new tire is 20 percent faster, 28 percent stronger and 50g lighter.  This tire was used by Sonny Colbrelli in his Paris Roubaix win, which seems like a heck of a testimonial.

Based on my experience, I would feel very safe recommending the newest GP 5000 S TR in 32 mm.

42 mm Rene Herse Hurricane Ridge

Rene Herse Hurricane Ridge

Rene Herse is known for a wide range of supple adventure tires in both 650B and 700c. They basically have two tread designs. One is a smooth tire with herringbone or file tread and the other is a very knobby tire. Most tires come in a standard, endurance and extralight version.  Rene Herse has an unusual naming convention for their products and give every width its own name.  Therefore, the Hurricane Ridge is the same tire as the Steilacoom which is their knobby 35mm tire.  A few of their narrowest road tires do not come in tubeless versions, so it makes sense to double check before purchasing.

The knobs on the Hurricane Ridge are evenly spaced and tightly packed. The idea is that this will help the tire roll faster.

In my experience this tire will give you a ton of confidence on rougher gravel roads and single track. If I found myself wanting a bigger tire, I would also consider whether a hardtail mountain bike or a bike with a suspension fork might be a useful tool.

I did slash a sidewall on this tire, but ironically not while riding rough roads. I hit a sharp rock while on the highway in a mixed surface event. This was the endurance casing and not a lighter version of the tire.  At home we were able to sew up the cut and it has been performing great since then.

This tire isn’t horrible on the road, but it does seem a little sluggish. It feels like it rolls fine once it is up to speed (on downhills for example) but takes a little bit of energy to get rolling.  Generally it feels fine cornering on tarmac, but I did have it squeal on me and slide a little on a sharp corner.  If you are riding on gravel or dirt 75% of the time, this is probably a great choice for you and will be fine on the short sections of road that you travel to reach the dirt. I run these tires at 25 psi or 1.7 bar.

40 MM Rene Herse Tubeless Tire

I think that a smooth tire or one with a very small herringbone or file tread is a great choice for most riders in the 38-40 mm size range.  I think that width and PSI are probably more important than tread unless you are dealing with mud. 

Remember how I mentioned that Rene Herse has a wide assortment of tire widths to choose from? Unfortunately it seems like there is a gap in their product line and that gap is right where I was planning to purchase a new tire.

Rene Herse has a huge range of 700c slick/ herringbone tread tires in 26, 28, 32, 35 and 38 mm. They have really wide choices in 44, 48, and 55 mm.

Rene Herse offers knobby tires in 38, 42, 48 and 55.

In my mind, I wanted a 40 or 42 mm fast rolling Rene Herse tire. Unfortunately, as of 2021, my choices are 38 or 44.  Maybe someday soon they will make a 700 x 40 tubeless Rene Herse.

40 mm Challenge Strada Bianca Pro HTLR

Challenge Strada Bianca

I was determined to have 40 mm fast rolling tires for our trip to Mallorca. This seems like a good compromise and will allow me to ride on the road without too much penalty and to explore most gravel roads on the island.

I read some great reviews about the Challenge Strada Bianca tubeless tire. It had minimal tread and came in a 40 mm tubeless configuration.

 In two months, I rode approximately 3000 km or 2000 miles throughout Mallorca. I rode on gravel, dirt, sand and tarmac.

These tires were the perfect tire for the trip and allowed me to keep up with a moderately fast group ride that was all on road bikes and skinny tires. They also allowed me to ride a ton of gravel without a single puncture.

I ran these tires at 30 PSI or 2 Bar. If I was riding more gravel I think I would lower the pressure more, but this was a good amount of pressure for a mix of road and gravel.

I found that these tires worked really well for broken roads with lots of potholes and for dirty winter roads with debris like leaves or acorns.  On the MA-10 there are places in the shadows where I find that the road can be mossy and a little slick when wet and I found that a wider tire gave me extra confidence in these spots.

The one weakness for these tires is mud.  They aren’t a mountain bike tire or a cyclocross tire and they aren’t designed for traction in slippery conditions or for shedding mud.  We did find ourselves on a muddy farm track one day and these tires were just not up for the job. The Rene Herse Hurricane Ridge tires would have been my choice on this day.

