Can Malaga’s classic DH terrain deliver for the enduro generation? Juliet Elliot escapes the British monsoon season to find out.
words by Juliet Elliot / photos by Dave Noakes
made possible by RoostMTB
Fresh off the plane from a rain soaked, muddy British January, I’m adjusting to the luscious warmth of a Spanish winter and getting up to speed with mountain biking in Malaga – and Spain’s unique terrain. As a guest of Roost MTB, I’m in the right place to find out just what it is about this corner of the Med that attracts scores of international mountain bikers every year.
British run RoostMTB have been offering Downhill orientated weeks for the last four and a half years and the Team Wideopenmag guys have made it a regular pre-season downhill favourite. With the explosion in popularity of Enduro and huge advances in the capabilities of trail bikes, this year they’ve expanded their operations to include trips for those of us without triple clamp bikes.
For most Brits, Malaga’s main draw is of course sun, sea and sangria. Mountain bikers, however, aren’t just like anybody, so those run of the mill pleasures are not what makes us join the hordes of expats invading this corner of Andalucía. What we come to Malaga for is rock, dust and sand in its myriad formations, or so I’m told.
“We’ve got sharp rocks, pointy rocks, smooth boulders, red rock, grey rock, sandy rocks. There are so many different kinds of rock round here,” chuckles Sophie from Roost, as we gaze out of the window at the numerous mountains ringing the horizon. It’s a far cry from the slop and grease I’ve been riding back home.
Pedaling straight out of Roost’s luxurious villa, on day one we head to the closest fire track for a lung-busting 40-minute climb in the sunshine. It’s January, and I’m sweating in a jersey and shorts, my full face attached to my backpack. It’s glorious. My smile grows ever wider as we continue skywards, passing trail runners and cross-country riders hurtling back down from their training rides.
“I manage my first over-the-bars of the week and send my goggles flying down a ravine.”
To kick things off we ride a track called Winehouse, accessible only by pedaling. It’s an extremely narrow old hiking trail with pedal-catching rocks that keep you on your toes, or on the ground if you’re not alert. I manage my first over-the-bars of the week and send my goggles flying down a ravine. In lesson number one, I quickly learn that riding in Malaga demands your full attention, 100% of the time.
Goggles firmly reattached, after lunch we head to nearby ‘Happy Days,’ to do some van-assisted laps. Short, with steep sandy corners at the start, Happy Days is generally known as a Downhill track, but we find it no problem to ride on our trail bikes. Lesson two turns out to be that pretty much everything in Malaga that everyone has always ridden on DH bikes, can be ridden on trail bikes too. We finish up with a few more DH runs on the Sram test track, a really fun techy little trail through some woods, then head over to Maddy, a lovely run down an open hillside with a few rocky drops.
After a winning combination of climbing, pedaling, singletrack and shuttle runs, we’re thoroughly exhausted and head back to the villa for a shower, hot tub and plenty of food. A special shout out has to go to Sophie for making such killer vegetarian food for the non-meat eaters.
On day two, we’re dropped by the van at the start of a fire road heading up into the mountains for a pedal that will take us off the beaten track and away from the well publicized trails. Starting the day by powering your own way up a climb seems the right thing to do when you’re on an Enduro holiday! When my legs begin to ache from the ascent I just think of cold, rainy England and my turbo trainer, and I magically get a second wind.
The long climb takes us to the top of a steep hikers path which we access by riding down a row of rocky steps and attempting to hop around one of the tightest switchbacks I’ve ever seen. To our right, the land drops away for a stunning view to the coast, but my fear of heights has me so tense that the rocks rattle my very bones. We nickname the track ‘Goat Trail’ as we’re sure that only the nimblest of mammals could get down it untroubled.
Our afternoon is somewhat more mellow – an as yet unnamed flowing singletrack with lovely views that feels like a true enduro trail with wood, loam, rocks and sand and some pedaling sections. The final track of the day is Antenna, a fast, more open track with dusty wide corners that kick out boulders and finishes in a storm drain filled with broken furniture and a mattress.
Back at Roost, we’re pretty much done in – riding is Malaga is as tough on the body as it is on the bike. We spend another day riding Montes de Malaga and Limonard. Montes de Malaga has some crazy steep, tight switchbacks and lots of rocks and sand, whereas Limonard is fairly flat and easy with hard packed trails and lush vegetation. There’s also a dual slalom track that we enjoy playing around on, but the best fun is after lunch when we tackle another climb to ride what turns out to be a favourite trail, Ridiculoso.
“crazy steep, tight switchbacks and lots of rocks and sand”
Ridiculoso used to be accessible by van but the road has since been chained off, so it’s now reached via by a half hour ascent from Happy Days. It begins with some really deep sand – think riding across a beach but down a hill. Keeping my hand away from the front brake I drift my way down and it’s awesome fun; kind of like skiing or snowboarding in powder. A few rocky corners, some drops and flat out open sections take us down to the town where we cross the road for a step down and some doubles.
Our final day in Malaga is another belter and we ride a trail that I’ve filed in my list of favourites, one I definitely want to revisit. Previously used for the Spain Enduro Big Ride competition, the track in Ojen is the perfect ender to a week of getting to grips with the terrain in Andalucía as it contains every element we’ve come to expect. The track is pretty long with rock gardens, tight, steep turns, roots, gravel and wooded sections with a few bits that test your skill and confidence – a good line choice and technical ability is definitely a help.
After a cheap lunch in the sun with our buddies, we blast off a few van assisted laps at Monda – a 30 second loamy trail of fun berms and little jumps that feels like we’re in another country entirely – more like the UK than Malaga, if the UK wasn’t permanently under water!
Back in the van, talk turns to the terrain that we’ve ridden over the week, what Enduro really means and what makes an Enduro track. Some, such as the unnamed singletrack route we rode on our second day, stand out in my mind as being particularly Enduro – it was long, had a bit of pedaling and some mellower bits. Other trails felt more Downhill – they were tricky, steep and technical and we rode with body armour and full face helmets, so are tracks such as those deemed Enduro just because we rode up to them?
I’m none the wiser really, but what I do know is that with Roost’s expert guiding and a combination of uplifts, pedal power and pushing, we rode all of the tracks their Downhill guests tackled, but also accessed a large amount of singletrack that they didn’t.
So that feels like a win: win situation to me.
Thanks to RoostMTB for making this trip possible. Roost provide fully catered accommodation, uplifts and transfers for enduro and downhill mountain bike holidays in Malaga, Spain. The season runs from October to April with flights from most UK airports. For more info you can check out their Facebook.