Tuesday 16 April 2024

Back to Barcelona for more cycling

My previous trip to Barcelona in February had been fun, but quite rushed. I barely skimmed the top in terms of bike rides. So I thought I would return there and do the place justice. My cycling holiday had a slightly frustrating start though.

My cycle route on Strava

Passeig de St Joan, Barcelona

On my arrival in the Catalonian capital the first thing that struck me was the weather. Just like on my previous trip in February, the sun was shining. The difference was the radiant heat accompanying it. The temperature was around 25°C - quite a contrast from the cool atmosphere in London where my journey had started. Furthermore, the temperatures were set to rise even more over the coming days.

After settling into my hostel in the Gràcia neighbourhood and completing some work for one of my clients, I walked down Passeig de St Joan to my new regular place, Terra Bike Tours to pick up my steed for the trip, a Canyon Endurace bike.

Then I did a customary pootle around the city, mainly taking in Avinguda Diagonal. I needed to return to the shop to make a couple of adjustments to the bike in terms of the saddle height and to change the saddle for a more comfortable one, though the staff were able to oblige. I enjoyed my ride around the city at this time as it was rush hour, and like in many cities around the world it is at this time of day that you see the cycling community in all its glory as the locals make their way home from work on two wheels.

Barcelona cycle commuters

The following day was saw me cycling in some lovely areas in the Parc Natural de Sant Llorenç del Munt i l'Obac just North of Barcelona, but it was a slightly frustrating ride that was abruptly truncated. 

As I had spent the morning walking around the neighbourhood among the tourists taking photos of the beautiful architecture and notably La Pedrera, I didn't start riding until the afternoon,  

La Pedrera

Close to where I was staying was Gràcia FGC suburban train station, from where I caught a train out to Terrassa. The plan would be to ride to Montserrat. 

Once out of Terrassa Estacio del Nord station and in the blazing heat on the high street, I followed the cycle path to the end of the town and continued on the road uphill.

Initially the road was busy, but once I had passed the roundabout for the motorway the road became practically devoid of vehicles and I was left to my own devices to tackle the 10km climb. It wasn't particularly hard, and was more of a undulating road than a full-on climb.

It was a nice Friday feeling to be among the oak and pine trees with all the aroma associated with this part of the world, as well as the peaks of the Montserrat mountain range to my left in the distance. I saw a few cyclists along the way, though I guess there would be far fewer folks who would take a Friday afternoon off from work to cycle, compared with the numbers who would be out on a weekend. This route I was probably more frequented by locals than by visitors, too.

On the road to Castellbell from Terrassa

After around 10km the road levelled off and I enjoyed a lovely be descent. It wasn't my first switchback descent of the year - I had done a few in February - but being the first one of this trip I wanted to take things easy.

Then just as I was really enjoying everything and thinking "nothing beats this" I heard a pop like a bursting balloon. 

I looked down and saw that I had a front wheel puncture. How did that happen? What the hell's going on?? The road was beautifully smooth with no débris on it at all. Yet the tyre had suddenly punctured. I'm just glad I'd been able to  hold my line as I was on a bendy descent at the time. This was a massive heartsink moment, but I had to keep my cool and just get on with remedying the problem.

Luckily, the place where the puncture happened was near a small settlement of houses and farms. So I was able to wheel the bike to a little driveway and sit on a sandstone rock, a characteristic feature of the area, to sort out the technical hitch.

A number of cyclists passed by, and a few of them asked if I was okay, to which I replied in the affirmative. Well, I thought I was fine. There were two problems to deal with. One of the spare inner tubes I had had a loose valve which snapped off when I was trying to pump up the tyre. That left me with only one spare inner tube, which would leave me feeling vulnerable as I would no longer have a spare. Furthermore, I discovered that the puncture had been from the inside of the wheel rim because a part of it was not fully covered by the rim tape. That would therefore leave me prone to another puncture. So I didn't feel confident about riding much more.

An old local guy, Pedro, who lived in the nearby village of Castellbell i el Vilar stopped to help me, as I realised I would need to call on extra strength to pump up the tyres to a good pressure! 

Monterrat peaks along the route where I was hoping to go

Pedro's old sinewy arms did just the trick in putting in enough air to give me the confidence to ride any further. He had lived in the area for over 40 years and knew the roads like the back of his hand. Riding up the local hills was probably just a little tootle for him, where for me it was a real outing which required a bit of effort. By the time we'd sorted everything it was almost 4pm, though I had begun to feel a bit more positive about continuing my ride. When I told him I was hoping to get to Montserrat he looked a little shocked and said, "Do you know what it's like to climb? It's much harder than what you've just ridden up. How strong are you?" I told him I was hoping to test myself out on the hill. "Well, try it but you won't get to the top before 6pm. And then if you are hoping to return to Barcelona you could be out all evening! Don't worry, it gets dark late around here!"

I realised that he had a point and there was no point in continuing. He reckoned that my tyre would be okay and the chance of getting a puncture would be low, though the issue was more to do with how long I was prepared to stay out riding. He said he could give me his phone number and if I got into difficulty he would drive up and collect me and take me to one of the nearby train stations. That was kind of him, but I decided it would be best to go straight to the train station and get back to Terra Bike Tours before they closed. I bid Pedro good bye and rolled down the hill to the train station at Castellbell i el Vilar where very handily the Barcelona-bound train was due 15 minutes later.

Back at Terra Bike Tours the mechanic sorted out the problem and was extremely apologetic, saying this had never happened before. He assured me that the bike would be fine. 

So, it was slightly annoying to have had to cut short my bike ride, but I felt confident that there's a lot of good will in these parts, and that made me feel positive about my ride for the following day.

Related posts

Operation Etape du Tour: February update - trip to Serralada Littoral

Barcelona Cycle ride - Montjuic and Port Vell

Venturing out to Mortirolo

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