Mallorca, Spain…A cycling playground

Sa Calobra

Mallorca, is an amusement park for cycling enthusiast…and a crowded one at that. In recent years the semi-sleepy island off the coast of Spain (it’s a 2 hour ferry ride from Barcelona or 2hr flight from England and Amsterdam) has seen a boom in tourism, thanks to the likes of pro teams (Team Sky & Cannondale/Garmin) calling the island home in January and February to train. Why wouldn’t they spend a month or so riding, eating and bonding here. The island’s idyllic climate and vastly varying terrain allow for some amazing riding and training. The turquoise ocean views along rolling coastal roads are not in short supply.

 

Pamela and I spent two weeks on the magical island. I was there to cook and help my friend Iain execute a trip for his guests of Aspen Cycling Tours, which he owns and operates. Pamela attended as a guest, but her being her amazing self, she helped a bit in the kitchen, and in some manual body work on a few guests who needed it towards the end.

The Travel:

There are no shortages of bike rental shops on the island. The hardest part is determining what brand you wish to ride and for how long. With so many companies and options, you could ride a new bike every day for two weeks or more. Originally, Pamela and I had reserved two Trek Madone’s with Di2 for 13 days. The price was very reasonable (less than paying for a bike on a major US Airline, both ways) and the convenience of picking up and dropping off the bike seemed like a dream. All we had to do was bring a saddle (personal preference…even a nice rental bike has a crappy cheap saddle), pedals, shoes and helmet. A  month out from the trip, I was on the fence about the rental. I really wanted to bring my Mosaic. I hadn’t ridden it in a year, thanks to having our Swiss Army knife of a bike, Specalized Diverge’s in the van. I was also in the process of upgrading the Mosaic with a set of ZIPP NSW Wheels and SRAM’s RED etap…so how could I not bring it…Right?! I did some quick internet searching to check on cost to fly with a bike on regional European airlines and how I could store the bike in Amsterdam (we had two 1 day layovers). To my surprise and delight, the baggage fee was less than $40 for both of the regional airlines. The thing that sealed the deal for bringing my own bike was the $7 a night luggage storage in Amsterdam. This meant I didn’t have to tow the bike to and from the airport to the hotel. So with all the boxes checked, I choose to take my bike knowing I could navigate the baggage fee system (paying zero dollars or a standard luggage fee) and that the bike would be safe and secure in it’s Thule Road Pro XT case.

#BringYourLife…so true when you live in a van

 

Once we got to Mallorca (Don’t spell is Majorca or say it that way..the locals hate it), picked up all the guest and staff rental bikes, it was time to explore on two wheels. Mother nature did her best to roll out the red carpet for us as well. The days were mild and winds calm inland and in the mountains. The coast was a different story, but worth the effort.

The Riding:

Over 11 days in the saddle we only navigated the northwestern quadrant with a few visits to parts of the south as it extended a route to a perfectly situated cafe in a village square. Many of the key climbs and iconic areas to ride are located in the Northwest. That being said, there are a ton of great roads and routes in the south and southeast that we plan to explore on our next visit (possibly Feb/Mar 2018).

One thing about the riding in Mallorca is that you don’t feel like your riding. You feel like your floating on your pedals and over your saddle. Maybe this was the sensation of the effortless shifting from the Etap I was experiencing, more likely it was due to the pristinely manicured tarmac and breathtaking views that stretched kilometer after kilometer.

Iconic Rides:

You will without a doubt ride Sa Calobra, Cap Formentor, Col De’ Soller and Puig Major. Trust me, you will ride these. These are the most iconic routes and climbs on the island. They will not have the steepest grades you’ve probably ever ridden.  If you’re one for steady long climbs with a few kickers, Sa Calobra , Puig Major and (ride to Petrol station) are perfect. Expect majestic pavement for kilometers on end with switchbacks that make your mind dizzy with delight.

Pamela loving every turn

breaking the way for Pamela. 

1 of the 51 turns! 

A great spot to relax at the top of Soller. 

Sa Calobra, aka the snake or tie as the locals call it, is synonymous with the island. It is an engineering marvel and something to behold as you climb 680 meters back up from the sea shore to Col De Reis. If you’re lucky a few goats will walk next to you as you pedal upward. The descent allows you to feel like you’re racing a moto as you push on the outside pedal and open up the inside knee for leverage in the 31 hairpin turns to the bottom. As much as one thinks about flying down, congestions from cyclist, cars and even busses makes the task almost impossible from 11am – 3pm, daily. If you’re looking for island bragging rights, you’ll be up before the sun rises for this feat. The other mind boggling stat, thanks to STRAVA, are the sheer number of people who have ridden Sa Calobra.  As of our latest upload, it was over 45,000 individual cyclist this year. This stat makes my mind hurt as I compare that number to the 2,200+ cyclist who have ridden up to Boulder, CO popular ride to Jamestown.

