Mallorca– the place Disney would have created if they had thought up MAMIL-Land instead of wasting their time with FantasyLand. I’ve been fortunate enough to go there not once, not twice, but thrice to ride my bike and eat like a pig. You can do both, as well as drink copious amounts of beer. In short, it’s really a wonderful place. There’s quite a bit to the island that is not well documented on the internet. I’ve spent quite a bit of time searching for good info, and beyond a handful of sites that list some rides, most of the info available is pretty shallow. Note that many restaurants and other places of interest don’t have websites at the time of this writing, but that makes finding them seem so delightfully 20th-Century.
There are a wide variety of touring companies who will take your money and show you all that Mallorca has to offer, complete with catered meals, SAG wagons, and laundry. If you go that route, you can basically stop reading here. However, my approach to visiting was simple: It’s a small island. How lost can I get? If I am riding and get to the water, my choices are simple: left, right. As it turns out, there are variations of lost, and I sampled many of them.
Getting there: You could take a boat, which is relatively easy since it’s an island, but since the airport in Palma is one of the busiest in Europe, you can rely on their expertise and just fly. I’ve connected from both Barcelona and Madrid, both have pretty easy connections and have many flights per day. PMI airport is small, particularly compared to the sprawling Madrid airport (when the reader board says 40 minutes to your gate by foot, they mean it). The first time you arrive at Palma, you join the throngs of other jet-lagged and confused travelers who don’t realize there is a separate baggage claim room for international bags (including bikes). There are entry turnstyles to this space, and unused customs checkpoints at the exit. Leaving this room, you pretty much go straight out to the rental car kiosks and exit of the airport. Getting lost factor: Low, if you look for this room. Hint- it’s past all the rest of the baggage carousels.
Rental cars: With regard to cars, each time we’ve gone, I rented one. It’s not outrageously expensive, and if you’re planning on riding in several areas, well worth it. Twice I’ve gotten small vans (Ford Transit or similar). These are large enough to get 3 bikes and 3 people (well, 2 adults and a kid) inside without taking the front wheels off. Most rental car agencies have off-site lots, so expect to take a shuttle bus. PMI is not well-signed, so you can also plan on visiting several shuttle stops before finding the correct one. This gives you a nice tour of the airport and a chance to stretch your legs. Some companies will allow you to pay an extra fee to drop the car off at the airport when you leave, so remember to ask when you pick up the car. Getting lost factor: Low-medium, depending if you decide to ask where the shuttle for your rental car company is or if you just wing it.
Driving: Once you leave the airport or the car lot, the freeways are well-marked and pretty easy to follow. Many cars now have GPS integrated into the dashboard, but on our first trip it was offered as an expensive add-on. As we had brought Garmins for our bikes, we declined. My lovely wife was tasked with using the tiny device and rental car map to navigate us out of the airport and into the island, which was pretty successful until her jet-lag kicked in and she fell sound asleep.
We like to stay in the northeast corner of the island, in Port de Pollensa. The MA-13 freeway takes you straight to Alcudia (a wonderful town), and it’s a short surface street to Port de Pollensa from the entry of Alcudia (MA-2210, left at the roundabout where MA-13 ends). Drive time is about 45 minutes from the airport, assuming your navigator has had some coffee.
We used the aforementioned Garmins to navigate to different areas to ride, but on day one of this effort, found ourselves on a tiny road in the middle of a large field, with grass brushing both sides of our car. Feeling Griswold-ish, I had visions of a farm truck coming towards us and forcing me to drive in reverse for miles. At lunch, I sheepishly and quietly set the Garmin’s navigation preferences from bike to car. Our return trip took less than an hour on larger roads. Getting lost factor: low to significant, depending on how much you want it.
Generally, access to cycling without a car is very easy from Port de Pollensa to Alcudia to Port d’Alcudia. There are many loops and routes available from these towns. Many bike shops sell a plasticized map with routes and color-coded (by traffic load) roads. These are well worth the 8 Euros and are much easier than fussing with Garmin routing. Before our first visit to the island, I searched for GPS tracks to load. I found a single website with over 1,500 files, but of course, none had much value as I had no context. I ended up relying on the map, which was much easier than sorting through all those files. Getting lost factor: Depends on if you coughed up 8 bucks.
Bikes Depending on your preferences and logistical abilities, you can either take your own or rent. We’ve done both, and there are ample opportunities for top-caliber rentals. My wife and I rented the first time we went, and got carbon Pinarellos with 105 Grouppos. We took our pedals and saddles, and the rental company drove to our hotel to deliver and perform a perfunctory fit check (their website asks for dimensions of your bike during reservations). If I recall, we spent about 25 Euros per day. There are too many rental offerings to list here, but suffice to say if you want to try a titanium or carbon bike, you have many, many options. Keep in mind many, if not all, rental bikes will have moto-style (right-hand is front brake) setups, but this is pretty easy to adapt to.
Before our second trip, I asked my wife if she wanted to rent again. Her reaction, “I don’t want to ride that plastic piece of shit”, affirmed my love for her, as well as her affinity for metal frames. She has become fond of the frames I have designed for her. Note to the N+1 devotees: it’s much easier to smuggle in bikes and bike parts if you periodically take care of the missus as well. Also, move everything around so she loses count. Make sure she does not read the preceding sentences.
