MADEIRA - LOCATION GUIDE
Updated: Sep 20, 2019
Trans-Madeira is something that is becoming a mountain bikers bucket list essential. Pro riders from around the world are now heading to Madeira to get a taste of the action. With films such as Gamble and Death Grip choosing Madeira as a location to shoot, it seems to be a spot that is attracting some big attention. We decided to head there ourselves to explore what’s luring everyone to this tiny island.
Madeira sits south of Portugal. Situated way out in the Atlantic Ocean, it is closer to Africa than Europe. With mountains stretching up to 1860m, these peaks create different micro-climates around the island meaning that it features lots of different kinds of vegetation and landscapes. Boasting beautiful views, some seriously shear cliffs, long ridge lines and vast canyons. With all this combined, Madeira’s unique landscape makes it perfect for mountain biking and it is quickly establishing itself is a heaven for mountain bikers from every corner of the globe.
What to Expect
Madeira is thought to have the largest variety of trails than any where else in the world. Given its size, that's pretty rad. At numerous points on a single trail it was easy to imagine yourself riding in a different country. You can experience weather from every season in a single day but on the whole its warm, dry and sunny. The higher up you get the more humid it becomes and when it rains....it pours, so it's worth packing some wet weather gear. However most days the sun will be on your back from the top of the mountain to the bottom.
During your stay you'll have the opportunity to ride everything from technical rocky ridge lines and steep loamy corners to greasy, rooty rain forests. The eucalyptus forests were my favourite. Deep with dust and debris, its best to give the rider in front some space or else you'll have no chance of seeing where you're going.
With Freeride Madeira putting an average of 2000 euros a month into the upkeep of the trails, they are very well built and maintained. You'll be riding tracks that are EWS stages and also sections from Trans Madeira. Each corner of Madeira is known for its different riding. The west side generally has lots of mellow, flowy, fast tracks whereas north is known for its techy, rocky, steep stuff. You'll need to stay for a few days to get the full experience.
On the whole, there is so much variety that you will most definitely find lots to ride no matter what your skill level is. Whether your Aaron Gwin or my fat Dad (who I adore), there is something there for you. Even the most technical tracks aren’t overly relentless. There are lots of opportunities to catch your breath and compose yourself before you head into the next section. Fitness isn’t massively important here, although it's better if you have some. You’ll have access to even more tracks if you are keen for a short sharp pedal.
Freeride Madeira are the pioneers behind mountain biking in Madeira. A company set up by a small group of mountain bikers in 2011. They have well and truly put Madeira on the map as being one of the best places in the world to ride your bike. Freeride Madeira host and run Trans-Madeira which is due to be held on 4th to the 8th of June this year. In its infant stages but picking up popularity very quickly, this years tickets were sold out in just over 30 minutes despite the £1600 price tag. Also a venue for the EWS which was held on May 12th and 13th this year. Those iconic photos you see on Instagram of EWS riders on the edge of a massive cliff...you'll have the chance to ride that same track. Its mind-blowing! Anyway, so that's two huge mountain biking events which can only confirm the quality of the riding there.
Freeride Madeira are certainly the guys to contact if you plan to visit. They offer packages which include riding, accommodation in one of their luxury villas, food and airport transfers. There's a small shop with some trail essentials, an on site mechanic and a bike wash. All the staff are relaxed, friendly and helpful. Their experienced guides will tailor the trips to suit your riding. With shuttled runs you will have the opportunity to ride every type of track that you can imagine. Don't go thinking you can just rock up with a bike and find the trails, you definitely need a guide. We can strongly recommend these guys. Not only do they give you a holiday you will never forget, to top it off, they know all the best spots to stop for lunch!
Where to Stay
We chose to stay in an apartment that we found on Air bnb in Old Town Funchal. We often use Air bnb because you can find some lovely places at great value for money. Its easy to get the property you want and the right location. Freeride madeira offer great accomodation but if you decide to look at getting your own sorted then here’s what you need to know.
Madeiras flattest points are at the bottom and at the top. Everything in between that is steep......like really steep. You may only be 3 miles away from your morning pick up point but that could be straight up a hill and most of the the hills there are at least a 20% incline. Not much fun after a long day in the saddle. Old Town Funchal or anywhere close by along the coast is a safe bet. It’s a 10-15 min ride from the city to Freeride Madeira on easy to pedal roads. On the way there’s a great cafe opposite the Cassino called A Corfeitaria, it’s the perfect stop for breakfast before a ride, so check it out if you're passing.
Day off Antics
If you are going for a full week, we’d suggest having a day off the bikes to see what else Madeira has to offer. Its also a good idea to give yourself a rest so that you can hit those trails full throttle and fresh the next day (provided you didn't drink too much the night before). Don't try to be a hero, you'll hurt yourself.
