Take the city of Hamburg as an example; I used to be one of the many thousands who travelled by bike everyday, with an average daily temperature of 12º C and about 190 days of rain a year, with three months of frost during winter. One can imagine how I was looking forward to cycling in Mallorca when I moved here… average temperatures of 21ºC, only 74 days of rain annually, lots of sun, and only a few hills in the low land of Palma.
But reality is different. For seven years now I have been driving around Palma on a motor scooter or in the car. Palma is the town with the most cars per capita in Spain, and numbers are growing. The city planners react by constructing more streets and underground car parks, and the towns and villages of Mallorca are lacking the infrastructure which could make cycling play an important role in decongesting the traffic. The bicycle as a means of transport is virtually non-existent – neither in the heads of the politicians nor in the heads of the majority of the population. The lack of bike lanes, combined with precarious roads and aggresive drivers, make cycling in Mallorca very dangerous.
The few existing bike paths do little to change the situation in general. One can now, for example, cycle along the bay of Palma, from El Arenal to Magaluf on a newly constructed cycling path. But this track is only good for leisurely rides as there are no connecting bicycle lanes to other areas.
More recently the Town Hall of Palma has provided the users of several car parks with rental bikes free of charge. If you park your car below the cathedral or near the Avenidas, you can hire a bike cost free – a new model of the park-and-ride system! Available also are child seats, helmets, and bike baskets. But when you head out and find yourself in the middle of the heavy Palma traffic, it can be terrifying. The only place to feel safe is in a few of the quieter, narrow alleys in the historic city centre.
If you do not want to use your bike as a means of transport but enjoy cycling as a hobby or sport, improvements are being made and options are expanding. Only recently has the Balearic Government constructed about 235 km of new cycling paths, enabling one to explore a vast stretch of flat, rural countryside between Inca and Campos with the trusty bicycle. While this is mainly intended for touring and racing cyclists, there are also special tracks for mountain bikers.
Excellent conditions throughout the mountain region, ranging from moderate paths to more challenging cross-country routes.
Mallorca is an ideal training ground for professionals. When Northern Europe battles the cold and frost, cyclist flock to Mallorca for its superb biking conditions. Year after year, racing teams such as the T-Mobile team come here to train for the the flat stages in the hinterland, and for mountain stages in the Tramuntana. Moreover, many teams participate in the important tour round Mallorca in January as they start the new racing season.
Mallorca has managed to breed some top quality local professional cyclists of its own and is proud of the cycling racing team which will represent the Balearic islands when they compete in the Tour de France in 2005.
The Balearic Department of Tourism estimates that approximately 70,000 tourists come to Mallorca each year to take part in organised cycling trips. The tour operators set up groups that vary in degrees of difficulty or daily kilometers and that are usually conducted by former professionals.
We have seen them, be it on the old or the new road to Llucmajor, on the steep and winding routes to Cap Formentor, or on the Avenidas in Palma. Mallorca is simply paradise for cyclists so lets hope that the trend of improving facilities will continue while encouraging motorists to be a little more patient of our leisure and sporting cycling fans.