Imagine yourself in the fast lane on your new super-duper racing bike while the cars and trucks tickle your taillight trying to get ahead. Imagine the adrenalin rush as you whiz past a ten-tonner on a tight bend whose driver doesn’t even know you’re there. But don’t worry, this is not what cycling in Andalucía is all about anymore.
Article by Vivion O’Kelly
In fact, it’s very different. The scenario above may be the stuff of nightmares for many older residents who remember the old N-340 and seldom saw cyclists on the roads of Southern Spain in the past, and who could never imagine cycling on the open roads of Andalucía as being anything but suicidal. In recent years, Spain – and especially Andalucía – has become a Mecca for cyclists from all over Europe.
So just how safe is it? A comparison with Britain, whose population is 1.4 times higher than Spain’s, tells us that, while Spain has 2.5 times more cyclists of all kinds than Britain, twice as many (141) were killed on Britain’s roads in 2020.
Which brings us to the present time, and time to take to the famed cycling routes of Andalucía with a look at the top five we have picked out for your peddling adventure. Remember to wear a helmet (obligatory unless during periods of excessive heat or on steep hills), never cycle against oncoming traffic (keep to the right-hand side of the road), stay within the speed limit of 30 kms per hour in urban areas and, unlike some other European countries, stay out of the bus lanes. And under-16s must wear helmets at all times.
About a dozen of the routes are old railway lines named Vias Verdes (Green Ways) whose former stations and other buildings have been turned into guest houses, restaurants, and information centres. These are obviously more suited to family cycling, and offer bikes for hire, following both coastal and mountain routes. Another option is a city ride, and Seville is now considered one of the best cities in the world for cyclists, with more than 160 kms of reversible bike lanes.
There are too many different bus companies operating in Andalucía to have standard regulations with regard to taking your bike on a bus, but we can say with certainty that it more or less depends on the driver. It will probably cost you a small amount extra, and the bike must be in a bag with the front wheel removed. You may have to book in advance, and the trick seems to be that you ask nicely.
We list our route selection by distance from Marbella, beginning with the closest.
Beach Promenade Route
We start with an easy one. Not everybody knows this, but you can ride your bike along the beach promenade between Marbella and Puerto Banús. The going is flat, the distance is short (about 14 kms from Marbella and back), the surface varies with steps in places, and the cool sea is right beside you in case of emergency. You can make the trip on your own or in company, by contacting one of the bike tour companies operating in the area, such as Baja Bikes or Bike Tours Marbella. Hardly any need for a map: if you can’t imagine this route in your mind’s eye, you are probably best advised to stay at home and watch a fitness show on television. The route can be extended by heading on towards San Pedro and perhaps turning up to visit the town itself. You may have seen it before, of course, but everywhere looks better on a bike.
This is (these are) a tough one, but they’re all difficult unless you stick to the level coast roads. Complete beginners might be better advised to avoid it until increased fitness kicks in. Different websites give different routes, but their commonality is that they all pass through the mountain village of Ojén, about nine kms from Marbella, depending exactly on where you start. A fairly short route would be to stay on the main road and bypass the village, heading on towards Monda. About six kms further on brings you to the turnoff on the right back down to Ojén on the old road, and after a well-earned rest in one of the village’s roadside bars, you can head straight home again. The total distance is about 22 kms, and the beauty of the ride, quite apart from the spectacular countryside, is that you head upwards on the first half and freewheel down most of the way on the second half. A short cycle, but if you feel up to it, ignore the right-hand turnoff already mentioned and cycle to Monda or Coín, where there are longer routes too numerous to mention here.
This is not an easy ride either, but then again, it’s cycling up and mainly freewheeling down. Starting at the Manolo Santana Tennis Club in San Pedro, the distance is about 30 kms in total, with magnificent scenery and views along most of the way. Rides like this are best done in the early morning. A shorter alternative would be to head for Banahavís instead.
Now for some serious cycling, and that means travelling some distance by car or public transport to your starting point. This route is about 140 kms in total, starting and finishing in the beautiful city of Ronda. It goes through the northern part of the Grazalema Nature Park, over wooded and mountain terrain, passing through the towns of Montecorto and Cortijo Salinas before dropping south to make the loop connecting back to the first third of the ride and then to Ronda once more. While not a particularly long or difficult ride for experienced cyclists, the likes of you and me are advised to do it in company, or as part of an organised group with qualified guides and probably a support vehicle. The scenery in this part of Andalucía is glorious, partly due to it passing through one of the areas of highest rainfall in the entire country.
The Washington Irving Route
Okay, so this is definitely not a route for the average amateur, and those who try it without the necessary experience will wish they had taken a trip to the Catskill Mountains instead and fallen asleep for 20 years. Easy to describe: it runs from Seville to Granada in a crooked line for 405 kilometres. The first 200 kms are hilly rather than mountainous, and then it gets progressively more difficult. A shorter version of the route would be to stick to the main roads where possible, keeping in mind that it is forbidden to ride a bike on an autopista in Spain. The route was not chosen for its natural beauty, but for its historical significance, so eyes down and keep peddling might be the order of the day. That is not to say, nevertheless, that the landscape is not stunning in many parts of this route, and many of the towns and villages it passes through are among the most picturesque in Spain.