Two big cardboard boxes could only mean one thing: new 3T Exploro bikes for the XPDTN3 club just got a new home. With not too much time to plan before the public launch of the whole project, I invited my friend Loren to join me, and we set out to find a nearby destination to test both the new bike, get some photos and video, and test our exploring spirit...
Words, video and photography by Marc Gasch
TILTING AT WINDMILLS IN SPAIN
A trial run for XPDTN3 equipment gets windy, very windy
Bardenas Reales is a Natural Park in the north east part of Spain, nestled between the majestic Pyrenees mountains and the famous vineyards of La Rioja. A true gravel paradise in a desert environment, with a cool network of marked trails, where we created an easy "introductory" 2 day route. It will be our first taste of what future (and more grueling) XPDTN3 trips will be like.
Well, the plan was the easiest part to figure out: just cross the park from South to North on the first day and from North to South on the second day, trying to find the best loop to get to the coolest parts of the area (yes, tourist highlights included).
We were lucky it was dry. You don't want to ride here when it's muddy...
Our 5 hour drive from home started to give us some hints about the route when, on the last 30 km, we were seeing windmills all around the area. Wind is usually your enemy on the bike, but this time we took it as a gift, and a possibility to test the refined aerodynamics of the Exploro frame on the field. Little did we know the test would take 2 full days...
Doubletrack territory. Smooth and fast.
After checking in at the beautifully designed Aire de Bardenas hotel, and enjoying their Michelin-approved gastronomy, we spread all the contents of our bags in the room, discussing about what gear we need to stay 2 days on the road. One Apidura bag each would be more than enough for this particular trip, good weather allowing us to ride in shorts, and just carrying a few essentials for the night in the next hotel.
Well, that and obviously the obnoxious photographer backpack that will render my aerodynamic efforts almost useless. But that is an integral part of XPDTN3, we don't use support cars for camera crews or to transport the "explorers" from one photo shoot location to the next. Following the best traditions of bike adventure video and photography, the XPDTN3 explorers are self-supporting and all the photographers and video makers ride the full route and carry all their gear.
"Aire de Bardenas was "our hotel for the first day. Cool design and amazing food.
WIND CAME TO THE PARTY
Wind had been howling all night, a badly sealed window making it sound even worst than it really was, but we were still hoping that it would settle down when the sun rose the next morning. Of course it didn’t.
Happy to be riding on 3T C35 wheels, instead of the high profile C60 wheels that my friend Loren brought for the ride, we started out northbound on a few miles of the main road, till we hit the crossroads where the gravel (and fun) started. Big signposts lead us to our next stop in Murillo El Fruto for the most part of the route, making our map-loaded GPS unnecessary, other than recording the route for posterity and Strava affairs (just kidding, when you ride here you'll want to look around, not down to see if you can get a KOM).
I can only see speed here.
Wide gravel trails, like those usually seen on famous races like Almanzo or Dirty Kanza, opened in front of us and begged for aerodynamic position and draft riding to avoid the winds at high speeds. Kilometers went by at a fast pace, only to be completely stopped by my obsession to record every natural feature of the Park, an annoying pace-breaking workflow that we somehow got used to, and let us enjoy the scenery that minutes before was happening too fast in front of us. We were amazed by the speeds we hit. If you think you can get this fast with a lightweight mountain bike and narrow tyres, sorry, you are wrong... I was wrong.
Wind can create out of this world landscapes here.
The fact that Bardenas Reales is a Natural Park with limited access makes for unspoilt landscapes and a cool place for birdwatching (not that we are into that..), only disturbed by some farming activities allowed in the area and a few remains of old farm buildings that didn’t stand the fight with the howling winds for years and years. Those fields were in bloom, with green tones welcoming us to what usually is (in the summer months) just a white and yellow desert. As a photographer, I could not have asked for a better timing to be there, the contrast between blue skies, green fields and white soil helping to compose our pictures, and also making us stop more times than expected. Even if we just rode for a little bit more than 80km, the stops made for a long day in the saddle, so we were happy (and hungry) when we reached the Hotel Txapi-Txuri (try to pronounce that if you are not Spanish), a small and family hotel in the tiny town of Murillo el Fruto, just outside the Natural Park, and one of the few hotels in that area. No protein shakes here. Beers worked as recovery drink and huge amounts of Jamon Serrano (Spanish ham) and queso curado (cheese) were consumed and followed by a late siesta, while waiting for the night's big dinner. Life was good.
One of the most scenic areas in the Park.
North to South
After a quick review of the bikes, some chain lubing and putting our light luggage in the bike bags, we headed back to the Park, hoping for a tailwind. Of course that didn’t’ happen, but at least the power of Aeolus got weaker that day and allowed us to ride in a more relaxed way, for another 80-plus km back to our trendy hotel in Tudela. The route today went through some of the most iconic parts of the park, a magnet for tourists that flood it on the few points where access is granted to cars. Impossible rock formations make for cool pictures, perfect gravel roads for nice average speeds. Luckily my friend Loren is enjoying himself too, despite never having ridden on the bike before.
The northern area of the Park welcomed us with a green symphony
In fact, as mostly a mountain biker, Loren was a bit skeptical about riding 40mm tires on rocky terrain, but after more than 160km, he was stoked about the bike’s possibilities to explore and travel. And I agreed. Even riding with a heavy photo backpack, my neck was still ok, and no signs of getting more tired than, lets say, one of my regular mountain bike rides on the trails or my road rides when climbing. We were stoked, and can only dream about what we will be able to achieve with the 27.5x2.1" tire combo on the new Discus Plus wheels. That can open up terrain to even more exploring adventures, with minimal weight, equipment, maximum simplicity and a very fast (or slow, you choose) way of travel...
Trying not to drop the remote shutter for the camera ...
We kept talking about that, and before we knew it, we were back at the hotel, with a smile in our faces. With the guy at the reception asking us about those smiles on our faces, we can only think about the blue pool in the back of the hotel, facing the huge windmill farm in the background, totally harmless to us now, and the wind sculpting the landscape like its been doing for centuries.
No big climbs, but plenty of up and downs
Even if this one was just a test ride for all the equipment from 3T, Scicon, Castelli, WTB, Apidura and all the partners involved in the project, we immediately realized that we had something special on our hands. The whole idea makes for a nice way to forget about training and KOMs, and allow us just to explore. Bike exploration is nothing new, for sure, but I had some past bike adventures where inappropriate gear made for a miserable trip. Technology won’t buy you happiness, but having such a versatile equipment makes exploring way easier, even if its just a 3 day weekend with your best friend on a ride you can get to by car, or a remote adventure in the colder fjords of Norway.
They say it’s not about the destination, and in this case it is more obvious than ever. Every minute we stayed on the bike was pure enjoyment, even on those times fighting the wind in a deserted and infinite gravel path, but we were happy to be on the bike. You can choose to go nowhere fast. Or maybe going slow and soaking the landscape is your style? Just choose. Let the exploring begin.
Words, photography and video by Marc Gasch