Sometimes you’ve got to throw caution to the wind and chase your dreams; we travel to Madrid to visit a group of riding buddies doing exactly that.
We all have dreams, aspirations, and goals in life – some come easy, some you have to work for, and some may never be accomplished. For many of us, that dream is to make a living from doing what we love, and that is just what a group of highly driven Spanish riding buddies are trying to do.
Squinting my eyes as I step out of the air-conditioned comfort of the Madrid arrivals hall, I’m greeted by Emilio, who is holding a board with ‘BlackTown Trails’ etched on the front. Bags launched in the car, we quickly snake through the traffic on the motorway, making our way towards the snow-capped mountains of the Sierra de Guadarrama on the horizon.
The first riding spot we are heading to is Mount Abantos. Lying in the shadow of the El Escorial Monastery, it has played host to gruelling stages of the Vuelta a España. Through the combination of a lazy winter and the plane journey, my legs had as much pedal power as Bambi on ice… fortunately, we were shuttling! Just shy of the top, we unload the bikes and, accompanied by vultures soaring on the rising thermals, pedal the last section of the climb. Approaching the edge of the peak, it seems like the mountain just drops to oblivion. I’ve never been one for heights, so I gingerly approach the edge on foot and I’m immediately blown away by the vista, which stretches past the distant silhouette of Madrid’s architecture.
I’d been invited out to Madrid by the guys at BlackTown Trails, a new project by a group of mates aimed at showcasing the rad riding that the area surrounding Madrid has to offer. As we sit gazing at the view, it’s not hard to see what the guys are doing here. They aren’t after money – sure, they want enough to pay the bills – but for them this is more about sharing the amazing trails, scenery, and culture they have on their doorstep. One thing that stood out was Emilio referring to the famous quote, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Pretty apt, I thought!
Pointing our wheels down, jagged rocks are soon replaced by pine needle loam as we enter a surprisingly green and lush forest. I had a false stereotypical image of Spain being pretty dry and barren (which I guess is true in places), but it was as if we’d been teleported a few thousand kilometres and ended up in the Alps! With some of the BlackTown crew of Iago, Rafa, and Emilio blazing the trail ahead, it’s fun to watch from the back as they explode out of every turn and tweak every little bump or jump. Smiling from ear to ear, rotors burning, and arms aching, we pop out of the trees just above El Escorial. With the sun beginning to set, we make for La Silla de Felipe II, a small hill on the other side of town.
A short climb by road, and we’re back in the depths of what feels like an ancient oak forest with old rubble buildings and big stone walls. Legend has it King Philip II sat on this hill and observed the construction of the Royal Palace, and you certainly get a medieval feeling riding on these massive granite rocks! In between the golden light we session the rock slabs; the best I can describe it would be to compare it to a natural skate park with wall rides and smoothly carved jumps and drops. We didn’t call it a day until we were cast into shadow as the last slither of sun dipped below the hill.
With the help of a sharp shot of espresso to shake off the last of the lingering weariness, we pile the bikes into the front of the rickety old mountain train, and with a jolt, slowly but surely we are heading up the hill to Puerto de Navacerrada. A sleepy old skiing town with its heyday seemingly long gone, it’s our scenic springboard as we dive headfirst into the trails. Within minutes it feels like you are in the middle of the mountains on some epic backcountry adventure, when in reality you are only a kilometre or two from civilization. We track the snow-melt river as the trail passes over alpine-like pastures and forests with webs of roots and rocks waiting to pluck you from the bike if you lose focus. The more we descend, the more the landscape changes. Trees and bushes become sparser, the dirt becomes dust, and the trail eventually fizzles out until we are back in Cercedilla where we took the train earlier in the day. Back at the house with the last of the daylight gone, the chorus of crickets try their best to drown out the sizzling of the stakes and chorizo on the warm glow of barbeque coals.
As far as riding destinations go, there are a few that pop into your head first: Queenstown, Whistler, the Alps… Madrid, it’s fair to say, isn’t one of them. Whilst Madrid may not be a renowned riding spot, it does offer you an abundance of varying terrain and trails sure to put a smile on your face. If you decide to visit the guys at BlackTown Trails, you’ll be well catered for, as these guys love what they do.
How to Get to Madrid
There are an abundance of flights direct to Madrid, and from there it is a short shuttle to the best riding spots. This is where the guys at blacktowntrails.com will sort you out. If not, a hire car will be pretty invaluable.
Where to Stay in Madrid
There are a variety of accommodations available to suit all price points, from self-catering chalets to luxurious hotels – whatever takes your fancy or budget! El Escorial is a good base for your trip.
Where To Ride around Madrid
We would thoroughly recommend using a guide service… not only do these guys know the best and hard-to-find riding spots, they will remove a lot of planning and stress from your trip. The locations we rode on our trip were Mount Abantos, La Silla de Felipe II, and down from Puerto de Navacerrada.
Apres Biking Activities
There are plenty of good bars and restaurants where you can sit outside and soak up the evening sun after a long day riding, or you can head into Madrid and immerse yourself in Spanish culture and history.
For more information visit the BlackTown Trails Website.
Words & Photos: Ross Bell