What’s the best choice for a gravel tire in Mallorca?

I think that a tubeless tire between 38-45 mm wide with a file tread or smooth tread is your best bet for almost all conditions.

What have your experiences been? What’s your favorite gravel tire?

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Cars Vs Bikes in Mallorca

Is it safe to ride a bike in Mallorca?

In the United States, where I am originally from, much of the popularity of gravel cycling in the past decade has come from the increasing dangers of trying to share the road with cars and trucks on American roads.  American roads often have no shoulder and American drivers are impatient, dangerous, and often distracted by mobile phones.  Riding bikes on remote gravel roads with minimal auto traffic is a great way to reduce the risks of being in a collision.

gravel road south of Ruberts, Mallorca
Cyclists are welcome on Mallorca’s gravel and dirt roads

Mallorca is a completely different beast.  Most drivers tend to be more cautious. Spanish drivers are often quite patient when it comes to sharing the road with cyclists.

On my first visit to Mallorca I found myself pedaling uphill on the MA- 10 up North.  The dominant sound was heaving breathing as I struggled with the grade, but eventually I heard something else as well. Was something rubbing? Was that my derailleur?

In fact, it was a small car patiently waiting behind me about 10 meters. They weren’t attempting to pass, they weren’t going to run me off the road or even honk their horn. They were waiting for a safe place to pass and were happy to wait a few minutes to do so. It was a wonderful experience and a pleasant shock.

Is riding a bike on the road dangerous in Mallorca?

Most of our visits have been in the off season, so I know that my experiences aren’t typical, but only two negative experiences sharing the road come to mind here in Mallorca.  The first is the small section of road on the MA – 11  between Soller and the turnoff to Col de Soller and MA-11a.  This section of road has almost no shoulder and in places I don’t think it has a shoulder at all. The road isn’t really wide enough and cyclists are forced into the traffic lane moving slowly while cars buzz by.  This is unfortunately a little too much like riding at home. Luckily, it’s only a short section and the climb over Col de Soller is always worth the trouble.

The other experience is a funny one.  On a previous trip I was riding without a modern headunit with a great map (like my current Wahoo Elemnt Roam.)  I took a wrong turn at a roundabout and found myself briefly riding on the MA-13.  While traffic was buzzing along at a high rate of speed, it wasn’t particularly dangerous riding. There was plenty of shoulder and I wasn’t in anyone’s way.  The reaction of Spanish drivers was priceless. This is the only time I have gotten honked at and it was pretty consistent.  Apparently riding one’s bicycle on the highway is completely unacceptable behavior. 

Is this the tradeoff for an island with an incredible road network and polite and patient drivers? I’m happy to give the cars and trucks a single highway in exchange for safe travel on the thousands upon thousands of kilometers of world class paved and gravel roads that Mallorca has to offer.

In Mallorca we don’t ride gravel because the roads are unsafe or unpleasant to ride on. On the contrary, the road riding here is sublime. We ride on gravel roads to explore the secrets of the island and to find the hidden adventure that lurks just beyond the next curve.

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Closed on Sundays in Spain

gas stations are closed on Sundays in Spain
Closed on Sundays

At home in the states, long Sunday bike rides have been a staple of my training regime. Sundays are often a time for church, for family and a time to close down the shop. While I often have to work on Saturdays, it’s always easier to turn off the phone and escape on Sundays.

On holiday in Spain there is no particular reason to do a long ride on a Sunday, but one weekend I did. Like in the U.S. the roads are a little quieter and it’s more common to see other cyclists and even cycling clubs out and about.

I was probably aiming for at least 4-5 hours and at some point I needed some water and maybe even a little food.  This is the part of the ride where you convince yourself that a can of Coke and a Snickers are training food and the sugar rush is just the extra bit you need to get you home.  Unfortunately, that gas station mini- mart you have passed every day this week isn’t open today. It’s Sunday. And things are closed on Sundays in Spain.

In the United States we have a history of “blue laws” which once prohibited many businesses from operating on Sundays. These are mostly gone, but Sunday closures remain common. I would never expect a bank, government office, the post office or the liquor store to be open on a Sunday. 

