Madeira Road Biking Trip + 48a Volta a Madeira
Madeira is a 35km long, sub-tropical, Atlantic island that belongs to Portugal. Sometimes called the Hawaii of Europe, it is situated off the coast of Morocco and is quite separate from the Spanish Canary Islands much further South and the Azores much further to the West. Its geography and history were both interesting to me as it was formed about 7 million years ago due to volcanic action, giving an 1800m peak. It had no snakes or land mammals on the islands until its ‘discovery’ in the 15th Century.
I’ve just come back from a two-week holiday there and as Europe baked and blazed in the Summer heat, Madeira was extremely pleasant and the climate was highly conclusive to a wee bit of road cycling. The temperatures peaked at 24 Celcius, humidity was moderate, there were only light winds and it rarely rained despite frequent cloud cover.
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Cycling On Madeira
I decided to hire a bike rather than take my own as I only planned cycling day trips every other day so that I could spend some valuable family time exploring the island. However, hiring a decent bike was difficult. I had lined up a rather sweet Scott Foil but was let down at the last minute and ended up with little choice other than a Canyon Touring bike from E-bike Madeira. The company prepared the bike excellently but it was lower spec than I wanted (105 manual, 11 speed, 32T rear, compact front, crank too long, rim brakes) although it was a carbon frame. I brought along my Favero Assioma pedals, Garmin Edge 540 and regretted not bringing my Garmin Varia rear radar/light and water bottle!
Despite my visit coinciding with the Volta a Madeira, I saw very few of the more serious road cyclists on the South side of the island neither in nor around the capital of Funchal. That said, there are plenty of places to hire e-bikes and mountain bikes, indeed there seemed to be somewhat of an off-road bike scene going on.
My first impression of drivers on the island was that they were very safe and mostly attentive and considerate to other drivers and pedestrians. However, they encounter few road cyclists (me) and were pretty clueless about giving space, and I even got run off the road at one point. The lack of encounters with road cyclists extended to the local canine population. I was more than half-heartedly chased by semi-feral dogs on 6 separate occasions, clearly, bikes were a novelty to them too.
The EU and Portuguese governments have spent vast amounts of money on the island’s road infrastructure. Essentially a ring road (motorway) has been built around much of the island and will be completed in about 2025. You don’t want to cycle on that. However, there are numerous valleys going from sea level to the various peaks and each has its own road. Invariably these have recently been resurfaced to an excellent standard. From the point of view of road surfaces, Madeira is awesome. Each valley and part of the towns can have lesser, older roads; again these are usually well surfaced but they are steep. And I mean that they are steeper than you are thinking.
Whichever route you take inland, the climbs are relentlessly upwards with little respite. Even the routes around the island from the base of one valley to the next are hilly as you traverse the ridges. Perhaps the only flat bits I encountered were on the seafront of the capital Funchal.
The air pollution levels are generally low or non-existent. However, in the City of Funchal, there are many old cars that clearly haven’t passed an emissions test for more than a decade. Funchal is a bit smokey and not so nice in the daytime from that perspective.
Some Road Bike Trips
One day I hit the Caminho do Comboio which is a road that follows the old uphill train line (funicular) to the tropical gardens at Monte. It’s freakin’ steep and continuously straight for about 3km. I managed just over 2kms before deciding I really wasn’t enjoying it. Skimming through the apparent gradient on Strava later, it seems to be consistently between 20 and 30 degrees. It was really unpleasant and I longed for my 34T cassette which probably still wouldn’t have been enough for me. It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to cycle.
There are alternative routes up to the same top point. My plans for subsequent days ALWAYS involved those!
The standout morning ride from Funchal was to the Radar Station at the top of the 1800m Pico do Areeiro. According to Strava, local riders seem to go from the end of the quay in Funchal to the top via Monte and the Estrada Regional 103. It’s technically a main road but once you get out of Funchal there are few other vehicles. Again, that road surface is outstanding and so it makes the 8 to 15% sections seem easier than they otherwise might. It’s probably going to take most relatively keen cyclists 2 to 3 hours to get to the top, maybe a bit longer. But it’s worth it. There are some truly spectacular views on the way up and if you are lucky enough to get to the top having passed through the clouds, then there are similar breathtaking views all around as some of the island’s lesser peaks and wind turbines poke through the mists.
Other trips to try would be to Serra de Agua, Lombo do Mouro or Estrada Regional 208 past the Lavada do Norte.
Madeira: A Road Cycling Destination in the Making?
No, I don’t think it will become a ‘road cycling destination’.
Madeira’s peak doesn’t quite rival the extra 500m or so of Tenerife’s Mount Teide (link to Strava) and Madeira’s climbs seem to be generally shorter/steeper (?) than Tenerife and perhaps too challenging for a large range of novice cycling abilities. Tenerife Island is larger and offers longer coastal rides.
I think it would become repetitive to base a 7-10 day cycling holiday from one location in Madeira and, perhaps, the alternative of multiple short stops around the island each with inland excursions would be tricky to organise.
That said, I would definitely return to Madeira for a family holiday and then do a combination of 3 or 4-day/half-day trips interspersed with running/swimming days. If I was planning a 7-day cycling holiday with mates I probably would favour Tenerife.
48a Volta a Madeira
The five stages of the 48th Volta a Madeira were held at the same time as the Tour de France and didn’t quite get the same level of coverage. I snuck into the start area hoping to get some shots of as-yet-unreleased tech but probably have more coming across my desk than was on display! Nevertheless, there are good riders competing.
- Stage 1 – 32.4km: 20th of July, Portela/Terreiro da Luta.
- Stage 2 – 45.8km: Santana/Porto Moniz.
- Stage 3a/b – Prazeres/Fajã da Ovelha and Funchal/Câmara de Lobos.
- Stage 5 – Funchal.
Here are the men’s and women’s winners.
- Yellow Jersey: João Jacinto.
- Green Jersey: Bruno Saraiva.
- White Jersey: Diogo Pereira.
- Pink Jersey: Susana Freitas.
- Blue Mountain Jersey: Renato Macedo.
- Team: CPR A-do-Barbas/AKIplast/PVS
Road Bike Hire In Madeira
As already mentioned the hire choices for road bikes are not good but here are some options I considered (please feel free to comment on good additions) and they all charge around Eu30-35/day.
Limited road bike hire options but many other kinds of bikes can be hired.
A great holiday destination for a mixture of relaxation and challenging one-day cycling trips in beautiful surroundings.
For a dedicated cycling holiday, consider an organised trip
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