We are in the bar of Barcelona’s Hotel Abba Sants on a hot afternoon in early July. Maps, notepads and beverages are strewn across the table.
Martí Cebrián dips his right shoulder and scribes a perfect arc with his hands, his make-believe motorcycle tracing yet another sweeping turn. He smiles broadly and shifts to the left, dropping into the next corner.
Other patrons take little notice of an enthusiastic Catalonian as he rides an imaginary motorcycle through the Pyrenees for a rapt audience of Canadians.
In Canada, motorcycling still falls outside the mainstream. Not so in Spain. Motorcycles and scooters swarm among the four-wheel traffic outside our window on the Calle de Numancia, providing daily transport for thousands.
And as a sport, the Spanish love for two wheels has yielded world-class motorcycle racers. Jorge Lorenzo, Carlos Checa, Dani Pedrosa and Sete Gibernau of the modern era; Ángel Nieto for the history buffs. In Spain, everyone from teenagers to grandmothers rides a motorcycle or scooter.
No longer teenagers, our small group of seasoned riders has come to Spain for a week’s exploration of the Pyrenees. The bikes, the local knowledge and the impromptu motorcycle impersonation are all courtesy of Cebrián, the local – and exuberant – face of Iberian Moto Tours (IMT).
We are here for the stunning vistas, the rich local culture and, frankly, an escape from the grid-lock and overzealous policing that often drains the fun from motorcycling in Canada.
But mostly we have come for the exceptional riding offered by the Pyrenees. Stretching from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, the Pyrenees form a rugged, mountainous border between France and Spain. Narrow sinuous roads lace the foothills; switchbacks stacked like ribbon candy ascend the passes. Tiny villages shelter in the secluded valleys, nestled against cool running mountain streams. Clichés like “idyllic” and “postcard perfect” come to mind. This is ideal motorcycle country.
Our six-day ride takes us briefly north and then westward, zigzagging between Spain and France before looping back to Barcelona. While the border formalities are gone, the architecture of the tiny villages and the look of the gardens quickly confirm your location: France or Spain.
Many of these roads have been used for the Tour de France, and we share narrow tarmac with bicyclists who have come to challenge the famous passes: the col de Aspin and the col du Tourmalet among others. Etiquette is such that motors yield to pedals, so passing is a careful process. But a patient ascent is rewarded; the summits typically offer espresso, or even homemade crepes, to accompany the grand vistas.
For lodging, we rely mostly on Spain’s well-regarded system of paradors, selected and booked in advance by IMT. Paradors combine modern services with historic buildings. Convents, hunting lodges and even castles provide guests with an experience distinctly different from a modern chain hotel.
The Parador Bielsa, an old stone lodge abutting a nature reserve in a quiet valley, was a standout. A beer on its terrace at day’s end, with a view of cascading waterfalls and the river within earshot, was unforgettable.
Each day was an exhilarating mix: challenging roads at a brisk pace, relaxed lunch stops, breathtaking scenery and unique accommodations. The highlights were many and hassles non-existent. IMT provided new, well-maintained BMW motorcycles and equipped us with Garmin GPS units preloaded with the routes.
We opted out of an escorted tour, instead carrying our own gear and acting as our own “tour leader.” However, fully escorted tours complete with support vehicle are available for those who wish the luxury of following a local guide.
Either way, truly great roads await those who wish to make Spanish motorcycling a way of life, if only for a few extraordinary days.