The other iconic ride is to the light house, Formentor. The ride offers stunning views of the rugged Mallorca coast line and a surprising 1,000 meters of climbing. You’d never know you were climbing so much given the scenic distractions at every bend and short straightaways. The abundance of cyclists add a distraction as you are either passing them or watching them pass you (without any acknowledgement. it’s a thing they don’t seem to do in Europe…”on your left”).

The highlight of the trip’s rides/routes for me was riding Coll De Soller and Puig Major. Well at least Coll De Soller. The 51 switchbacks, 28 up and 23 down are enough to give someone vertigo. If you’re eyes and stomach are doing good at the Col, you’re rewarded with some of the best homemade carrot cake and lemon cake on the island, from Cafe Bar Restaurante Ca’n Topa. They also pull a mean double espresso. From the Col, we dropped down into the town of Soller, where we rode next to olive and orange trees along narrow country roads to Fournalutx (voted Spain’s prettiest village) which then intersects the famous Ma-10 (coast road).

This brings us to Puig Mejor.  This ride is known for it’s long sustained 6% grade over 15 kilometers. The ride can also break many people, as it almost did to Pamela…(LOVE you wife). Maybe it was the electric dance music I was playing to motivate her (tunnel…LOL)? Reality is she had ridden 350+ miles over 9 days so she was toast.

The tarmac up and down Puig Mejor is as smooth as glass. There isn’t a blemish on it for it’s entirety. The lack of potholes, bumps, cracks etc. allows you to look around and free your mind as your every breath syncs with each pedal stroke. The views of Fournalutx over your right shoulder seem other worldly as you climb higher and higher above it. As you snake your way over the last few kilometers to the tunnel (top of the climb) there’s an unmistakable energy of joy you feel from the other cyclists who are now descending and those just ahead of you, reaching the tunnel. This gave Pamela a little boost and put a smile on her face, knowing she was almost done.

We tried to get past…It wasn’t happening. 

img_8825.jpg

a moth to the flame.

Look…A Light house. 

Me, I was excited about the additional climb to the tip top of Puig Major. It’s located just past the tunnel (north side). I learned the sad and hard way that it’s a climb one doesn’t get a chance to do as it’s overseen by the military. However, the climb is open to cyclist one day out of the year. Which day? I’m not sure. I was also told that it’s available to ride with a permit. So next time we’re back, I’ll be looking into this permit option in hopes of the best. Climbing Puig Mejor without going to the tip top is still a great climb and I’m beyond stoked on how Pamela pushed through her moments of doubt and exhaustion. I know that she’ll be ready to tackle the entire MA-10 when we return in February/March 2018.

The two weeks in Mallorca were magical. The climbing, the people the food and weather. Getting a lay of the land was great. Next year we’ll be able to ride more and navigate less. I’ll will also be traveling with my bike again and I know that Pamela will do the same. We can feel at home on any well fit bike after a few miles, but riding 400+ miles in 11 days on one’s own bike is priceless. This is exactly how I felt when packing up to leave. Knowing that Penny and Van Life were waiting was double sweet too!

Ellie (the van) in all her glory 

Here is a video I put together that shows the entire buildout of our sprinter van, Ellie.

The build was done in June of 2015. Since the initial completion, I added a few things like the Thule Alpine roof storage and the sliding bike trays.

To date we’ve logged 18k miles in just under 7 months on the road.

Enjoy a little bit of it here.

 

 

 

 

#Upgrades…slide on.

After many many months of van building research, before I tackled the buildout with my friend David, I came across Dakota’s blog, Traipsing About. I was stoked with his idea for slide out bike trays. However, I wasn’t sure if I really wanted or needed them when David and I built our van back in 2015. Pamela and I have been living in our van now for 4.5 months and we wouldn’t change the overall layout and feel. While on our journey, we’ve had the pleasure of meeting and seeing Dakota and Chelsea’s van in person a few times. During our visits we had the pleasure of exchanging road stories and buildout successes and failures (nothing really failed..just modifications).

Continue Reading

Items I can’t live without (Jon’s Take)

In a previous post Pamela talked about items that are important to her (so far) on this trip. I agreed with some of the things on that list. The following are items that I feel are things that I enjoy, appreciate and/or couldn’t go without during #VanLife and regular non-travel life. The following list is in no particular order, expect for how it just rolled off the fingers and onto the keyboard. Continue Reading

Basic Needs

Admittedly this post could have been combined with “Items We Can’t Live Without” but I felt like breaking it up would make more sense in my brain. However, for the sake of future adventure Van Lifers, I’ll add a link to that post here and another to “Routine” so that the magic of Google and hyperlinks can keep all this stuff organized in one semi-thread. That’s how it works, right?! I’m so techy.

