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Spanish Bikepacking by Brady Lawrence

We love the stories, and the people that decide to pack a piece of his life in some small bags attached to a bike to devour, taste and enjoy kilometers in long days on the saddle, are usually good stories. 

We have talked to Brady Lawrence about his trip through Spain by bike across the most iconic places of the Iberian peninsula. Brady is a freelance filmmaker and photographer based in Seattle (Washington). He told us about some of the highlights and suggested some tips to have a proper bike tour in Spain. 

Tell us in a short phrase how do you feel while are you cycling 

“I love life on the road and think that cycling is by far the best way to travel: the pace, the simplicity, and the spontaneity it affords you encourages you to immerse yourself in foreign places, meet fascinating new people, delve into experiences far out of your comfort zone and sweat.”

Why Spain?

“I chose Spain because it’s located between Morocco and Germany. I had lived in Germany for two years and worked at Canyon bikes. After I quit, I wanted to go on a long bike tour; Morocco seemed like the best place to start and my only real plan was to bike up from the Sahara desert and back to Germany, but Spain was the best part of the trip.”

Tell us some highlights and nicest places about your route across Spain

“The Spanish part of my route started in Sevilla. After several days of wandering the streets drinking Cruzcampo and eating tapas, my friend Matt and I took a mix of paved and gravel roads up through the Sierra de Hornachuelos and over to Córdoba. From there we went up to Jaén and then further up into Sierras de Cazorla. We rode some amazing mountain passes before descending into Albacete and continuing to Valencia. From Valencia, I went on to Barcelona before riding in the Pyrenees all the way to San Sebastian. By that point, I decided that I liked Spain so much that I should just stay longer, so instead of going north through France, I rode south to Madrid and then flew to Germany!”

Spain is a huge country with so different climates and orography, please tell us something about the places, roads, and paths.

“I’ve biked through places all over the world and Spain is definitely the best place I have ridden. In Alaska, Morocco and Germany, if you’re riding on a road there is seldom an hour where a car doesn’t pass you by. In the interior of Spain, we would ride for hours on new, smooth roads and see almost no cars. On gravel roads, we wouldn’t see cars or people at all. It’s amazing that the coastal cities are so overflowing with people and vibrant culture and just one hundred kilometers away are beautiful, stark, remote landscapes.

The roads in the Pyrenees were second to none, zig-zagging through the mountains – overpasses and through tunnels – every day I was treated to a leg-busting climb followed by an adrenaline-fueled descent. The people were friendly and it was so easy just to crawl up into the woods every night and find some hidden camping spot. Between Pamplona and San Sebastian, I rode gravel Via Verde that took me through at least 30 tunnels including one that was about 3 km long! Go do it!

The diverse, regional Spanish cultures was another clear highlight. Every day I would wake up in the woods and then ride for a few hours before stopping in some small town. I would find the local bar, I walked in and sit down, at 11 AM or earlier there were always old men sitting around drinking beer and eating whatever sort of Tapa the region was known for, there was usually an older woman drinking wine. I would order a Cafe con Leche, sometimes a beer and eat either “tortilla or tostada con tomate” or whatever they were serving. The pace of life in Spain is something to be envied! Americans could certainly learn how to relax a bit more.

I could write about highlights for hours, but the last one I will mention is riding in the Sierras north of Valencia and Granada, the roads are smooth, the mountains are tall, the towns are small and full of friendly people with good food and good beer. We rode through millions of olive trees and were always going either up or down. There was almost nothing flat which is how I like it!”

What bike did you use during the trip? What accessories did you use?

“I was riding a Surly Disc Trucker with a Surly front rack. I had two old Ortlieb panniers on the front and an old camera bag that I converted into a basket-type front bag. I had an Apidura feed pouch and fuel bag on the bars and top tube as well as a Revelate Tangle frame bag. I had two bottle cages as well as a Salsa Anything Cage with a Nalgene strapped to it for extra water (mainly for the desert in Morocco). On the back, I had the Revelate Terrapin saddlebag harness with a SeaLine kayak dry bag in it. I use Spyre TRP mechanical disc brakes and also rock mountain bike SPDs instead of the road ones. The rest of the components on the bike are just stock.”

Bikepacking is an absolute trend in bike culture, some tips for newbies or those who want to go one step further?

“If you’re already into bike touring and you want to do your first trip where you start guerilla camping, ride from Barcelona to San Sebastian through the Pyrenees! It’s so easy to camp along the route, but if you ever get nervous there are so many Albergue you can stay along the way. I should say that it’s like 1.000 EUR fine if you get caught, but there are so few towns or people in some areas it’s hard to imagine getting caught.

Riding on roads in the US can be pretty rough as there are tons of huge cars, but riding from Las Vegas through Death Valley and up and over into Yosemite Nat’l Park to San Francisco is one of the most amazing two weeks tours you could do! “

We love the anecdotes, in fact, we have a section in our magazine, please tell us some

“Mat and I rode into Valencia and I was only planning to stay for one night. I was staying with a Warmshowers (Couchsurfing for cyclists) host named Rafa and he informed me that I had shown up for Las Fallas and that I had to stay for the whole festival. I ended up staying in Valencia for seven days with Rafa and having the time of my life at Fallas! Thanks, Rafa!

Another one occurs while I was riding through the Pyrenees and camping along the way. I rode through Sant Llorenç de Morunys and higher into the mountains; my GPS took me on what I thought was going to be a dreamy gravel road only for me to realize that the whole road was still covered in snow. I tried to push my rather heavy bike as far as I could before an old man in snowshoes told me I was dumb and that I should turn back. I went back to the main road before my GPS took me on another detour that led to a dead-end at the end of a farm on top of a mountain. The views were great but it was getting cold and dark so I decided to just sleep in an old barn. The barn was warm, but it was also infested with bugs and I ended up getting bitten about one hundred times. For the next few days, I looked like I had chickenpox and I thought I might actually have hives. The next night I stayed in a hostel!

Finally riding into Madrid my GPS took me up into a town called Cogolludo. As I biked up the 17% grade into the city, it was clear something weird was going on. I came into the main square just as they were blocking it off for a small local bullfight. By total chance, I ended up watching a bunch of drunken Spanish boys run around the square and get chased by three different bulls. People were wearing bull themed t-shirts and sitting on their balconies. One of the bulls broke the fountain in the center of the square, but fortunately, no one was gored while I was watching. It was a bizarre thing to just stumble across on a bike ride.”