Gearing Set Up for Cycling Holidays in Galicia

Many who decide to look at cycling holidays in Spain, do not live in mountainous countries. Yes, most countries have hills, and plenty of tests for those who love climbing. Spain, and in particular Galicia, can be a very challenging place to ride your bike. So a lot of thought has to go into gearing set up for your cycling holidays in Galicia. What works in the rolling terrain of the UK, may not be ideal for the steeper stuff to be found on Spain’s north west coast. So what is the ideal set up?

Standard Gearing

Most riders who live in non mountainous regions, will ride with a standard gearing set up. Standard gearing implies a chain ring of 52 or 53 teeth, combined with an onner ring of 39. The inner ring can be a 36 tooth, if you are prepared to pay for a decent front derailleur. This type of set up, for a decent rider will be ideal for a cycling holiday in Galicia. It will enable them to enjoy the flatter roads next to the coast and rivers. At the same time, the climbs will be manageable for a regular rider. As long as the back wheel sprocket has 27 or 28 teeth in its largest ring, almost all climbs will be possible. For a decent rider the recommended set up would be So 52-36 front and 11-27/28 back.

Compact Gearing Set Up

For years I always used the 52-36 gearing set up. However, just recently I have switched to 50-34. The first thing to do when switiching to a compact set up is swallow your pride. Also, forget any pre-conceived ideas of a compact set up being slower. Of course, if you are a Cavendish or a Sagan, a compact group is not for you. However, most cyclists are not, so use what suits you best. On shorter punchier climbs, I can now stay in the big ring. With an 11-27 sprocket, a 6-7% climb of 2-3km is doable in the big ring. Steeper gradients are more manageable with the 34 up front. Real steep stuff, 20%+ will always hurt. With the 34 it does seem to hurt a bit less. The sacrifice is top end speed, particularly descending. However, this is a small price to pay for the improvements in climbing.

In Conclusion 

As with a lot in cycling, it comes down to personal choice. The machismo element will see a compact set up as impossible to use. It isn’t any admittance of lack of strength to use a compact gearing set up. Personally, I am in the best form of my life. My weight is good, my strength too, and I am setting personal bests on some climbs. I firmly believe that the compact set up has been the difference. And more important than anything, the enjoyment factor has increased. I can now tackle climbs such as  Arga de Cima and also the ramps of Mougas knowing that I will get up. And that, especially if you are on a cycling holiday, is more important than anything.

Power Meters. Watt is the Story Behind Them?

Power meters. I don´t have one. I love riding my bike. Primarily to keep fit. Also for the sheer pleasure it gives me. The pain that shoots through my legs when I am climbing. I relish the shortage of breath as the lactic kicks in. That is why I ride a bike. Its a psychological thing for me. I think personally that it keep me young. Mentally and physically. I know it is different for all of us. So let me recount a couple of recent experiences I had with two very differing views on cycling.

Power Meters. Watt is the story behind them?

On Saturday I rode up a beautiful climb, MonteCastrove with a decent group of riders. About twenty of us, and I was somewhere in the middle ability wise. When we reached the top, I “stumbled” upon a conversation regarding performance on the climb. The best guys were all comparing their Strava times on the climb, examining segments. Like me, not all had the Strava app on their phones. However, I was the only one of the ten not to have a power meter. They were all comparing their watts, and examining where they could make improvements. The “winner” was a pure climber. 55kg of sinew and muscle. His average watts were very low compared to the second. He was 72kg but a beast on a bike. The difference in their wattage output was about 33% in purely mathematical terms. I have to admit I was lost totally, so moved away from the conversation.

Where has the Fun Gone?

I will touch on the value of power meters in another blog, as now I am intrigued by their use. Thus, as somebody who has a science degree, albeit form another era in time, I am always fascinated by numbers. However, my initial thoughts on the conversation were these. Nobody spoke about how much they enjoyed the climb. No one seemed that fussed on the fact that we were 450m above the Ria de Pontevedra, with stunning views. It was only me who  mentioned that there was a golf course at the summit. As an ex top level golfer, perhaps I only had an interest in that. Nobody spoke about anything, apart from watts. So, are power meters and Strava spoiling our sport, or are they fundamental.

An Alternative View from a Pro

Ten days ago, I had the pleasure to spend three hours riding with Luis Mendonça. Luis is one of Portugal’s top professional cyclists. I have known Luis for about six years. Without a doubt the nicest guy you could meet. We rode together, at a brisk pace , as I looked for new climbs near his home in northern Portugal. At the top of one rather agonising summit, I asked him about the climb. I was in pieces, he wasn´t even sweating. My question was how do his numbers compare to when he is racing to riding with me. His answer was simple. ” We averaged 14 km/h, in a race it would be 22km/h on that climb at least”. My reply was simple. “What about your watts and heart rate”. His reply was a surprise. ” I don´t have a power meter, and I don´t monitor my heart rate. I ride by sensastions, always have”.

