Off the coast of Africa lies a collection of sun-soaked islands covered in perfect mountain bike terrain. Jordi Bago is a man on a mission to promote the area, and we took a visit to escape the winter and hit the trails with the most enthusiastic Spaniard on two wheels.
Ewen Turner and James Swann head to Gran Canaria for a bit of winter warmth with Jordi Bago on a journey of discovery, volcanoes and fantastic trails!
It's not often you get to visit a place before it is famous. Usually, by the time I get somewhere it is well and truly defined as a destination, and although still worthwhile as a trip, the adventure is somewhat removed by a guaranteed good time. The Canary Islands are one of those destinations, which promises so much, but currently have yet to be placed firmly on the mountain biker's destination list.
The road bikers already know how good things are down there, and migrate in their droves to the land of near-constant sunshine and perfect roads. The mountain bikers are yet to flock in quite the same numbers, but the potential of the place is very evident.
Positioned off the coast of Africa, the Canaries are the result of some angry volcanism and sustained tropical temperatures. These Spanish islands not only have some fancy weather, but also some of the biggest mountains, with Teide, on Tenerife sitting 3,718-metres high. Beaches, mountains and sunshine are certainly a good start for an idyllic destination.
A meeting with Jordi Bago at Eurobike sealed the deal for this trip. A man so enthused about the islands and all things mountain bike it was hard not to get excited about going. He works hard promoting the area as a mountain bike destination and is keen to get the place on the tourist map for bikers.
Jordi is a man with more energy than most, a racer, rider and brand ambassador to a huge number of companies, both mountain bike and beyond. He has sculpted himself a position where he skillfully promotes his brands and the venues he uses.
The Canary Islands are his backdrop for creating the content that he is now famous for. The varied landscapes give endless contrasts and combined with his photographer Marcus Moller, they have flooded the Internet with incredible images of the area.
Meeting Jordi at the Airport, it's clear he lives his life at 100mph. Bundled into the van we are driven up to the highest point on the island to catch the sunset and get the shots we need. It's an opportunity to see the island from up high and witness how Jordi and Marcus work together.
Jordi is a man who gets things done. The bikes are ready, the kit is ready, and the pro treatment feels pretty good, even down to personalised Scicon bags. Within an hour of landing we are suited, booted and hitting the trails as the sun begins to glow and hint that the daylight won't last much longer. Having come from northern Europe, the warmth is welcomed, and the body begins to thaw.
From the airport to 2000m to bikes in less than an hour, it's a rapid turn around, and an introduction to how this man works. Cameras click and drones fly, as we hit the dusty corners of rough volcanic soil. We reach our high point on the island and are rewarded by epic sunset and views across to Tenerife. This is a magical place.
Trails of dust and rock
It's clear that the altitude variation on the island allows for some vast changes in vegetation and soil. Lunar landscapes make way to more verdant vegetation as altitude is acquired, changing from dry and dusty to damp loamy soil.
The riding is a mix of trails built specifically for bikes, some walking trails and ancient routes through the mountains. The over-riding theme here is rock. Rough sharp and exposed everywhere, either naturally occurring or manhandled into trails and paths through the mountains.
Our first experience takes us high up in the shuttle bus before a thirty min climb leads to incredible views of the canyons and down to the sea. The island is not a place best suited to pedalling; a 2000m height gain feels a bit rough on an enduro bike, which, is needed for the descents. Our uplift is courtesy of the Gravity Centre, the local bike hire, workshop and jump park in Maspalomas, for the ride up the mountain, we are truly grateful.
An old trail hugs the side of the valley, giving away enough descent to reach maximum velocity if chosen, but the drop to the right keeps the mind sharp. The mix of grippy rock and drifting dust play with your mind, and the tight corners and switchbacks feel like French alpine trails.
All Mountain, All Weather
From the top of the mountain, the pine trees give a whole new feeling and coupled with some wild weather make for challenging riding. Although we may have travelled two thousand miles south for a reprieve from the British winter, a quick trip up towards 2000m can transport you back home pretty quick.
Out of the van at this altitude and the temperature gauge has been reduced to a chilling 3 degrees. Couple this with a ferocious wind and you have a recipe for seriously cold conditions. The sun replaced with mist, the dust transformed into the mud, thick, claggy and unpredictable. We are warned of the reduction in grip and the increase in slip, but we're British after all. The wetter it got, the easier it was to catch the Spaniard!
