The general theme of this blog about gravel and road riding in Madeira will probably be steepness. There’s no getting away from the fact that Madeira is never going to be the most well rounded nor easy riding destination because gradients under 10% are rare, rarer still are sections of flat track or road. Those flat sections you find tend to be traversing cliff faces and have vertiginous drops.
Do you like tough climbing and type two cycling fun? Then read on, I have a feeling you’ll like this place….
The maps indicated that Madeira has lost most of it’s old gravel tracks, EU grants have funded a boom in infrastructural improvements across the Island. As a result paved roads prevail here now to help cars get up and down. However I would still suggest a gravel bike would be handy even if you stay on tarmac. The steepness of descents mean skinny tyres just lock up under braking, tight hairpin corners lead to wipe outs etc….
When you look a bit deeper into the island there are ancient cobble lanes, steep tracks and paths that link the terraced hillsides and forested mountains together all still there, they just need paved road to link them up
The first route I rode was along the north coast from east to west, starting near Santana I just followed the coast as closely as possible heading west. It is an interesting option because a lot of the old road hugs the coast, and takes you away from the newer tunnel filled highway. It’s worth carrying a good rear light as you’ll encounter some tunnels still and some pretty long.
With the gravel bike I could detour onto some of the Islands cobbled tracks that the wine producers used to get barrels onto boats.
The coastal roads were closed because of countless landslides. Therefore riding this road is a bit like Russian Roulette, dodging rocks as they roll done the cliffs above. Still I survived and the Lauf fork with 40mm tyres helped smooth the ‘gravel’ road out! I wasn’t hanging about to take photos but some rock falls were huge.
The route ended in a town called Porto Moniz where I road to the end of the track and faced the Atlantic.
Then despite being January we went for a swim in the salt water pools. It wasn’t warm but compared to Scotland it was good. No one else was swimming it’s fair to say.
The next gravel ride was one that I had been excited about. On the map a huge switchback gravel road rises from Sao Vincente to 1650m on the central plateau of the island.
A relentless climb from sea level into the forest then on into the clouds. I was running a 42 front ring and 10;42 rear, the mech was struggling to get into the 42 on the back. It proved to be a tough climb! In fact it took so long I hardly stopped for pictures because I was worried about it getting dark.
It was also getting loose, really loose and steep near the top.
Once up on the plateau it was zero visibility and cold. The track emerges among the wind turbines near Bica de Cana, I could hear them all around me but not see them! Then onto the road ER110 which has been closed to cars for a few years. I was told bikes could still use it though…..
Having passed concrete barriers I had the road to myself and hit 69kph apparently as I sped down on wet roads. It soon became clear why this amazingly scenic road was closed. All along its length rocks from cricket ball to TV size were scattered, the road is cut into the cliff face and above it is pretty unstable. It was another game of Russian roulette!
I took it easier on the wet roads here, a loosely guarded 400m vertically drop tends to slow me down.
Finally after a few pictures taken I arrive back at the junction back down towards Encumeada pass. We were staying in Agua Serra so it wasn’t a long loop over to Sao Vicente but the vertical was pretty impressive!
The final ride was an explore nearer capital Funchal. The first climb was set to be even bigger than the previous record.
From sea level to 1820m in one climb, at 16km the gradient averaged more than 10% for the duration. It was the sort of climb that I probably won’t do again in a hurry, but plenty of waves and thumbs up from motorists along the way!
After the road climb to the peak I explored some of the off road tracks on this side of the island. It seems that many are just too steep as climbs but for descents there were a few fun options.
Good views guaranteed at every turn;
The legs certainly got a work out!
Not a bad sunset looking towards Funchal on the last day either;
Houses in the old part of Funchal on my way back.