“Got any lights for these, Tony?”
“Hey, don’t worry – you come with us, you’ll be fine!”
“…um, ok…and where will be going?”
“The airport, of course!”
Right, so we’re heading out to Barcelona airport on a night ride, on a rented fixie, with no lights, and having taken a taxi ride on the busy main road from said airport into the city 3 days earlier, I’m not sure this is a brilliant idea. We’re at Barcoleneta Bikes, Barcelona’s coolest urban bike shop, and Tony Valcarcel, the owner, has just invited us to join his gang on one of their weekly evening bike rides.
Not really sure what to expect, and after a particularly long lunch, we duly turn up that evening at the specified time as a group of riders begin to congregate in the quaint square facing the shop. For a midweek evening in late October there’s quite a festive atmosphere. Young guys play table tennis, old boys take some tapas and a drink in cafes, young lovers walk hand in hand, and families, all three generations of them, take a walk for their evening passeo.
And then there are about 60 cyclists hanging out, sharing a beer, catching up on gossip, greeting each other with hugs, backslaps and kisses. It’d be difficult to find a wider range of cycling tribes all in the same place! While there’s a strong contingent of fixie dudes in beanies showing off some lovely machines from a beautiful retro Bianchi Pisa, to a slick looking Cinelli which would look at home at the Olympic velodrome, we’re surprised when a portly middle-aged gent in bright yellow fluorescent lycra and what looks like a WWI infantry helmet rocks up on a Fat Bike. His bike bears tractor–like tyres and a sound system attached that, as we shall find out later, will broadcast a range of music throughout the evening from Peruvian pan pipes to hard rock to techno.
A Rolling Stone wannabe in leather jacket and bandana rolls cigarettes and catches up on news from his shaven-headed, and heavily tattooed mate; and a couple of respectable looking girls on heavy city bikes shyly edge up to the group to be greeted warmly by all and sundry. Meanwhile a guy in a World Champion’s jersey, waits intensely, Garmin Edge at the ready, perched on the cross bar of his carbon road bike. We’re wearing jeans and trainers, no helmet, and while the fixies we’ve been leant look ok for a spin around the park and city street or two, I don’t fancy a race with him tonight.
Tony locks up the shop, climbs onto a bench in the square, in full view, and gives us the lowdown on the route we’re going to take. This doesn’t mean a lot to me given that my Spanish is, at best, patchy, my Catalan, non-existent, and while my knowledge of Barcelona’s streets and thoroughfares isn’t bad after three days of sight-seeing, I am by no means an expert… better keep up with the group, then.
We roll out onto the narrow streets of Barceloneta, head across a joint pedestrian and cycling path alongside the marina, then join a main road that I know ends up at the Plaça d’Espanya - Barcelona’s equivalent of Hyde Park Corner. Gulp. But Tony and his lads from the bike shop are brilliant at marshalling 60 odd cyclists through the city’s busy streets. Crossing the giant roundabout that is Plaça d’Espanya with 60 other riders on road bikes, fixies, mountain bikes, city bikes, Bromptons and, of course, the Fat Bike which at this point is broadcasting a Frank Sinatra classic, is one of the funniest, most thrilling things I’ve done as we hold up about 6 lines of traffic feeling like cycling warriors riding our steeds like Knights of the Roundabout, reclaiming the streets.
Gradually, we weave our way through the bustling thoroughfares to quieter ones. The graceful, old and looming apartment blocks give way to more modern, uglier ones, and then we’re spinning our way along quiet roads underneath the motorway, before heading into an area of industrial estates, all quiet at this time of night. We fly down these deserted roads, feeling like kids again, enjoying that simple delight and thrill of being at one with your bike and your mates. I’ve never met these guys before but I feel like an old comrade.
We head into a lit tunnel, screaming and shouting, laughing, as the echoes bounce off. The peloton skids to a halt here, and the front-runners inexplicably hold their bikes aloft - challenging the motorists to a duel - two wheels against four.
And then we’re on a real cycle path, unlit, in the middle of I don’t know where, and I put in a big effort to keep up with the world champion who does have lights on his bike.
We skirt the edge of the runway and pull over onto a dirt track and everyone dismounts. We taking a break or what?
Then someone points to the sky ahead, and I can see a 737 coming into land. Closer and closer it gets, and it looks, for all the world, like it’s going to touch down directly on top of us. The noise builds up and then we can see the undercarriage of the plane, so close it feels like you can reach up and brush your fingertips up against it. It floats over and above us and we see it touch down a few feet away on the runway. We stick around for a couple more landings and take some photos, then we’re back on the bikes and pedaling furiously on the bike track again. A burger and beer await at a local restaurant.
Tony has called ahead to let them know we’re on our way and they’ve laid out rows of tables in the street outside, and prepared the most delicious artisanal burgers and welcome cold beer you’ll ever get for 5 Euros. We’d never have come across this place as regular tourists. It’s a chance to sit, relax, chat and reflect on what’s been a fantastic evening so far.
The ride back is quicker than the outward one, and we take advantage of the quiet roads, spinning hard on the short downhills, and out of the seat to get over the next rise. As we get back into the city, riders peel off to go their separate ways, to different parts of town, with a cheerful wave, and “See you next week!”
Tony and his boys, the consummate gentlemen that they are, see us back safely to the area we’re staying in, Poble Sec - true Knights of the Road.
“Hey, no problem, bring the bikes back in the morning!”
It’s been a fantastic way of finding out a bit about Barcelona’s cycling scene, and a reminder of the pure joy of going out for a ride. Just for fun.
Thanks, Tony. You’re a legend.