There’s lots to see and do in Madeira but what we’d highly recommend is to get the cable car from Funchal to Monte. If you're into your flowers and fish Monte Palace is a tropical garden that's worth checking out. After that, the best way down is with Carreiros do Monte. This is basically a wicker basket on wooden sleds guided by two men wearing straw hats. I know it sounds a bit odd but I'm telling you, they drift this basket as well as Ken Block does a rally car. At 2km long, it doesn’t take you all the way to the bottom so our top tip on this point is to use the taxis or suffer serious calf cramp the next day. Check it out, you won’t find this anywhere else in the world, it is one of the oldest traditions in Madeira.
Things to Know Before You Go
Bike Prep - To get the most out of your trip, bring an enduro bike with good rubber. Ideally DH or Gravity cased tyre, being set up tubeless is also a good plan. You'll find that a DH bike is overkill and not suitable for all the treversing and climbing. Whereas an XC bike won't have the guts if you plan on hitting the gnarly stuff that we rode. If you need to hire a bike, Freeride Madeira can sort you out but if you can afford to take it on the plane then I'd always suggest taking a bike that you're familiar with. It'd be worth giving your suspension a going over before your trip. Also make sure that if you are riding with a bag, that you set the suspension up for the extra weight you'll be carrying. Most importantly service your brakes. There's nothing worse than getting half way down and the person you're with has no brake pads. Madeira is the ultimate test for brakes, if not on the trails then certainly through the steep chaotic streets searching for the uplift, 200mm rotors are also a great idea.
Bring a Torch - To get to some of these amazing tracks, the guides will have you navigate the Levadas, some of which take you right through the mountain cutting your journey time massively. They are pitch black with a tiny circle of light at the other end, hence the reason for the torch. Originally designed hundreds of years ago, the levadas are a clever way of getting rain water to the drier parts of the island. These water channels are one of the easiest ways to explore Madeira.
Madeira Ice - Similar to hard packed clay after a bit of rain, this stuff is very deceptive and lethal. Basically if you see any smooth red soil...DON'T BRAKE!!! Just hang on and hope for the best.
Beware of Poncha - Poncha is a traditional drink to Madeira, it’s made with aguardente de cana (whatever that is), honey, sugar and orange/lemon juice. It’s extremely strong. One too many will make a man cry. Don’t avoid it, you have to give it a try but approach with caution.
Learn to Say No - Funchal has a beautiful market selling fresh fish, fruit and veg, herbs and all sorts of other lovely things. It’s a fantastic place to sip on a coffee and check out the culture. But be very careful. It’s hard to avoid getting lured in by exotic fruits and tasty samples. The next thing you know you're handing over lots of cash for a bag of random, past it’s best fruit. The language barrier can interpret 'just one', to 'I'll have the whole lot please' Im still not sure how we actually managed to buy 35 euros worth of fruit! Learn from our mistakes.
Try the Local Food - Madeira has amazing food at exceptional value for money (if you avoid the fruit market). Here's a short list of some of the local dishes that we think you need to try:
Black scabbard with banana. We were sceptics but yes, fish actually does go well with banana.
Tuna Steak. Brought to the table raw with a hot slab, they'll talk you through the rest.
Picado. A mix of beef, mushroom, onions and tomato served on fries.
Prego. The best steak sandwich you’ll ever have. Served on traditional Madeiran garlic bread, it’s made up of beef steak, ham, egg, tomato, cheese and lettuce.
Cod and cheese fish cakes with Madeira wine.
We ate out for the whole trip and we can honestly say that the best restaurants are found in the backstreets or in the middle of nowhere. If you are in Funchal, we'd strongly recommend Venda da Donna Maria for traditional Portuguese food. However around the corner from that you'll find 5 star dining at Armazem do Sal. A Michelin recommended restaurant, the food is exceptional and the value for money is second to none.
Infamous Airport - From Manchester to Madeira its a 3 and a half hour flight. Madeira is home to one of the most infamous runways in the world. The plane has to do a sharp turn before the mountains, then land on a relatively short runway. Since the runway has been lengthened no planes have gone off the end, but pilots have to have special training in order to land there. Occasionally there may be delays on your flight times due to the wind, this is more likely between November and March. We experienced a 52 hour delay ourselves, although this is rare but it’s worth making sure you don’t have any commitments waiting at home that you can’t rearrange.
Car Hire - If you decide to stay any further away from Freeride Madeira than Funchal, you’ll probably want to hire a car. Only the most brave do this. Madeira is so steep that you are either driving on a bridge or through a tunnel. There’s a really long straight road 1400 meters up and its on the flattest part of the island. Apparently this is where most accidents happen, how bizarre? Another thing is the motorway sliproads….they don’t exist. That is to say they are extremely short. You’ll find yourself coming across your turn off from 70mph to a sharp turn into a single track lane. It’s insane. On the whole, the drivers were reasonably courteous to each other, but we did just fine without a car.
For more information on availability and prices, get in touch with Freeride Madeira https://freeridemadeira.com/