Roberto Garcia Lema is a bikepacking enthusiast from northwest Spain who was a long distance cycle tourist that has turned to bikepacking for a more rugged experience.  Roberto just returned from a trip on the Pyrenees Mountain Trail. What is your age and where do you currently live? I am 41 years old and I currently live in Vigo, an industrial city in the south of Galicia, in northwest Spain. What do you do for a living? I have been a firefighter in Santa Uxía de Ribeira since 2004, a town placed 100 kilometers from Vigo. Before that I was working several jobs, for example, as guide and instructor for a Galician outdoors company for some years, or sled dog guide in the Argentinian Patagonia, or truck driver for a well known soft drink brand… Pyrenees Mountain Trail Biking is clearly very important to you, share how you make it a priority in your daily lifestyle. Well, I’ve been riding bikes since I can remember (or before), so they have always been a part of my day to day routine. For exploration, to commute or to ride with my devils and dreams – the two wheels have been wandering around me since I was a child. I hit the trails with the mountain bike two, three or four times per week, it depends: with my job I have a lot free time but me and Mima (my wife) also have a two year old wild boy, so you know…. we would like for the days have more than 24 hours. We also ride our commuting bikes daily, so Hugo (my son) is growing up surrounded by bikes which makes me so happy. He likes to repair them, so you can find bike pieces in the most unexpected places at home!   You recently finished spending nearly two weeks cycling in the Pyrenees mountains, what inspired you to plan this excursion? In 1995 I spent two months wandering through the Pyrenees with my huskies with backpacks, and since then I knew that I needed to have a date with my bike on those mountains. Last year I changed my bike travel style (Hail! Hail! Bikepacking!), so I thought the Pyrenees mountains could be the perfect trip to test the new equipment. Pyrenees Mountain Trail You traveled by bike for roughly 630 miles on the Pyrenees Mountain Trail, one of the more demanding trails in Spain. Describe the terrain you crossed along the way. The Pyrenees Mountain Trail is, together with the Pilgrim Way of Saint James and The Silver route, one of the most well-known trails in Spain, but the Pyrenees is the toughest so far. It´s a mountain range that runs from east to west (from the Mediterranean to the Cantabrian Sea), which serves as a natural border between France and Spain. A small country called Andorra is placed in the heart of these mountains. If you are looking for a new challenge, or following the traces of the history, or if you like architecture or gastronomy… the nymph Pyrene´s mountains could be waiting for you. I rode the trail from Almadraba Beach in the east (Girona province) to Donostia (Basque country) in the west. It was more than 1,000 kilometers long (620 miles) most of them along mountain tracks and dirt roads. Perhaps I rode 20% on paved roads, but in the form of small mountains roads. The elevation gain was  26,000 meters (85,000 ft) and it took me 12 days. There are three different zones along the route: The first one is called the Eastern Pyrenees. They are hotter, with short, hard, continuous climbs and descents. The Central Pyrenees are higher and colder. The climbs are longer (up to 20 miles) and steep (from 8% to 20% grade). The maximum height reached was about 2,300 meters (7,500ft). The last zone, called the Atlantic or Western Pyrenees, is a mixture of the previous – but much more wet than the first due to the presence of the Cantabrian Sea. In general, the trail is rough, dirty, dusty and rocky with very technical sections in several occasions.  Mud conditions were not a big problem for this date (August) and hiking is a must, not all days, but frequently. Strong wheels, low tpi tires, and good metal brake pads (or a spare pair) are highly recommended. It´s the perfect terrain for 26+ and 29+ platform. Pyrenees Mountain Trail Tell us about surviving in the backcountry of Spain. How was the climate for you in August? August is not the worst, but neither the best month to ride the Pyrenees due to several factors. There was an electric storm each evening, and very hot weather in the first few days, but in this case, family and job conveniences were decisive to choose this month. Although the weather was not too bad this time, I think the most stable month to ride this trail is September – less hot, less storms, dry weather and still enough hours of light. In spring you have to deal with the thaw and muddy conditions, and late autumn is wet and cold. In winter, you will find high mountains conditions: cold rain in the lower zones, snow, low temperatures, wind on the higher zones, as well as closed trails and danger of avalanches in several places. To get clean water is not a problem along the most of the trail, and the longest time you have to carry food between towns is for two days or so. Pyrenees Mountain Trail Did you have any major difficulties on the trail? I cannot tell you that there was a lot of risky adventure in this trip, because all went well. Just some difficult places where long hiking was a must. There was one day where I was navigating with no cartography in the GPS, only printed maps and the sixth sense (old style). Pyrenees Mountain TrailThe storms in the high mountains were an element to note, it was important to reach some safe place to camp or a shelter before the sky began to spit out millions of volts over my head. As I said, no risky tales, but a funny story… It happened in the Aragonese Pyrenees, in the central section of the range. I was tired and was pedaling at the end of the day in auto pilot mode, moving my legs up and down, up and down, up and down… climbing with the lowest gear from a wooded valley to the altitudes in a difficult, rocky and steep trail… I was thinking about the shelter that was waiting for me in a few kilometers with a fire, a dry place to accommodate my sleeping bag and a hot meal. Days ago I had been talking about bears several times with different locals in towns along the route, for no reason, only by chance. Talking about how the bear population is recovering and growing slowly in some regions of Spain, such as Picos de Europa or the Aragonese Pyrenees.  Before the trip, we also went with Hugo to the zoo, and two bears caged there had impressed me with their way of looking… so I think I carried his eyes in my subconscious. Right when I crossed noisily a big pile of dry branches, I listened how a big animal began to run frightened on my left side, but I could not see anything through the dense bush until I heard a strong GROOOOOOWL!!! Ooooh man…..the shot of adrenaline was immediate. You should have seen how my tired legs recovered immediately – all their power hit the pedals as steel pistons. “The f****** bear !!!” I thought, and for an eternity or so I climbed like a rocket through that difficult and rocky pass at 3 mph! (you know, fast enough to escape from a hungry beast…) Ridiculous, I know, but not as ridiculous as when after one of the switchbacks of the ascent I was surprised in the middle of the trail by a family of… wild boars! They ran away down the hill side growling as I had heard before.. I have confused a wild boar with a bear. Pyrenees Mountain Trail What was the most memorable moment?  Well, days in the wild are always full of great moments. Nothing special, but all is special, that´s the course. To find water, to have good meals to eat, to sleep dry… For example, I like to be riding before the sunrise when the earth smells like new, or feel the dust of the trail in my hands, in my face. The power of the big wheels downhilling like bulldozers at 35 mph makes my stomach fly. The sound of the tires crawling for hours over the rocky steeps raise my soul. I like the feeling of being a stranger, and the new silents of an unknown trail. I like to arrive at a bar in a town and take a beer or two with the bike parked on the sidewalk, while I watch through the window as the locals approach to take a closer look at the machine. I love to push myself and play with new projects while I ride hard. It´s a memorable moment when you understand that you are not going to die devoured by a wild bear. Pyrenees Mountain Trail What is one piece of gear that you couldn’t live without?  Difficult question this time… I loved every component of my bike, from the wide and double walled rims to the efficient and free-of-maintenance hydraulic brakes. The big and aggressive tires or the homemade remodeled and comfortable saddle. From the chameleon-like frame, to the versatile fork, the short and nervous stem or the prickly platform pedals. All of these define the performance of my bike and made me feel comfortable in the saddle for hours, day after day on the trail. Lastly, each component was involved in the result of the trip. I feel the same about most of my gear. Every piece was like a cog wheel and it´s a must that they work fine all together. But perhaps there is one piece above all that I`d save the first if my bike bursts amid napalm air strikes while playing the “Ride of the Valkiries”. My leaderdog, the Lieutenant Colonel of my squadron is my handlebar: The 710 Loop H-Bar from Jeff Jones.  Pyrenees Mountain Trail What bike were you on during this ride? I built my bike around a Surly Troll frame (and fork), size M. The attributes that I appreciate for a go-anywhere bike are its trustworthiness and its toughness. By my understanding, trustworthiness means that if some tough and unbreakable pieces breaks, I will, and can, repair it by myself or find any spare part in a dusty bikeshop of a lost ghost town to replace it, temporarily or permanently. My Troll, in spite of being a 26+ bike, meets this criteria. Pyrenees Mountain Trail Spec Summary: The Troll runs 26’’ x 3” Duro Wildlife Leopard tires (30 tpi), on 47 mm wide double walled Kris Holm unicycle rims. 36 spokes and three crosses with XT hubs. They are heavy (no tubeless), but strong wheels and ride them nowadays with 0.8 bar (11.6 psi) in the front and 1.0 bar (14.5 psi) in the rear. Yes, the Troll can run 3” tires on wide rims, but there are two tricks that you have to know:
  1. To use “one monkey nut and half” in each side.
  2. To use a washer in the driveside of the rear axle, between the lock nut and the drop out.
If somebody is interested in this question, I can send detailed pics with more information. Reply in the comments here. The 2×10 drivetrain is formed by a Surly offset crank (36/22t) and Shimano XT front and rear derailleur with a 36-11 cassette. The brakes are Shimano´s XT hydraulic with 180 mm rotors front and rear, and Ice-Tech metal brake pads (very long-lasting). I maintain anyway with the V-brake mounts. Nowadays, the saddle is a mixture between the leather of my old B-67 and a new Flyer´s frame. I used an Old Man Mountain Sherpa front rack and Salsa Anything Cages on the fork. Finally, the Jeff Jones Loop H-Bar with ESI extra chunky grips Pyrenees Mountain Trail  This was your first long distance ride using bikepacking bags and not panniers – was your experience better, worse, different? What are your thoughts on that? Totally different worlds. Since our son was born, I cannot go out travelling each time I want, or two weeks on, one week off as I did before. I needed to evolve as a cyclist so I decided make shorter trips, at the most 1,000 kilometers (more or less 620 miles) but with a high level of difficulty . The same rule plays for my one or two days small trips. For travel in difficult places or conditions, I will need a high mobility bike and new equipment. Then I discovered that what I was looking for, it was called bikepacking. I said bye bye to the panniers configuration (now only used in the commuting bikes for going shopping to the market). I began the transformation into a minimalist apprentice, a thrilling way of cycling that opened the door to new bike challenges, near or far from home. I am an enthusiast convert. Such is the case that sometimes I think that the bike rides better loaded than empty. It´s very agile, kind and rough trail friendly under any condition, climbing or downhilling. unnamed-17 What bags did you use? The seat bag and the top tube bag are from the renowned brand Revelate Desings (Viscacha and Gas tank respectively). Durable, easy and fast to pack, and they stay in place in the roughest trails. In the Viscacha I packed a shell jacket and the tent. I love how fast I can fold the tent in the mornings. The Gas Tank is for day to day spare batteries (in case), a small towel, toothbrush and paste, a small biodegradable bar of soap, some first-aid items, and my homemade multi-tool kit. The frame bag and the sawtooth handlebar bag with pocket are from Wanderlust Gear. A newer brand on the market who makes high quality bags. I hope Paul, the owner, will have dealers in Europe soon. In the frame bag I can store more batteries for the GPS and food for several days with no problem. The printed maps are carried in the left pocket. The capacity of the main roll is amazing: sleeping bag, the self-inflating mattress, the bivy bag, rain jacket, an insulated t-shirt, as well as arm and leg warmers. In the pocket is a camera with a small tripod, some money and documentation, my knife, a notebook with ballpen, and a small flash. The bags for the Salsa Anything cages were homemade, recycled from old, but still waterproof, kayak trousers. One of them survived to the trip… They stored clean clothes for rest time and sandals in one side – and spare parts for the bike, cycling clothes, stove and a titanium pot in the other. The stem bag for my 650 ml. waterbottle is also recycled and lives in the right side of the Sherpa Old Man Mountain rack. I also carried a homemade open bag to carry 1.5 water bottle. The fuel bottle for the stove was on the down tube. Pyrenees Mountain Trail Finally, do you have any plans for future tours? Yes, in the medium term I have several projects such as The Great Divide, the Himalayas, or go back to South America – but step by step. For the next year my bones will hit the trails in North Africa, probably through the Atlas Mountains to the Saharan Desert. There are always plans for tomorrow and for the day after tomorrow… Pyrenees Mountain Trail

