The island emerged as we descended below the clouds. We were glued to the windows to see Madeira’s steep costal slopes shoot sharply down into the sea. We had arrived at the Mountain bike mecca of a Portuguese island.
The Gravity team Overseas Visit has been in the pipeline for a while. 6 days of riding on the stunning island of Madeira, hosted by the company behind every mountain bike video to come out of Madeira. What’s not to like?
Good question, the answer was rain! The teams first day of riding was plagued by torrential rain, talk about a baptism of fire! The weather induced much cursing and few crashes, but with that aside the tracks were unbelievable, such a range of tracks including Enduro World Series stages and this was just the first day!
The second day saw us meet the Madeira we had expected, with glorious sunshine the trails had begun to dry out. But there was something lurking in the shadows! Renato our guide called it “Madeira ice”, a hard packed clay that when slightly damp is like riding on ice! Despite this peril the day continued and the “ice” got less, erm icy, and the tracks delivered exceptional riding through fire damaged plains through pine forests and into almost jungle environments!
Sunday was a slow start due to extra jovialities at the carnival that happened to coincide with our visit! Our guide went easy on us and we started at the ecological park with a flowy blue run to wake us up. Things stepped up a notch after this with a run of Loic Bruni’s Dream Line from the Gamble film then tracks from ‘Ratboy’ Bryceland’s Madeira Dreamin’ video. We finished the day descending from the highest point on the island all the way down to the coast, what a packed bucket list day on the bike!
Monday was race day! With all the “ice” gone conditions were glorious and it was time go full pelt! The morning saw plenty of practice with a side order of trash talk from our international competitors which added to the tension and peoples want to perform well on foreign soil! After lunch it began and riders were pushing hard for a good result. Flt Lt Stuart McCarthy came 4th with SAC(T) Bailey behind and the trash talking Canadian last, all of them taking wrong turns during the race! The Podium was Sgt Jamie Corsby 1st Sgt Matt Redman man 2nd , Cpl Simon Mills 3rd. Post celebrations our guide demonstrated a jump at another bucket list location; Fairclough’s Deathgrip Jump Line. Renatos first attempt was impressive but more of a crash course shall we say, but he got right back on cleared it successfully just to prove he could!
Day 5 “Today we are going north to Jurassic Park” remarked the driver. We hadn’t been north yet, what lay in store? We started the morning at 1007 metres on the north side of the island. After Some hike a bike and riding along Levada’s (small water canals) we arrived at a cave entrance. A few photos and we move on? No, it’s a Levada tunnel through the mountain and we are going through it! Built to connect the islanders and supply them water it’s Safe to say they weren’t built with cyclists in mind as we had to crouch and carry our bikes over the water while walking the narrow uneven path all while using phone torch to see!
Three tunnels later and some aching backs we made it to the start of the trails. But golly was worth it, steep and loose earth most of the way down cutting across streams and waterfalls, you could easily imagine being in a South American jungle. One of the best mountain bike trails I have ever ridden, 1000 meters of downhill joy!
Our final day with Renato and Freeride Maderia took us to the east side of the island. This part hasn’t been affected by the invasive species of trees and plants so looks different to the rest of the island. Freeride Boca da Rista is a signature Freeride Madeira trail traversing steep cliff edges with stunning views probably the best views of the whole week. Truly remarkable.
The afternoon saw us for the first time in 6 days ride a tracks we had ridden before and we have only scratched the surface of the tracks here, the scale of the trail network is astounding. A combination of 6 days on the bikes and knowing a track meant the team were in their element. The progression of my own as well as the teams riding was evident as we descended. All of the riders were more confident, faster and hitting bigger features all the way down. A great thing to see after the uneasy start in the rain 6 days ago! Training successful!
Overall Madeira was an epic place to cycle, everywhere you ride the views are stunning (as long as it’s not raining). The tracks we rode were expertly built and meticulously maintained by Freeride Madeira’s trail team. The extent, maintenance and knowledge of the trail network is impressive. As a team we would like to thank Freeride Madeira for hosting us, The RAF Cycling Association, The Mountain Bike Gravity Team, the Sports Board and the RAF Central Fund for all their support. Roll on the 2021 Overseas Visit!
Author: Sgt Jamie Corsby
Photo Credits: Armpump Films