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Touring in Tenerife

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It's cold, so CTC's Anna Cipullo and her bike have taken a trip to Tenerife to catch some winter sunshine and cycle up some very steep hills.
Anna Cipullo in Tenerife
Anna Cipullo in Tenerife

We decided to stay all week in a half-board chalet on the north west coast in Playa de la Arena, so that we could keep our bikes safely inside at night and make our own food and packed lunches.

The north west is not as sunny as the more tourist-ridden south coast, but it is at the foot of a set of mountains. Prime cycling territory was just right outside our chalet door.

On the first day it poured with rain. So we decided to acquaint ourselves with the local bar. Warning: Spanish measures apply in Tenerife too!

The next day we had to fix the bent derailleur that was damaged when my bike was on the plane. The island has very few bike shops. In fact we could only locate three on Google maps, and one was more of a hire shop. We decided to tentatively ride down the west coast to a bike shop called Bike Point in Las Americas.

The staff were German, but spoke good English. They sent us down the road to the coffee shop and had our bike fixed by the time we had gulped a latte and returned. The prices were very reasonable too.

I also decided to swap my cassette for a mountain bike cassette complete with a 30 tooth cog, and boy was I glad I did. It even got used on the way home through undulating coastal roads.

The coastal roads

The coastal roads are well-used with similar traffic to a main road in England, even through 'siesta time', which is roughly between 11 am and 3pm. Most shops will shut down at this time, but supermarkets are often open a little longer.

Although the roads are busy, it is worth mentioning that most are wide enough for a bike and a car, much like in France if you’ve been. And similar to France, I found the road users to be extremely patient, not over-taking on corners and passing slowly with a lot of room to spare.

In the mountains, a cyclists’ speed is considerably lower and sometimes visibility can be very limited if cloud sweeps in. I always had lights on hand and found them to be very valuable when it was foggy.

Being so steep, cars tend to move at quite a slow speed anyway, which gives motorists plenty of time to see around hair-pin corners.

Motor traffic was pretty minimal in the mountains anyway and drivers were very patient. I am a confident cyclist, but would happily take a new or young cyclist on the roads here.

Once we realised how smooth the main roads were and how cautious drivers seemed to be we decided to plan all our routes on main roads where possible.

Day two saw us venture out up a mountain with no real plan other than to see how far we could go in a day bearing in mind that we were likely to cover more ascending than an Alpine loop. The answer was not that far! We had travelled no more than 40km up to Santiago del Teide, but what a journey. An 'out and back' (or more like an 'up and down') journey gave more the opportunity to prepare myself for alpine descending as well as climbing, which actually relieved a lot of anxiety for me as it was no where near as bad as I thought it was going to be.  

 Cycling through the National Park in Masca, Tenerife

The following days I got a lot braver each time, resulting in a beautiful and exhausting route through Masca National Park, and culminating to a trip up to the volcano on Teide.

We started off at San Miguel, a little way up from the very bottom of the mountain, as we wanted free parking. Around 40km of pure ascending later, we arrived at a café surrounded by fiery coloured desert accented by green flecks of sulphur rock and a very prominent volcano. It was beautiful.

I, however, was not. Pouring with sweat, panting like mad and shivering from the sub-zero temperatures I piled into the café and ordered every cake on display. It had been an interesting ride.

We had passed through Vilaflor at siesta time in the fog, which resembled a desolate ghost town. We had ridden through the clouds twice, stopping on numerous occasions to dress and undress ourselves as temperatures dropped and rose again depending on the thickness of the cloud.

We had taken breaks in eerie burned-out forests and gazed out to sea at the other islands in the distance. I had a spot of altitude sickness, which strangely resulted in an uncontrollable laughing fit followed by a severe bout of grumpiness.

My legs were a mess and my body had had enough by the time it had reached the top. Despite the mere 40km distance travelled, it had taken over four hours to cover it. I have known extremely fast riders to tackle this in no less than three hours too, so I didn’t feel to down about that time.

Five kilometres from the café I was ready to give up, and I wish I’d brought more clothing for the summit, but once I sat at that café window stuffing my face full of cake I looked out at the scenery and everything was worth it."

A few photos later and a mandatory check-in on Facebook and we were off back down the mountain.

We decided that the café was pretty much the top and that we didn’t need to walk up to the crater in order to be proud of what we had achieved that day, so we suited up with maximum amount of clothes and embarked on a descent that would last an arm-burning hour. It was glorious.

The roads snaked around the edge of the mountain seemingly curved to perfection for riding. Cars were slowing down again, but this time to let us pass. It is by far the quickest way to get down a mountain.

The sun was starting to set, as we had cut it a little fine despite the early start, but everything the sun touched turned to gold. Honey roasted fields and glittering golden sea in the distance warmed my insides with a big smile as I started to get the hang of drop-bar descending.

By the end, my fingers were frozen into position and both of us couldn’t wait to get into the warm again, but once the post-ride slump had passed and food was in our bellies, we both went to bed exhausted and very pleased with ourselves.

Tips and advice

I could have made this article about our routes and given you ideas to explore, but once you’re out there, you’ll realise that any road you choose will be a wonderful adventure.

If you decide you want to cycle loops and stay in the same place like we did, don’t despair, there will definitely be a week’s worth of riding, although I recommend hiring a car just in case you fancy tackling a really big mountain further afield, otherwise you might not make it home without a rather expensive taxi fee.

Should you wish to grasp an idea of potential routes, I thoroughly recommend visiting a website, like Tenerife Training.net, and copying their routes onto a map.

As daunting as it may seem to touring newcomers, you can genuinely head out in Tenerife without much planning and preparation. This is because there are so few roads and towns in the mountain that you can’t really get that lost.

Having said that, whether you are covering loops from your hotel, or venturing out for a proper point-to-point tour, I recommend doing a taster day (like we did on day two) if you are not sure of your mountain cycling capabilities. It’s surprising how little distance you can cover when you do it through the mountains.

So in summary, Tenerife was a fantastic place to visit with friendly traffic on well-maintained roads. Conversely to England, You’ll find the main roads safer than back roads as they are wider and better tarmacked.

The weather is fantastic, even in our winter period, but the mountains can be very cold, especially when the clouds roll in, and they do, frequently!

The north will give you more mountains for your money, but the weather tends to be dramatically hotter in the south.

Do a bit of route research before your journey and prepare for every eventuality and you’ll come home wishing you lived there.

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