Mountain Bike - Gran Canaria, La Fortaleza

Posted: Wednesday, 14 October 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,
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This report is dedicated to Roger a devoted an observant reader who noticed a dearth of the usual off-season summer reports and recently commented...
(The SkiBike Shop) normally documents an interesting trip or two to a German indoor ski-slope, or a bicycle ride around Greenwich - But nothing.... Thought you might be ill, or working triply hard to pull some funds together...

The answer was pretty much yes to all of the above; after the 2014-15 SkiBike Tour finished in April I had to dive head long straight into boring old work and yes working triply hard would be a fair estimation. I also had a number of essential house repair projects to push through during the summer, refurbishing and redecorating the exterior of both mine and a neighbour’s houses; even so I somehow managed to squeeze in an indoor skibike trip to both SkiHalle and SnowWorld in early July. Unfortunately, with all this manic activity I picked up a horrid cough that lasted from mid-August through till early October, as a result of all this furious endeavour I was getting a bit burned out and desperately needed a quick break to re-vitalise.

Too much boring work - I needed a break
So feeling like an old man I stepped aboard an EasyJet flight for a trip to the island of Gran Canaria for a week or so of rest and relaxation. Despite these worthy intentions, if I could squeeze in a mountain bike related adventure, well so much the better.
I should mention that I have visited the island of Gran Canaria many times in the past; around the year 2000 I even packed a very heavy and primitive DiamondBack rigid mountain bike into a bag and gave it my best to conquer the many peaks to be found in the centre of this island. This time round I was looking for some uplift that would evade the whole tedious business of spending 6 hours of climbing for just 30 minutes of wild descent.

My research took me to Free Motion a trendy looking outfit that offered mountain bike tours, with uplift, bikes, water and even a sandwich included on their jaunts. I made some last minute arrangements through their website to join the "La Fortaleza" tour which promised 1350 metres of vertical descent for a mere 440 metres of ascent.


You never know what lurks behind a shiny website, I had suspected that the Free Motion base camp in Playa del Inglés would be just three enthusiastic guys with a mini bus and trailer. To my surprise I discovered a large scale operation with more than a whiff of Teutonic efficiency about it. Apart from the formidable showroom and shop, there were the outdoor workshops and racking systems, all complemented by a shiny collection of branded vehicles filling the parking lot.
It was precisely the sort of operation that would not have looked out of place in the centre of Gstaad and a quantum leap from usual Spanish resort bike hire operators.

Having checked in, I had a few minutes spare to grab a coffee and pastry from the German bakery on the other side of the road before getting on the shuttle bus for the 900 metre vertical uplift close to the village of San Bartolomé de Tirajana at the start of the tour.

On the bus there were the typical mix of super fit Germans, Swiss and sundry Scandinavians present, plus Team GB comprising myself and Magnus, who had made the long journey down from The Orkney Islands to represent Scotland.

The journey up to San Bartolomé de Tirajana only takes 20 minutes from Playa del Inglés, once at the top we were assigned our bikes and had the chance for a quick pedal around the car park to familiarise ourselves with our steeds. Mine was to be a Cannondale Rush 29 2, a marque I haven't previously encountered, my first impressions were of a sturdy, yet light mountain bike with plenty enough travel to soak up the bumps.

A mix of fit; Germans, Swiss and Scandinavians - plus Team GB

It was the first 29er big wheeled mountain bike that I've had a chance to ride and it seemed very efficient, requiring very little energy to get going and minimal rolling resistance, in spite of the monster tyres fitted. It was also my first experience of using disk brakes too, which proved to be very suitable for the task; although the brake levers were the wrong way round compared to UK practice, with front on the left and rear on the right. I was going to have to be especially careful not to accidentally grab the left one on descents and risk heading over the handlebars.

Somewhere along the immense Barranco de Tirajana - spot the skibiker!

The ride began rather abruptly with an "easy" warm up, climbing up a lung bursting 20% gradient, above the village, I was relived to see the odd person get off and push and gladly followed suit. The pain and effort were soon forgotten as we plunged down vertiginous descents through the village of San Bartolomé de Tirajana, the tyres scrabbling to maintain traction with the concrete, rubble, rocks and dirt that formed the path running between the houses.
I was focusing on avoiding the near lethal consequences of grabbing the front brake and had to keep repeating to myself "right hand only, right hand only, right hand only" like a mantra.

La Fortaleza - Long sweeping dirt trails

Heading South towards the sea, we worked away along long sweeping dirt trails following the West side of the immense Barranco de Tirajana. In some ways this was the most enjoyable part of the ride as you could go pretty much flat out and let the bike's suspension take the strain.

Although the Cannondale Rush 29 2 is one of Free Motion's most basic hire items, I found that it had lots of control for locking out the suspension on climbs or road sections.
Bike Radar gave the Cannondale Rush 29 2 quite a poor review seeing the Fox fork as a weak point; fortunately I hadn't read the article before the trip, furthermore given the vintage nature of the bikes I typically ride, I found it to be a superbly well engineered machine.

Cannondale Rush 29 2 - a well engineered machine

We stopped half way along for a lunch stop and I got the chance to deplete my ample water reserves. I had been concerned about de-hydration so brought with me 2.5 litres of water, only to find myself handed another 2 litre bottles by the Free Motion guide to stash in my back pack at the start of the ride. I was greatly relieved to loose a good couple of Kilos of weight of my back at this point.

On the next leg of the journey we emerged from the clouds and into the desert heat of the South coast of Gran Canaria with water streaming from my downhill style helmet on the more exerting climbs back towards Playa del Inglés as we tracked the route of the motorway through desert scrub. Our last few Kilometres followed the beach promenade, with our dusty mountain bikes looking incongruous as we skipped past the sun worshippers.

La Fortaleza - time for a pleasant ride along the prom

I found my all too brief outing with Free Motion very enjoyable and exhilarating. The whole operation ran with the precision of a Swiss watch and the guiding was very detailed, briefing you on each leg of the route, before agreeing the next rendezvous point. This practice gave the fastest riders the chance to let rip whilst the guide was often zipping from the front to the rear of the pack and watching out for those with mechanical issues, punctures or just plain old stragglers like me.
It's such a shame that on such trips UK riders are so under represented compared to the army of Scandinavians who appreciate that Gran Canaria as so much more to offer than just; sun, beer, chips, "Kiss me quick" hats and camel rides.

You can download the La Fortaleza route plan in pdf format here

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