Continue Reading

Items We Can’t Live Without (the month 2 edition)

IMG_3342I am trying to remember all the topics I googled in preparation for our departure and I am doing my best to report on such topics as we gain insight and our days in the van increase. Perhaps our blog will come up on someone’s hit list and it will offer some insight. As I keep a promise to myself to expose our day-to -day van life experience, I have come to appreciate a few items more than others. I believe as the year presses on this list with change and evolve. It’s not exhaustive but it’s a start. Hence forth is our list of items we can’t live without (the 8 weeks in to the trip edition)

Continue Reading

Pre-Trip Modifications – Upgrades

 

IMG_7065

Ellie in the bay getting some TLC before the departure…Late Nights = #WorthIT

When you’re about to hit the road for 365+1 days, (or more…or less based on human dynamics…Joking) you tend to overthink things you need or want to take on the road with you. You also begin to wonder and question if the van you just built will live up to your expectations.  Questions you start to think about are, will I have enough power? How will Penny during colder summer nights or on warmer days when we ride? Where’s all our stuff going to go? The list can go on for days if you let your mind wander long enough. With a little pros and cons exercise list of wants/needs and desires we settled on three major priorities. (For details of our initial van build, click here)

  1. Keeping Penny healthy and happy in the van (for details about our initial details in this department, click here)

Yes our fur baby lacks in the hair department so one thing we wanted to do was make sure that she is warm at night and in the early mornings (dog coats/jackets only due so much for a short hair dog, or at least this one. So with the help from our friend Chad and with a few connections and lots of research we choose to purchase a Webasto Air Top 40/55 heater. This heater has a built in altitude adjuster and it also allows for cool air intake, it will pull cooler air from under the van (shaded area) into the van. You need to place ducting pipe in the floor, but it’s a great feature. The heater taps into the vehicles diesel gas tank and will only consume 1 gallon for every 20 hours of use.    

Fitting the heater was a bit harder than expected. Reason being, I had already built the van. An ideal placement for the heater is on the floor, so the exhaust piping can go straight through the floorboards, reducing the bends in the pipes (can’t exceed 270º). The ideal placement would have been in the lower level of our kitchen galley. But building a box and cutting floorboards seemed to be a waste. With only so many places left to run the exhaust and fuel lines (van being built out and open space within the vehicles underbelly), I chose to suspend the heater above the wheel-well. Webasto makes and sells and “L” bracket designed just for this purpose. Choosing this location meant I had to make a new wheel cover what could house the heater and allow for some extra storage, of items we wouldn’t use a lot, like snow/mud chains, vehicle jack etc. Keeping the heater enclosed is great as nothing can bang into it. The wheel well box  also helps dampen the noise it makes when it initially starts and stops. Not that the heater is very loud, but it helps insulate the noise for sure.

One thing I did was wrap the exhaust pipe with motorcycle exhaust wrapping. This helps reduce the heat on the pipe itself. Should anything come in contact with the pipe, or you accidentally touch it, you won’t burn your skin. Note…when you install the exhaust wrap and turn the heater on, the wrap will smoke/smolder for about 20 minutes. This is NORMAL, it’s just the oils from the fabric burning off. Once we let it run for 30 minutes and all smoke was cleared, we’ve NOT seen or smelt it since.

2) More Power Captain!

Since we added the heater, we also wanted to up our house battery power. The existing situation was a 75amh deep cycle battery. Nothing fancy, just a blue collar battery that got the job done and done right. After chatting with Chad and working off his deep knowledge of electrical, I took the leap and bought a 125amh Lithium Battery. We bought the battery from Stark Power, based in NC. They were nice to deal with minus a few misleading bits of info regarding the actual ship date of the battery, but overall great CS.

IMG_7251

What we waited an extra two weeks for.

IMG_7254

The new brain and heart of Ellie

To ensure that we don’t overcharge the lithium battery when the car’s alternator is in use charging the battery, Chad and I (really chad…all his knowledge and wiring knowhow), included two relay cut-offs, one for the solar panel and the other for the Alternator. The Alternator relay is designed to kick on and off at set points. When the battery is 50% depleted, it turns on. When the battery is charged to 85% it turns off. All of this is controlled from the battery monitor, which tells me the temperature of the battery (don’t want to charge it when the core temp of the battery is below freezing..good thing we’re chasing summer), the current voltage of the battery, the Amp Hours being used and replenished as well as the current hours left based on power draws. The monitor wasn’t a cheap investment. But the piece of mind it brings was worth it.

3) Where do you store all that stuff?

