Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Cycling in Barcelona

Cyclists at sunrise, Barcelona
Cycling in Barcelona is pleasant and easy going on the whole; I thought I'd give a few reflections here on the general cycling scene.
Right from the start of our visit, there were cyclists almost everywhere in Barcelona.  They were weaving their way around the city on roads, pavements and through the numerous car-free areas.  This was lovely to see and nobody seemed to mind.  Quite a contrast from here in England when people often become really upset when a cyclist steps out of line.
Barcelona cyclists seem to fall into a few groups:
Hardcore - these were often men, well muscled and dressed in dark coloured sporty clothing.  They'd often be riding MTB 29ers in a high gear, cruising along with seemingly little effort.  These Hardcores seemed polite and courteous as they weaved in and around people strolling along the seafront.  As a rule they'd have a helmet, dark glasses and be very serious looking.  In fact they almost reminded me of those futuristic movies where you'd have military type guards with all kinds of weapons and body armour.  Perhaps this is an exaggeration but you could nevertheless see the connection with a good number.
Viu BiCiNg in Barcelona
Everyday commuters - generally these cyclists used the distinctive Viu BiCiNg red and white bicycles which were commonly available for local residents to use.  These apparently are cheap and easy to use.  On my early morning outings I saw them being checked over and the number of bikes being topped up at some of the docking stations.  Other everyday commuters used their own bikes, generally fairly basic machines and only rarely did I spot anything which was remotely exotic; apparently this is to do with the high level of petty crime and thefts.  These cyclists tended to be young or young-at-heart and would amble their way around looking pretty content with life.  None of them seemed to be in too much of a hurry.  Very Barcelona, very Spain!

Gentlemen of the road - There were quite a few signs of homelessness.  This is quite a complex and tricky subject which spans relationship breakdown, addictions, mental health needs and so on.  All of which I can't really cover here.  There were, however, a few homeless men which I spotted and they were using bicycles as a means of transporting themselves and their worldly goods around.  Quite a sad sight I thought and yet there were also signs of ingenuity and resourcefulness with how they had accomplished their transport.

Tourists - now I have to be careful as this is the category we are found in!  This kind of cyclist, it has to be said, are a pain in the neck.  They meander around, not knowing where they're going and stand out like a sore thumb.  Thankfully most of the Barcelona local folk are very tolerant and accept these tourists quite happily.

There are a good number of places where you can hire bikes from and they all seem to charge around €15 a day, give or take a bit.
We got ours from a little place we found near our hotel and run by a chap from Finland.  He was, it has to be said, a little reserved although his English was astonishingly good. He's the kind of person, I suspected, would have a fascinating story which I tried to tease out in conversation.  He's a traveller heart, not wanting to settle anywhere for too long because of his wanderlust.  He had made it to Barcelona through a lengthy cycle tour and was content to be running the cycle hire business on behalf of the absent owner for the time being.  In fact this shop, tiny and very unlikely in a residential area side street, had an interesting stock with everything from well equipped city bikes (which we hired) right up to decent quality road bikes.
I bet you'd only ever see tourists using an outside escalator to avoid cycling up a hill?  Once again, nobody seemed to mind although perhaps they were amused "oh look at those tourists trying to get their bikes up the escalator: they must be English!"

Tourists can also go on bike tours using an interesting mixture of bicycles.  These range from easy-to-ride fat tyre bikes, through to bamboo framed bikes.  I spotted one of these whizzing past us on the seafront when I remarked "wow a bamboo bike!" and the cyclist heard me, came back, grinning and delighted that someone had actually noticed the bamboo, handed me a leaflet and went off with his tour clients!
The trendies - now this was interesting and yet a bit sad, I thought.  There were a few "cool dudes" around on single speeds pretending to be on fixies.  These were generally dressed accordingly in the latest garb.

Owing to the number of people living in apartments, together with the amount of low-level crime and petty thefts, the foldable Brompton has become a logical choice for many as they're so easy to carry upstairs and simply leave safely in a hallway.  In recent years the Brompton has apparently become quite a fashion statement, a sign of prosperity and independence.  The Bromptons were generally unmodified and off-the-shelf.  Customisation options are relatively limited but there were a good number of classy Brooks leather saddles around, thus completing the look.
Old timers - every now and again I would spot a nice old bicycle, such as the Elvish in the above photograph.  Each one would remind me of those old Citroen 2CV's in rural France, those American classics in Cuba and green Morris Minors in quaint England.  Many will have been in constant use for decades, probably only doing short distances each time but still loyal, faithful bicycles which had stood the test of time.
Vintage Elvish mixte frame, Barcelona

We got talking to Marc (above photograph), a local chap who was trying out a vintage steel frame road bike.  Within no time he suggested I took it for a spin to try it out.  This was a reminder of how good some older steel frames can be.  Those, that is, which are made from decent steel tubing and produced in a skilful way (as opposed to the gas pipe derived frames with second rate components).  It's quite a shame this conversation took place on our penultimate day as I learnt about a vintage bicycle shop and a little more of the local scene.  From within this is a significant following for the older, classy bicycles of the late 20th century; the 1970s and 80s in particular.  Like I said, it was a delightful conversation and one where it would have been interesting to see where it could lead.
With this in mind, here's the link to the vintage cycle shop I mentioned - click here and here for their Facebook page.  I just wish I'd had more time to be able to explore this; perhaps another time!  Before I forget, there's a nice Vimeo film on their website which gives a nice feel to what they're trying to do and such a shame I don't understand the Spanish language!
Wrapping up
We really did like our little city break in Barcelona; it always amazes me how you can get to the Mediterranean in about two hours from London Luton Airport.  I liked the laid back, slightly care-free feel of cycling around Barcelona.
I don't think I spotted anyone who was obese; everyone seemed to be of good weight and appeared healthy - now I'm sure that's a sweeping generalisation but it's true - everyone seemed slim, smokers were a rarity and everyone looked pretty healthy to me.  I liked seeing glimpses of people along the seafront who were exercising and training.  These ranged from runners on their own, groups of men doing gymnastics and personal trainers with groups of clients having a workout.  All good stuff.
Additionally, I loved the climate, even in February!  If that's as cold as it gets, I could certainly live with this.  The height of the summer sees seriously high temperatures which I quite like, providing it's not too humid.  I'm not so sure about the alleged pollution problem which I guess maybe more noticeable in those still, sultry summer days?
Eating out wan't brilliant for me in avoiding meat but we didn't exactly starve.  You'll have seen on a previous post about a raw vegan restaurant which was very special in my view.
As a rule, we don't normally return to places once we've been there.  This is because I like to savour the memories and also because there's so many other places I've not been to.  Barcelona, I could make an exception here!
Early morning group workout, Barcelona

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