The advice here is always to take a jacket (like my mum always says), for if you get high enough, it feels like you've taken a flight home and alight the van to rain, wind and cold temperature some twenty degrees below those at the coast. Grippy volcanic rock tries hard to retain its friction but inevitably the trails take on a far more challenging a slippery character. Safe in the knowledge that temperatures will rise with descent, rapid plummeting is encouraged and below the clouds things both dry-up and heat-up remarkably.
This is a common feature of the trails here, starting high and dropping down through the constantly changing terrain. Endless rocks, corners and technical challenges, never so difficult to lose the flow, just enough to keep your mind on the trail ahead. Where the paths have been built with cobbled, rocky surfaces they reward a less is more approach to braking, as they feel smoother with speed, but the fear soon rises.
Round the edge of the ancient volcano, the Aguimes Trail ploughs through six inches of dust, and plumes of fine powder erupt in every corner. To follow a rider is to inhale volcanic dust and is not recommended. Elsewhere ancient routes slice through the mountains, some paved, others dusty and loose. They seriously carve their way up the mountainside, precipitous drops fall away into the abyss. This is not a place to make errors.
Heading down an endless edge line, the corners keep coming, and as we descend, the temperature becomes less miserable. Trees are replaced with cactus and prickly pear trees, neither of which you wish to collide with at any speed. The wind continues to hamper progress and only marginally decreases with altitude.
The landscape changes dramatically around the islands, and another excursion sees us heading into the wild west, where miniature grand canyons cut into the higher ground from the coast. What looks like only 5km away is, in fact, twenty as we wind our way up and down each canyon to reach the other side.
Diversity is the name of the game here, with vastly contrasting trails at every turn, more untouched gems are visible all over the island. The difficulty, as we find the world over, is access, and mountain bikes still get a bad rep on the island, which will hopefully improve with time.
The potential of the island is clear, and Jordi is obviously frustrated with the situation. The Gravity Centre, the local bike hire and shuttle company, do a good job but are a small operation and Jordi wants more. The island way of life is very laid back, and I can imagine developing mountain biking as a viable tourist income is hard, especially with the millions of northern European tourists who simply come to sit on the beach and drink.
The local government isn't pushing hard for mountain biking on the islands, and locals assume that bikes will destroy trails and ruin the environment. However, Jordi is pushing so hard that I have no doubt that inevitably these islands will be on the map for bikes sooner rather than later. The local's attitude to getting things done is definitely more 'island life', and the frenetic Bago smashes head-on into this laidback lifestyle with athletic energy. His passion is clear. The trails are huge and amazing, mostly rocky and can hold up well to traffic, this combined with the weather and a road infrastructure which allows for quick and easy shuttling. It's all there for the taking.
One of the major frustrations of Jordi is the lack of energy behind biking from the locals and the government. Road biking is big here, but the mountain biking still needs some growth. Typically mountain biking confuses people with thoughts of trail damage and confrontation with walkers. From our experience here the trails are well suited to the passing of tyres, featuring so much rock, and the few walkers we met were happy to share the trails.
With huge mountains and a great road network, the ability to uplift is huge, and a slick operation could transport hundreds easily to the top. The quality of the riding and the enthusiasm of Jordi and the locals would suggest that the area is primed for further mountain bike development. This would be a massive addition to the islands and further diversify their tourism, which is over-reliant on beach dwelling, in-active visitors who fail to experience everything that the islands have to offer.
Our trip only took us to Gran Canaria, and further trips are on the cards for visiting the other neighbouring islands. All the islands offer something different and have ferry links between them to make island hopping easy. We are already planning our next trip to escape the winter and go exploring.
Canary Island ( Latitude of Life ) Jurecar Rent Car - TRP Brakes - Crankbrothers - Allmountain style - Box Components - Schwalbe Tyres - Binter Canarias - Fred Olsen express - Fizik - Imprint Grips - Rotor Bike Components - Sciconbags - Platoon de Canarias - Oneal - Joystick and Northwave
Bike hire - http://www.gravity-center.com
By Ewen TurnerEwen Turner is a self-confessed bike geek from Kendal in the Lake District of England. He runs a coaching and guiding business up there and has a plethora of knowledge about bikes with an analytical approach to testing. His passion for bicycles is infectious, and he’s a ripper on the trails who prefers to fit his working life around his time on the bike.