One of the bigger debates Pamela and I had was to rocketbox or not to rocketbox. In the end, the phrase “happy wife, happy life” won. So we now have a Thule rocketbox on the roof. Choosing one wasn’t as easy as I wanted. Reasoning for this is the orientation of our solar panel. The solar panel was initially installed in the center of the van’s roof. Yes I could let the box overhang on the van’s side a bit, but I’m not a big fan of that. After a good two days of researching online and climbing up and down the van’s ladder to measure distances around the solar panel and possible overhang, I ended up purchasing the Thule Force Alpine from our friend at Rockymounts, based in Boulder.

IMG_7190

Moving the Solar over

Installing the box wasn’t as easy as Chad or I had thought. We moved the solar panel towards the passenger side, a good 6” and we had to also figure out a way to create a roof brace that the box would sit on. I wasn’t able to find any OEM’s making roof rail brackets that fit around/under a Fiamma awning. Within the Sprinter Van world, there is someone who makes such a bracket. It’s intended use is for solar panels, but I needed it for the rocket box. After more measuring and brainstorming, I ordered the solar panel roof braces from Hines  and also some 80/20 (lightweight and easily configurable like legos) which would be used as the cross bars.

The length of the rocket box was spot-on, getting enough clearance on the ends of the solar panel, BUT the factory attachment points were a bit off. So I fabricated additional support bars out of ¼” 80/20 for the middle of the box, and with additional ¼” 80/20, I attached the front and rear ends of the rocket box to the cross bars! BAM…i’ve got a homemade crossbar system that fits under a Fiamma awning. Happy to make this into a business…but I just gave away the formula…LOL.

Getting the box to fit was close. The solar panel couldn’t be re-oriented horizontally due to it’s size (160watts vs. 100watts). So in moving the panel over and NOT wanting to drill holes in the ceiling, I found some roof brackets on Amazon that did the trick. How does one attach the relocated panel? VHB Tape is the answer. This is magical tape from 3M. It’s very hard to locate at a chain hardware store, but a local store might carry it. Luckily for me, our local hardware store, McGuckin’s, carries just about one of anything ever created. The tape can withstand monumental stress and creates a great bond on metal, plastics, rubbers, steel etc. Not so great on wood, but great on 99% of anything. So VHB was used to secure the relocated panel into place. So far, 1 month in and over 5,000 miles, it’s holding strong.

IMG_7198

The brackets from Amazon and cut with a saw to fit my needs

Now…Do we need the extra space to store more stuff…This remains to be the question we ask ourself as we’re 1 month into the journey. We’ve yet to really use it, as we have clothing in there for Fall weather riding and extra Skratch Labs and Untapped Maple products + spare bike parts like chains, tubes etc. I guess the rocket box is handy, but it’s not essential that’s for sure. Either way…Happy Wife = Happy Life = Life on the road.

Note…If you’re putting in a rocket box or plan to be using the roof of your van for any reason, it’s a good idea to mark where the seams are. These are the strongest points of the van which you really want to step on, allowing for little flex in the ceiling. Not that you’d fall in, but it helps reduce dents in the roof and minimizes stress on all the work you did for the inside/ceiling.

Additional Storage Overhead…Inside the van

IMG_7175

The half size shelf. This is perfect for that “wasted space” you have above your head

One thing that you quickly notice inside a van is that there seems to be lots of wasted space. One key spot is in the cab, above the driver and passenger. This is especially true for those in a high roof vehicle. Knowing that we’re on a year long wanderlust trip we wanted to ensure that every possible area of space could be created. The solution we found was a great half height shelf made by RB Components. They also make a “full” shelf system, but this really reduces the height above your heads. Yes it allows for greater storage above for bulky items, but that wasn’t our desire. So we choose the half shelf system which allowed for semi-bulky items to be stored like camera gear, Trigger Point foam roller, equipment manuals and such.

Note: You can easily make a shelf out of plywood and some fabric wrap. This would cost you about $35-$50 based on your desired level of fit and finish. A friend of ours built a shelf after seeing the one we bought from RB. I would have built one if I had more time, but we also liked the fit and finish of the metal one.

4) Level the playing field

A very minor upgrade, or change, but one that has made a comfortable difference, was removing the bench seat brackets from the floor. I pulled these out last minute and fashioned a filler out of plywood and VHB Tape (my new favorite van item). These fillers removed the little pump we had in our carpet floor cover and it also is nicer underfoot.

The little filler pieces are easily removable and inserted. They just wedge under the factory floorboard and stay in place due to the carpet covering it and the VHB tape used to hold them into place.

IMG_7222

VHB Tape and leftover wood equals the perfect bracket filler.

All the best with your build and modifications based on trial and error. I hope these pieces of info are helpful to you and others you know who are going down the rabbit hole of wanting to build your own tiny house on wheels.

If you have any questions feel free to leave them and I’ll get back to as soon as cell coverage and wifi permit. Also follow our IG account at @RoamingRobos for more details and insight of our year long adventure.