Thursday 15 February 2024

Barcelona cycle ride: Part 2 - Up and over Montjuic and down to Port Vell

Kitted out with my hire bike, a Canyon Endurace from Terra Bike Tours, I did a couple of mini tours around Barcelona - My first ride was a short spin around Montjuic

Check out the route I took on Strava

I cycled out to Montjuic, a popular area with tourists. Its castel by the same name, and the Joan Miro museum at the top of the hill make it a draw already, and the vistas over Barcelona are stunning. Pedestrians can use the funicular to reach the top, while those of us pedalling rely on our quads.

My route to Montjuic and home via Port Vell

My ride to get there was practically all on segregated cycle lanes. I crossed the area of St Andreu, up some quiet streets through this rather arty neighbourhood of Barcelona, then I joined the Avinguda Meridiana, one of the principal axes through the city. The road itself is quite busy, but as a cyclist you are shielded from all of the traffic thanks to cycle lanes. Initially the lane passes close to the pavement and you have to pay attention as it sometimes juts right onto the pavement, weaving around recycling bins and bus stops.  Then soon the route crosses the road to put you onto the central reservation, which has a two-way cycle path bordered by trees. A lot of care has been taken to make this part of the itinerary pleasant for cyclists. 

At the bottom of the wide avenue comes a narrow less picturesque section bordered by construction railings as it passes Gran Clariana park to reach Avinguda Diagonal where there are various building works in progress (as described in my previous post). 

A typical cycle lane in Barcelona

A short stint along Diagonal, a main thoroughfare that runs through Barcelona from south-west to north-east, led to another road called Carrer de la Diputacio which seemed to continue forever, passing through various neighbourhoods and landmarks. The beauty of it was there was a parallel cycle lane the whole way along, and a well-used one at that.

I knew I would have to turn left at some point, but it wasn't clear when. Although it's great to have lots of cycle lanes and special bike traffic lights, not putting up sign boards to indicate the route to the most famous landmarks and neighbourhoods was a significant omission. Who knows, maybe it was a deliberate ploy to not flood the cycle lanes with local riders and tourists. I seem to  recall when the local authority first introduced the city bikesharing scheme it was only open to those who had proof of residency in Barcelona.

With the help of Google map I found the correct turning to head towards Montjuic. There was no cycle path for this part of the route at Carrer Vilamari and Carrer Lleida which ran uphill past the Barcelona Teatre Musical, but the road was comparatively quiet. At this point I began to see the first of a few other brave souls like myself who had opted to take on this climb to the highest point in Central Barcelona. 

My hire bike from Terra Bike Tours - Canyon Endurace WMN Disc AL 7.0

The last time I was here I had taken the funicular to reach the summit, and marvelled at those who had walked or cycled all the way up. And 15 years on, here I was taking on the same challenge. 

I must say it didn't actually feel as tough as I had expected. My hire bike, a Canyon Endurace felt very comfortable to ride on this terrain. It was light and responsive as I pushed on the pedals. In fact I didn’t have to press that hard, as the gears were low enough to just twiddle up the hill comfortably. Sure, it was possible to use a harder gear and make an out-of-the-saddle effort, but I was feeling slightly tired after my early start, so wanted to take things easily. I was glad to have had this bike to do the job. 

Montjuic is a popular climb with road cyclists, and professional cycle races have taken place there over the years. In the 1960s and 70s Eddie Merckx won the famous Escalada A Montjuic cycle race many times. More recently Montjuic has been included in the Vuelta a Espana, the Tour de France in 2009, and a couple of editions of the World Road Race Championships too.

Unfortunately, due to time constraints I couldn't hang around long at Montjuic as sunset was approaching and I didn't want to get back to my lodgings too late. I was able to quickly check out the various ornamental gardens and certain landmarks - the National Museum of Art, the Museum of Ethnology and a museum of archeology, as well as various Olympic sport venues. The place looked very neat and prim, set among buildings with a mixture of modern and catalan modernism architecture, set among stone pine trees.

Being up at Montjuic was like being in a large fortress surveying the city, ready to spot any unwelcome advances. In some ways it reminded me of Edinburgh when at the castle, or on the other side of the city, at Holyrood. Sadly I only had mental picture memories to take with me of Montjuic as I didn't even have time to take any photos. 

My ride finished with an enjoyable, long, sweeping descent to Plaza EspaƱa, and then the homeward bound trip via another principal axis with a central reservation cycle lane, Carrer Paral-lel, and onwards through the old port, Port Vell.

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