Tuesday 13 February 2024

Barcelona cycle ride: Part 1 - Picking up my hire bike

I decided to do a city break in Barcelona and while there I would rediscover the area by bicycle. That's my preferred way of getting around any place I visit. Taking my bike on a flight wasn't worth doing for just a weekend, so I managed to hire a nice road bike and check out the city, using its various bike lanes.

On a long weekend to Barcelona I couldn't pass on the opportunity to get out on a bicycle. Barcelona is pretty bike-friendly too.

It's been a long time since I was last in the capital of Catalunya - probably about 15 years ago. I don't know why I left it so long before returning, The city has a laid back atmosphere, coupled with an artistic vibe which I guess is in no small part influenced by its most famous son (after Pep Guardiola), Antonio Gaudi.

I remember on my very first trip, being impressed by the Casa Batllo and La Pedrera-Casa Mila, especially when I got on the roof of the latter. Of course I walked around his opus magnus, the Sagrada Familia cathedral - which was then probably the most touristic building site in the world!

Anyway, after all this time I was happy to return to Barcelona, and hopefully visit the surrounding area too.

Whenever I visit a city I try and get around by bicycle - either with my own bike or a hired one. Given that I generally only spend a few days away and the cost to transport a bike on a flight can be over £90, hiring would be a no-brainer. 

After a quick Google search I identified a couple of companies to hire from. Given that it was February I figured it wouldn't be a problem finding a bike at short notice. So I emailed the company, Terra Bike Tours while in the airport lounge at Gatwick Airport. 

By the time I touched down at El Prat de Llobregat I had received a reply saying that the women's specific bike of my exact size (2XS) was not available, but I could try the XS which they did have. That slightly surprised me, but I was willing to give the XS a go.

As soon as I had checked into my apartment to the East of Barcelona, I hurried across to Terra Bike Tours, in the heart of the city before they closed for lunch, and tried out the Canyon Endurace they had set aside for me.

It felt fine for, so we did the paperwork and the mechanic put on my Look pedals and pumped up the tyres, ready for use.

Xavi the sales assistant told me I shouldn't have problems with punctures as the roads were of smooth quality and without much débris. That was reassuring to hear given that my run of punctures of late in London had made me quite pernickety about keeping tyre pressures high. He reckoned I only needed 90PSI in the tyres but for peace of mind I asked him to go to at least 100 PSI.  

As well as Terra Bikes being a bike shop, they also organise cycle tours around the city and club rides in the surrounding areas. So very helpfully Xavi gave me the QR code to download routes from the members section of their website, and talked through a few of them. 

When I told him I was hoping to ride to the nearby seaside town of Sitges he made a point of strongly advising me not to do so because the road is narrow, busy and with fast traffic. It's not even a route they include among their itineraries.

"It's really not a nice route, I must tell you," he warned. It would be better to catch the train for part of it to the less busy section of the road, and go to the other side of Sitges."  

He continued advising me that if a coastal ride was what I was looking for it would be better to head in the opposite direction, towards Girona.

Another customer in the shop, a local guy, joined in the conversation and added his opinion, saying to avoid cycling towards Sitges. He knew of people who had been hit by a car cycling that way. 

So it was clear, Sitges was off the menu - at least by bike. Given that it was almost 2pm and I hadn't eaten since early that morning it was unlikely I'd be riding out much further than the city limits so riding to Sitges or along any coastline became academic.  

I paid my 70 euros for 2 days' hire and we wished each other a good day before I hit the city streets of Barcelona. Unfortunately because they don't open on Sundays and my flight back to London would be first thing on Monday morning I had to bring back the bicycle on Saturday and hope I could find an alternative bike hire place for Sunday.

For the afternoon my itinerary would be fairly basic - just a discovery ride around the local neighbourhoods of Barcelona - more like a rediscovery ride.

On previous trips I had ridden around the city to reach Sants train station and also the Port when I sailed to Mallorca once. 

My recollection was that the roads were okay - no worse than Central London, though the motorists would generally give cyclists more space - which is always a good thing. 

The main difference on this trip was that the city council, like many city councils around the world, had splurged out on cycle lanes - lovely smooth cycle lanes with no débris in them, and cyclist traffic lights. Many roads in central Barcelona are one-way streets and the cycle paths generally follow the same direction. But there are some streets with two-way cycle traffic within a cycle lane, like what you see in central London on Park Lane, or along the River Thames at Westminster.  So that makes it handy that you don't have to navigate the one-way streets network. 

The cycle paths network was still under construction in places, so at times you were randomly dumped into the road, or would have to ride on narrow sections of path between building site railings.

One of the main roads, Diagonal, notably near the park by the same name, was a building site. When riding down the narrow path among all the various cyclists and e-cyclists and scooters either privately owned or from the city transport sharing scheme all travelling at vastly varying speeds, you had to pay attention. But I'm sure it'll be great when it's completed. Another main road, Avinguda Meridiana was one I used a lot and that had a two-way cycle lane down the central reservation and was bordered with trees. Again, it wasn't complete but will be a great lane eventually, especially as it's a lovely downhill to the heart of the city.

My focus was on getting back to my lodgings near Sant Andreu, resting up and grabbing some lunch before going out again to Montjuic.

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