Brief Conclusions

I need to study all this more before I give an opinion. My initial thoughts as a scientist, in the loosest sense of the word? Numbers always help, how can they not? When I trained for a half ironman in 2015 I was numbers driven. However, this was because I hadn´t swam for 32 years, or ran more than 5km. I had to use some sort of yardstick. However, with cycling surely obsession with numbers takes away the pure enjoyment. Or does it? Those obsessed with Strava and power meters at the top of the mountain seemed as happy as I was. Perhaps they ride for different reasons to me. I need to do more research before reaching my own conclusions, which I will share on this blog. That will include more kms on my bike, and all of them in cycling in  Galicia,  so I will enjoy my studies. I will keep you posted.

Cycling Holidays in Spain. So why Galicia?

There are many regions to choose from when considering cycling holidays in Spain. So why Galicia? There are many considerations to be taken into account when planning your trip. Spain is a very varied country. Its regions, its climate, its accesibility and its cycling culture all vary substantially. So why does Galicia stand out?

Mallorca and Girona

The most popular destinantions for cycling holidays in Spain are without doubt Mallorca and Girona. These have been the staple diet for years of cyclotourists to the country. Mallorca is well set up for cycling. Plenty of holiday companies operate there, and generally the weather is good. So what are the downsides? One could say it has been the victim of its own success. Mallorca now can be full of cyclists, and cars. This issue fed the emergence of Girona as a new centre for cycling holidays in Spain. As the professional peloton became more international, overseas riders set up home in Girona. It has plenty to offer, but again could be going down the path of Mallorca as overcrowded. The “been there,seen it , done it go the T short ” mentality.

Spanish regions north and south

Other hotbeds of cycling in Spain have their own issues too. Andalucia and Alicante are popular, as many parts are just like being in the UK. So those looking for authentic Spain will be disappointed in Alicante in particular. It is “Britain on sea” . The Basque country is the domestic haven for cyclists. However its terrain can be too demanding for many. Asturias is the same story, and the weather there can be awful, even in the summer. Many have seen the Angliru in the Vuelta at 5 degrees and raining in late August.

Cycling Holidays in Spain.So why Galicia?

The question therefore is when booking something new for your cycling holidays in Spain.So why Galicia? Galicia has everything that you could possible need. Accesibility via Porto is very simple. The roads are excellent, and due to a lower populaltion density, relatively traffic free. The weather is very ambient. No overly cold temperatures in winter, nor sweltering heat in the summer. The terrain can be challenging, but only if you seek that out. There are endless kms of flat, mildly undulating terrain, and much of it coastal, or next to rivers. The price is very competitive. The quality of food in relation to its cost is second to none in Spain.

So, overall Galicia, despite it being realatively unknown, is perfect for cyclists of all levels. The next time you look into cycling holidays in Spain, put Galicia at the top of the list. Guaranteed enjoyment.


Off Season Cycling

Today is the 12th of October. In Spain that is a national holiday. The day of Pilar, the patron saint of the Hipsanic people. It is also the date that Columbus sighted land for the first time in his journey to discover the Americas. So, all in all, it is an important day in the Spanish calendar. For me however, it has always signalled the end of the cycling season. And today, it is the first day that it has rained in our part of Galicia since early June. So that is a sign that summer may well have passed, and we need to start preparing for off season cycling. The weather in Galicia is extremely temperate. Very well-designed seasons. The influence of the Atlantic Ocean prevents very cold temperatures within 30-40km of the coast. Yes, it rains, but never too prolonged. How else would we have such beautiful forests? However, it is unlikely that we will see the 25-30 degree temperatures for a while. So, we must start to prepare for off season cycling.

Maintaining the bike

Firstly, the bike. Like all machines, a bike will suffer more in winter than summer. Thus, it is important that you maintain your bike more regularly during the off season. I would recommend a quick clean after every ride. The road surface will kick up a lot of dirt and muck as the wet weather moves in. This is a nightmare for your bottom bracket, and your gearing. If you have access to a high-pressure hose, use this for general cleaning. As the bearings can get damaged do not use it to clean the bottom bracket. I would suggest using an old toothbrush to clean the delicate parts of a bike, with a specific bike cleaner, rather than a generic soap. The drivetrain and bottom bracket, particlularly during off season cycling must be cared for. If not, some expensive replacement will be in order come springtime.

A Top Quality Jacket

The improvement in the quality of winter clothing over the last ten years or so has been eye-catching. Yes, the price of some of these jackets are eye watering not eye catching. However, sometimes you must invest in one off items. And there is nothing quite like being cold and wet through on a bike. I am not here to recommend one brand over another. Last year I invested 170€ in a wind and water proof jacket, that had detachable arm sections. I have to say that it was a very good investment. The arm warmers can be used without the jacket, and the jacket can be used without the arm warmers. Take it from me, this is an advantage. The jacket doesn´t make you sweat, but importantly keep you warm and dry. Somethings you cannot scrimp on.