13 Comments

  1. Interesting, love to hear more European stories on here 🙂 Thanks for sharing Roberto.

  2. Roberto, id love to know more on cramming those three inch tires on. I wonder if it would work on the Ogre. Safe travels.

    • Hi Rich,

      I don´t know if the Ogre can accommodate 29+ wheels (the Troll is 26 plattform) but It could be….Try it !!!

      I you are asking me for an Ogre with 26×3″ tires, keep in mind the BB height and what brakes you use.
      With disc brackes you will have no problem but if you are using v-brakes, you can not mount smaller rims (or have to use disc brakes)
      The BB height changes a cause of the different diameter of the wheels. In the case of my bike, with 47 mm wide rims and the Duro Leopard tires, the diameter of the wheel with 0.8 bares (11 psi) is 69 cmtrs (compare with your 29 wheels) and with 2.5 bares (36 psi) is 70 cmtrs.

      If you send my your mail I will send you some pics with the set up and the clearances.

      Ride hard,

      Roberto

  3. Hi Roberto….great to hear from you, specially being so close!

    I’m also taking my first steps on bikepacking, doing some overnights and weekends rides nearby Lisbon. I pretend to follow Douro River next summer, as well as Andaluzia and Morroco. Now, i’ve added Pirineus to the list!
    Boa aventura. Conta mais e que tudo te corra de feição!
    Aquel’abraço de Portugal
    Gonçalo Pais

    • Hi Gonçalo,

      I read with surprise and pleasure your message. As you say, we are so close.

      I am currently preparing my trip through Morrocco and we travel once or twice a year to Andalucía because my wife is from Sevilla. In this way, we spend each time some days in Sierra de Huelva (great place for biking). So if I can help you or if you ever come to Galicia, let me know.

      Grande abraço

      Roberto

  4. Roberto

    Inspiring report and have had Pyrenees on my list for too long.
    Which trail did you use as only one I can see is GR10 on French side?
    Is there a bike route on the Spanish side?

    • Hi Michael,

      Pyrenees are great for travelling by bike and there are a lot of routes in both sides (French and Spanish).

      The route I rode was based in the Transpirenaica trail (it runs in the Spanish side, very close to the GR 11 trekking route. Both share some sections).
      All the GR routes (Grande Randonnée) are trekking routes but they aren´t bike friendly (commonly) all of their itinerary.

      This is the link where you can find the guide I used. The maps and the gps tracks are it´s most value (send me a mail if you need more details).

      http://www.libreriadesnivel.com/libros/la-gran-travesia-de-los-pirineos-en-btt/9788483213810/

      Where are you from?

      Regards,

      Roberto

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  7. Hi. Great write up. I have ridden the Camino de Santiago a few years ago as well as the GR5 Geneva to Nice and would like to ride this route too.
    I do not speak much Spanish so the guide book would not be of much use to me, but a GPS file would be a great help.
    Where can I get the GPS file?
    Thanks
    Andy

    • Hi Andy ,
      You can get the gps file in wikiloc, just write “transpirenaica” in the search window .
      You will see that are a few because this route has different reroutes along the way…

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