5 days of Enduro MTB riding and racing on the wonderful island of Madeira, what’s not to love about that?!
Before our kids came along I competed in the 2008 Trans-Wales race which, primarily a 7-day XC MTB race across the bike parks of mid-Wales in the UK, did very little to prepare me for this year’s inaugural Trans-Madeira MTB Enduro. MTB’s have moved on substantially over the last 10 years with the modern Enduro bike providing amble travel, relaxed angles (for greater stability at speed and on the steeps) but with fantastic climbing ability and light weight, all of which resulting in a single machine that can take you virtually anywhere. Free Ride Madeira certainly made the most of this by plotting 5 days’ worth of fantastic riding over the steep and varied slopes of Madeira to fully test what was possible by man/woman and machine.
My riding partner for the week was my older brother Tony. By some handy twist of genetics we are still remarkably evenly matched both fitness (pretty fit) and daring (not very daring) wise so there was very little waiting required at both the top and bottom of the trails. It is an individual event but the timed sections, which were all downhill, only took up a small part of the day so the majority of the time you are just cruising along taking in the sites, socialising with other riders and stopping at cafes and feed zones.
The special stages would go from the barren summit of Madeira, 1800m high, plunging down through the cloud level with its eucalyptus rain forests, right down to the blue Atlantic ocean. Panoramic ridge-lines, twisty forest trails rim-deep in loam, and the steepest, most technical slopes I’ve ever ridden meant each special stage was a real test. Having ridden the MTB in Chamonix a number of times taking in many of the very steep tracks through the woods, the trails of Madeira have recalibrated my definition of steep with technical descents which you are basically falling down while hoping you’ll still be attached to your bike at the bottom. Don’t tell my wife!
Between the special stages there were transition stages that took you from the bottom of one special stage to the top of the next. Often this would be heading back up a 4WD track or road but there were also many transitions that traversed some of the islands famous Levadas and took in the historic, cobbled trails that cling precariously to the cliffs. Seeing as these transition stages aren’t being timed then we were free to take our time to enjoy the views and keep everything safe.
The ancient cobbled tracks with their rounded steps (just visible in the above picture) allow for easy passage by foot but on a bike they provide what is known as the “Madeiran Massage” where all of your muscles are bounced up and down in a rather violent way. I’m not sure how the handful of guys riding hard-tails coped!
The one main hike-a-bike section was certainly fairly intimidating rising over 700m from the valley below. First, up through the cloud-choked eucalyptus forest but then breaking out into the heat of the sun and the simply breathtaking views (if I had any breath left to take) above. From the top of the hike was the most amazing 9km traverse clinging to the side of the mountains. Never as exposed to ride as it looked from afar but still plenty of technical sections and drops to keep you on your toes. Just about all the other climbs during the week were ridable given enough fitness and enthusiasm but seeing as the climbs were not being timed lots of people would walk the more severe gradients and save their pedalling energies for the next special stage.
The start of each day involved a lorry/coach uplift which is a must if you are thinking about heading to Madeira for a spot of biking yourself. Using a guiding company like Free Ride Madeira would also be a must. These guys know all the trails as they’ve been instrumental in building most of them and working with the local government to improve access.
The classic ridge-lines are probably the most memorable trails on Madeira with swoopy single-track and great views if you take the time to look at them. The many microclimates on the island can mean that in a single trail you go from wet, slippery rocks on the ridge right through to completely dry, power-esque loam in the woods below. Aways pack both your waterproof and sunscreen!
The Trans Enduro events offer a fairly unique experience to be riding right alongside and hanging out with some of the world’s best riders. Everyone is having the same amount of fun riding the very same trails, just that some of the guys ride down the timed ones an unbelievable amount faster than others. I like to think that I get to enjoy the trails for longer 😉
The good news is that Free Ride Madeira have already announced that they will be running the second edition of Trans-Madeira next year so give them a follow on Facebook to keep in the loop for when the entries open. I would whole-heartedly recommend it!
Grab yourself a coffee and watch the official video from the event: