Mountain biking in the Troodos Mountains
For all the cycling we’ve done, neither of us had ever tried mountain biking. So in Cyprus for a last bit of summer sun, we decided to take a day off from writing the book about our South America trip and to head into the mountains to give it a go.
We hired bikes from Mike at Bikin’ Cyprus Adventures who was to be our guide for the day. Immediately, I was aware of the many differences between our steel touring bikes and these lightweight mountain bikes with their grippy fat tyres and soft suspension.
We set off from Troodos Square at a height of about 1700 metres. To get comfortable with the bikes we started along a wide but bumpy dirt path that rounded one of the nearby mountain tops. It was just below 30 degrees Celsius by 10.30am and we were pleased we had chosen to come up high rather than explore the lower down Akamas peninsula, where it would have been closer to 40 degrees.
The views also made the one and a half hour drive from Paphos well worthwhile. From the trail we could see across the lower mountains, past the brown, scrubby foothills to a huge dam sparkling in the sunlight and further to a crusty, white salt lake beyond which the British Army base in Akotiri sat close to the shores of the Mediterranean.
As we rode around the mountain side we passed a grey hillside that had been stripped bare for the mineral reserves buried within, but Mike explained that mining was no longer permitted on the island and that the government is replanting mined areas to restore the natural habitat which was encouraging to here. We cycled on under the glare of huge golf balls that sit atop the Troodos’ highest peaks. These white structures are radars belonging to the British and Cypriot armies. Part of their responsibility is to identify incoming missiles, for example from Syria. I learnt that a missile from Syria would reach Cyprus in just 14 minutes, but apparently Cypriots have been assured that the island has the capability to destroy any missiles in less than a minute of it being fired. I’m not sure how I would feel about that if I lived there.
The trick of mountain biking, I was discovering, as I bounced over the rocky path, was to ride in a low gear so that I could keep my legs spinning. This was easier said than done though as I struggled to get to grips with traditional gears, being more used to the easy-change Rohloff gears. I was also taking time to learn the concept of suspension, something our Thorn Nomads have no concept of. The front suspension forks not only made for an incredibly smooth ride, but acted as a break I learnt whenever I pushed down on the handlebars, and more than once I went clattering into the them not having anticipated I was about to come to a sudden halt.
Fortunately, I wasn’t going that fast. Mike had given us the option when we left the wide trail of several different routes. We’d opted for the slightly flatter trail, which skirted around a narrow path dug into the side of Cyprus’ highest peak, Mount Olympus. The pathway was a designated walking and mountain bike trail called Atalanti, which we reached by riding up a smooth tarmac road past the turnoff to the top of Olympus, beyond ski lifts sat redundant for the summer and up a soft, forest trail to the start of the track. Mike told us that he organises a race where competitors start on the coast and compete to see who can ride up to the top of the mountain the fastest; I told him if he organised one going to in the opposite direction, downhill then I might be interested in taking part.
At the start of the trail, Mike gave us a few tips for the ride: lean forwards and stand up to help keep momentum, he said, but most of all keep our eyes on the path and look at where we wanted to go, not where we didn’t. This last point was especially important as most of the trail was less than a metre wide, packed with rocks and with a steep slope off to the right where the mountain tilted down into the valley. The route wasn’t dangerous cycling, Mike said, but adventurous, which sounded exactly like something Paddy would say as he led me along some ridiculous route.
Excited and admittedly a little nervous, we set off following Mike along the route. I’m sure that he could have ridden along the entire track and much faster, but he was a great guide, recognising our lack of technique and stopping at technical sections, advising us to push for a few meters.
Slowly, I began to gain confidence. Whereas, on a touring bike I do my utmost to avoid riding over any rocks because I know they will send me bumping and skidding across the road, here I was amazed to find that the mountain bike hardly acknowledged even the largest rocks on the track. It was completely counterintuitive to ride this way and I found it difficult to get into the mind-set that heading straight for big rocks was the correct thing to do, but slowly I learned the technique and loved the sense of conquering these obstacles that normally would have sent me flying.
We stopped every now and then along the seven-kilometre route to admire the view and Mike pointed out historic monasteries and the best vineyards that could be spotted along the route. The breaks were also a welcome opportunity to get my breath back as I was find it relatively tough going, which wasn’t surprising after having spent the previous five days eating and drinking heartily.
However, there was also the fact that there was a different technique involved for this kind of riding and I was using muscles that didn’t normally get a workout. Mike spent a lot of the time riding out of the saddle, something my aching backside wished I could manage, but I think I need more practice before I master that particular skill.
I made it all the way around though without falling of the mountain and was still smiling by the end when we stopped at the square’s water fountain for a much needed drink and Mike surprised us with chilled, juicy peaches for an energy burst. We’d only been out for three hours, but that was a perfect amount of time for our first mountain bike experience
We’d had a great ride and both agreed we would definitely try mountain biking again, although I might have to do a bit more work in the gym of my legs, I think. It was also a fantastic way to explore the Troodos Mountains and to see the nature of this unspoilt and little-visited spectacular area up close.
Mike runs Bikin’ Cyprus Adventures who as well as mountain biking, can organise road bike tours trekking and city tours. Check them out at www.BikinCyprusAdventures.com.