What is closed on Sundays in Spain?

But a gas station? I’m used to those being open seven days a week and 24 hours a day or close enough.

Now it’s certainly possible to buy gas in Palma on a Sunday and I’m sure there are a few other options available around the island, but these are exceptions and not the rule. Cafes often open in some of the smaller towns on Sundays and a grocery store might have limited hours, but it’s better to assume everything is closed unless you confirm otherwise. 

I found myself in the middle of the Mallorcan countryside at a gas station with a chain across the driveway entrance and darkened windows, resting a bit until it’s scheduled opening on Monday morning. I had a few swallows of water left and dozens of kilometers to ride home.

Finally, I found a gas station open that Sunday afternoon. It was probably in Can Picafort but it could have been Alcudia and it was closer to my destination than I would have planned.  I had enough money for a Coke, some bottled water and probably a Snickers.

As I hit the road again, I had a new appreciation for the “stop and robs” I had taken for granted for so many years.

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Why Mallorca

cycling in Mallorca on the Formentor peninsula
Formentor Peninsula, Mallorca Spain

I first learned about cycling in Mallorca as a cycling paradise while competing in cyclocross in about 2013 or so. Sven Nys, the Belgian cyclocross star, would visit often and his social media posts had me curious about this Mediterranean getaway,

Both Allyson and I love to travel and over the years have realized that Christmastime is a good time of year to get away without causing too much disruption in our real estate business. We traveled to Belgium for the “kerstperiode” of World Cup cyclocross races and to Scotland for Hogmanay, Europe’s biggest New Years celebration.

Over the years, we decided that going someplace warm would be nice for a change. We had visited Hawaii a few times and Thailand too, but as great as both those places are, I’m just not built for hanging out at the beach for more than a day or two. A little research into Europe’s winter weather showed us that Spain might be a good choice.

In 2016, we visited Costa del Sol in Southern Spain with Allyson’s parents. We flew into Malaga and our road trip included Tarifa, Tangier, Gibraltar, Ronda, Seville, and Grenada. It was a great trip and we saw amazing sights, but it was too much time in the car and not enough time enjoying Spain.

Our first visit to Mallorca

The following year, we took a two week Christmas break and spent the first week in Brussels. The weather was wet and horrible, but we love Belgium at Christmastime with all of the holiday markets and the amazing light show at the Grote Markt. The special Christmas beer menu at the Poechenellekelder bar is worth the flight across the Atlantic alone.

Our second week was spent in Mallorca. It still amazes me that Brits fly down to the island for a long weekend. Our trip was split between Palma and Soller and we hardly got to see a thing.

We were both entranced by this incredible island. The cycling in Mallorca was incredible – great roads, gorgeous views and minimal traffic. The hiking was fantastic too and the winter weather was mild with mostly sunny days and a few rainy ones sprinkled in. The food was great and the varied history and architecture was fascinating.

In 2018, we came back for three weeks and I rented a bike. Allyson’s parents joined us again. Week one our basecamp was a golf resort near Llucmajor, followed by a week in Pollenca and a third week in Port de Soller. When moving day came, we packed the car and I rode my bike. First from Llucmajor to Pollenca and then later from Pollenca to Port de Soller.

Three weeks on the island was great, but there still was so much to explore. We both were absolutely enamored with cycling in Mallorca and shocked that it was so quiet in December.

Regular visitors to Mallorca

We also started wondering about bigger possibilities. Were we really that busy at work from Thanksgiving to Christmas? Since you only live once, we decided to risk it and in 2019 we visited for two whole months.

Our first week we stayed at a golf resort outside of Palma, but then returned to Pollenca and the vacation home in the village where we had stayed the previous year.

Pollenca is a great location with easy access to the big climbs in the Tramuntana mountains. There are also plenty of options for flat riding to the south and towards the center of the island. There are plenty of expats about and tourism traffic in the summer months means lots of English speakers around.

Spain was on lockdown in the fall of 2020 and it was impossible to visit. I’m writing this in 2021 and we are back again for another 2 months on the island.

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