Off Season Cycling – Indoor vs Outdoor

Sometimes during off season cycling, this question arises. Shall I go out, or just hit the rollers. I, like many, always will choose to go out. However, each winter I find myself on the rollers more. I was fortunate enough a couple of years back to have lunch with Tour De France winner, Oscar Pereiro . He spoke about the constant demands of keeping his weight down, particularly during off season cycling. His “secret” was to get out of bed, and on his rollers for 30 minutes at least four times a week. And never eat before the rollers. It sounds a lot, but it is only 45 minutes extra in the morning. Get up, bib short on, earpiece in, quick podcast loaded, and spin away for 30 minutes. Straight in the shower, breakfast and off to start the day. This is now part of my routine from October to February.

More Gym Less KM?

Many pro cyclists are now sacrificing kms for more time conditioning their bodies. In the past, it was just 6 hours riding, and home to bed. Now, Pilates, yoga, running, and gym work are fundamental to be a top cyclist. So, what can us “domingeros” learn from the pros? Without doubt, stretching is fundamental to cycling. At all levels of cycling muscles take a beating. After every ride, stretching must be done to avoid longer term injury. Core stability is key too. This is where yoga and Pilates are really becoming important to cyclists. A stable core allows the legs to do their work. Although I personally am not an advocate of the gym for cyclists, I can see that weight training for toning is a good idea. Only track sprinters need to look like Hulk Hogan. In conclusion, what you do during off season cycling can have a profound effect for how you start the new season. Try something new like Pilates. Keep you and your bike in good condition through the winter months. And when spring comes you will be ready for the adventures ahead. And why not a cycling holiday in Spain to really enjoy life on a bike.

Cycling and Blogging Brings Rewards

When I set up the Cycling Galicia project, it was always going to be ” a journey”. This is a well used phrase in modern life. I wasn´t sure where it would all lead, and the best journeys are always like that. Cycling is a huge part of my life, and always will be. Blogging has never been, and writing was not what I thought was my strong point- However, now I can see that cycling and blogging brings rewards. And both have now become part of my life. And thanks to Feedspot , I have now achieved something that I have never achieved on two wheels. I have won something. Well, not “won”, but I count it as a win. To be named in their top 100 cycling blogs is a win for me.

Passion for Galicia

I think when you write about a subject, there has to be a passion involved. Mine are for cycling and for Galicia. This is why CyclingGalicia was created, to share that passion with those who do not know this region. A region that has so much to offer in its beauty, its history, its gastronomy, and much more. And, above all for cyclists, its abundance of climbs , all on a myriad of safe roads. This all adds up to the perfect place for a cycling holiday in Spain. And I want to share that experience with all of you.

Long Hot Summer

It is now getting towards mid-October, and still the weather here is marvelous. Highs of 26 degrees and above are forecast all week. Perfect cycling weather. The lack of rain has left the ground tinder dry, and forest fire is a threat .Galicia’s abundance of forests are always vulnerable, and overnight there was a fire close to the Alto de Moscoso. I will take a look later at the climb to see if it has been affected. However, these risks will always remain in an are that is so extensively covered with pine,oak and eucalyptus forests. In the summer they provide our shade, and also the beautiful “smell of Galicia”.

So, back on the bike, enjoy the last days of summer, and then back to the keyboard to share those thoughts with you all. Cycling and blogging brings rewards, and I fully intend to continue with both for a long time yet.

Very Steep Climbs. Why do we love them?

Having watched the World Championship road race yesterday, it got us thinking about very steep climbs. Seeing the best cyclists on the planet , zig -zagging up the final climb begged the question. Is this really what cycling is all about? So let’s try and answer that question.

Cycling is a sport that always includes a degree of suffering. Regardless of your standard, at some stage it is going to hurt. Most cyclists, certainly those who get to a decent level secretly enjoy that sensation. Indeed, for many cycling is all about the pain. That is the challenge, the raison d’être for want of a better expression. And the most suffering occurs when the road goes upwards. And very steep climbs now are all in vogue.

Very Steep Climbs in Galicia and Portugal 

The recent Vuelta de España featured some brutal ascents, and the organizers seem to want to promote this. Spain and Portugal are two countries that have some very mountainous regions, so are ideal for lovers of very steep climbs. Galicia and Asturias are the best regions for this, so a cycling holiday in Galicia is perfect for those who like 20%+ ramps. In the list of Galician climbs there are plenty to choose from, the hardest being Arga de Cima and Sao Silvestre. Both these climbs hit ramps of 20%+ , and are a proper test for lovers of lactic acid.

Steep Gradients: Enjoyable or not?

However, sometimes these type of climbs can become excessive. Yes, it is always good to say that you have survived these brutal tests, but can they be enjoyable? I think the answer to that question is quite straightforward. Yes and no!!!! Yes, because of the sense of achievement gained by tackling something that pushes one to their limits. And no, because the sheer effort and sometimes agony of getting up 20-25% gradients means that nothing can be appreciated during the effort. Legs and lungs burning whilst you move at no more than walking pace, cannot be enjoyable.

So, whilst it is good to try these very steep climbs, I think “less is more” for enjoyment. That is why with our our bike holidays in Galicia we try to balance the climbing with much more. There are plenty of very steep climbs, plenty of long steady climbs, and plenty of undulating and flat terrain. We have it all, and the scenery and weather too. So if you want to enjoy a cycling holidays in Spain, come to Galicia.