Taking a bike is relatively easy, although large plastic hardshell cases can be difficult to fit in rental cars and hotel rooms. Smaller cases, such as the Oru Case, are much easier to carry but require you to remove the fork and front brake. Most bikes use Aheadset-type stems, so removing the fork and brake add only one extra step once you remove the stem from the steerer tube. I studied the Oru Case and Gavilan BFF case, then commissioned Defiant Packs to build my interpretation. Since then, we’ve made several trips with these bags, and they’ve flown for free despite being 4″ over the maximum size for baggage. Treat your gate agent nicely, folks. Of course, coupled bikes like the S&S or Ritchey style, take more effort to assemble and disassemble, but the bags seem positively Liliputian compared to hardshell or full-sized cases.
If you do take your bike and use disc brakes, I strongly recommend removing the rotors. It can be a hassle dealing with 12 Torx bolts per bike, but it’s less of a pain than a bent rotor. If you have CenterLock rotors, take the correct wrench, and you’re done in seconds. For tools, you can significantly reduce your load by changing out as many bolts as possible on your frame to the same sized head (4mm and 5mm being the most common), and then investing in a very high-quality multi-tool, like the Silca torque kit. It’s expensive, and worth every penny. Just make sure you understand the torque wrench won’t click. When folded up, it’s barely the size of a wallet. I added an 8mm hex to my kit for pedals. If you don’t reef down on your pedals when you install them (finger-tight plus a nudge), this tool has enough leverage to get them back out. Getting lost factor: Low, because you’re not riding yet.
Restaurants are plentiful and delicious- basically, if you see a place that looks good, it is. Many will shut down between 3-7PM, but there are so many options, finding an open one is generally easy. Naturally, seafood is fresh and offered in many varieties. Overall, I find the pricing to be fairly reasonable, at 12-18 Euros per entree at most places. 1/2-liter beers are usually around 3 Euros. Since I live in a touristy area in Colorado, I think eating out in Mallorca is a bit less expensive than eating out in my town.
During a ride, you will come across many town squares with inviting tables and umbrellas. Invite yourself to get off the bike and sit down for either a fresh orange juice or a beer and maybe a snack. Even if you’re on the island for a training camp, there’s nothing wrong with sitting down and absorbing the place. Plus, you may be taking yourself too seriously and a bit of introspection is always good. One of the best places to rest is Sa Ruta Verda, at the southern foot of the Coll de Sa Batella in Caimari. Delicious food, large comfy chairs, and shade await you. You’ll find it on the east side of MA-2130, and if you don’t stop there, you’ve wasted your trip.
A fantastic place for lunch and dinner, particularly if you have food sensitivity issues, is Me Gusta in Alcudia. We found it on our second visit to Mallorca, and loved it. On our return 18 months later, they remembered us. Top-notch service and food, certainly not to be missed.
Mallorca is a short flight from London, so there is a large British contingent there. Although I am not a huge gin drinker, I decided that a G&T would be an excellent choice, and I was right. It was the first time I’d had a G&T served a) in a goblet the size of a fishbowl, and b) with a cucumber garnish. It was delicious, and I now have a new appreciation of the cocktail. After a few of these, my lovely wife trundled off to the hotel, while I perused the whisky section of the menu. Being from the American west, I am a whiskey and Bourbon fan, and I was confronted with a long list of brands I’d never heard of. I selected Jura, wondering if it was Swiss and named after their alps. The waiter asked how I wanted it, so as with all new whiskeys I try at home, I asked for a single ice cube.
He delivered a tumbler that held a giant pour of beautiful caramel colored goodness, with a single cube, as ordered. I sniffed it, and the warm peaty fumes identified it as being definitely Not Swiss. I’m not really a Scotch drinker, but I am willing to suffer my way through several glasses if needs be. Jura is wonderfully smooth, and has a wide range of flavors as you sip it, my first taste was like magic. As I savored it, the gentleman at the adjacent table was vibrating on top of his barstool like a red-headed tuning fork. With angry eyes, he said in a deep Scottish brogue, “You don’t put ice in whisky. You put water.” Given that I am untrained in the ways of whisky (but knowledgeable of whiskey), I said, “I did. It’s just solid.” This observation went over like a fart in church, and it was clear I was building up to an international incident. I offered to buy him one if he’d like to teach me about the e-less brown liquor, but his wife, knowing the potential results, quickly shut that down. Getting lost factor: Depends on your affinity for cocktails and the distance to your hotel.
Food Allergies & Intolerances: My lovely wife and son are gluten-intolerant (non-Celiac, but they’re working very hard at making that big leap), soy-intolerant (when they eat soy, they become really intolerable, so maybe I’m the intolerant one), and dairy-intolerant (read as: projectile vomit). Our life is thusly complicated, as each meal is an adventure in threading the nutritional needle so that 2/3 of our family avoids being poisoned. I, on the other hand, seem to have no dietary issues (as evidenced by my Dad-bod, which I have cultivated since high school). In fact, being able to eat like a goat means I don’t recycle beer cans; I eat them. They’re crunchy. But, I digress. The upshot is that in Mallorca, it’s actually quite easy to avoid gluten, soy, and dairy. Iru Restaurant, located on the promenade in Port de Pollensa, has an extensive GF menu, and we also had good luck at many places in the heart of Alcudia. In Port de Pollensa, the Hotel Romantic and Tolo’s Cafe offer good food and can work with allergy issues. Tolo’s has a good pre-ride breakfast, and Sir Wiggo’s bikes on display. Getting lost factor: Low. Talk to your server, we never had an issue.
Now go to Mallorca Demystified, Part II (Rides)