PEDAL THROUGH PARADISE: bikepacking the Canaries

Cycling Canary Island

The chance of a winter sun cycling trip was impossible to resist when news of the 2023 Komoot Rally series dropped in my inbox. The first event for January, bikepacking the GranGuanche, an island-hopping gravel route across the length of the Canary Islands. Excited for the opportunity to put my Pearson On And On through its paces, I entered the ballot to be one of the women chosen for the trip.

And so, a few weeks later, I checked in my bike bag and boarded a flight to Lanzarote for the start of the fourth edition of the Komoot Women’s Rally. These rallies are a chance for a group of women of different nationalities, ages, backgrounds and bike packing experience to spend a week together. Organised by Gaby Thompson and Mayalen Noriega, with the help of ultra-endurance bike rider and racer Lael Wilcox, the planned route for the seven-day trip crossed the islands of La Graciosa, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria and Tenerife - a total of 700km with 16,000m elevation.

Arriving in Orzola, Lanzarote, excited to ride in the sun if a little apprehensive about the route ahead, we had an opportunity to test our bikes on the small island of La Graciosa, and our sea legs on the ferry there and back too! A reminder that the island-hopping nature of the trip, with ferry crossings between the islands, added to the sense of adventure and required extra thought about logistics.

Komoot 2023 gravel ride

40 women met for tapas in the evening; there was a fantastic atmosphere which carried through to the morning for the start of the ride. We gathered at the pier for photos and an opportunity to see the bikes we were all taking on our adventure. My fully-loaded On And On, mechanical GRX 800 1x11-speed with Pirelli Cinturato Gravel M 40mm tyres, loaded with Ortlieb bikepacking handlebar and saddle bags and a Restrap frame bag, seemed the perfect combination for the ride ahead.

A group start and soon onto gravel, and after a few steep climbs we were rewarded with an amazing albeit rather windy descent along the west coast with views over La Graciosa - the island we had ridden the day before. I spent the rest of the morning riding with the designer of the Gran Guanche route, Matteo Minelli, taking the opportunity to quiz him on what was ahead of us in the days to come.

With his intimate knowledge of the area he took a group of us for a ride along the beach - one of the highlights of the trip. After a tapas lunch with papas arrugadas, soon to be a staple, we navigated the route through the volcanic rocks of Lanzarote; very different to any gravel I had ridden before.

There was a buzz in the air as we pushed through the last kilometres to complete the route on Lanzarote to Playa Blanca, make the ferry to Corralejo and enjoy a pizza supper on Fuerteventura before wild camping for the night just outside Corralejo, sleeping with the sound of waves nearby in my bivvy bag tent.

On and On komoot 2023 gravel ride

Our journey continued along a gravel road down the west coast, passing multiple beautiful surfing beaches. The blue sea looked inviting in the heat; the wind was strong and rarely in the favoured direction. The route followed the most amazing coastal path, at some points too close to the edge for comfort given the wind and a loaded bike. Once we turned inland, the headwind was strong, the heat stronger, and the views unworldly - the lack of civilisation, trees and vegetation, and the contrast of sea to desert to mountains in the distance. There was a mix of gravel and road, ending the day on two epic road climbs, with the descent in golden-hour sunlight into the town of Pájara where a group consumed tapas before finding places to camp.

On the next day, we had a four o’clock afternoon deadline for the last ferry out of Morro Jable to focus our minds. Two further climbs and a long, straight, dreamy descent into La Pared for lunch on the beach, and again papas arrugadas. Onto the ferry for the sail to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the largest city on the Canary Islands, and quite a contrast to Fuerteventura, in size and climate too.

komoot 2023 gravel ride

The route across Gran Canaria involved a 2,000 metre climb en route to Tejeda, with bad weather and little opportunity for resupply and shelter we needed to reach the top and ride over in a day. The road into the Tamadaba Natural Park was epic, with great canyon-like rocks on either side. Once the road ended, the gravel started, and it was steep - hike-a-bike most of the way. For the last few kilometres where we had hoped for amazing views, we were met with heavy rain and clouds so thick you couldn’t see more than a few metres ahead. On the chilly descent into Tejeda the rain started to clear, and a rainbow appeared over the famous Roque Nubile.

Tejeda is the most scenic little town with the steepest, narrowest roads. By now we were glad our accommodation was downhill. A night spent indoors, a group of us huddled around a heater, hoping to dry ourselves and our clothes. We spent the following morning fuelling up from an amazing bakery and preparing for the descent through the Tamadaba park; the gravel was insane. Poor weather meant we missed some spectacular views, so I must go back. Finally, soaking wet and riding on an undulating coast road, we made it to the final ferry crossing of the trip from Agaete to Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

After the strong winds and heavy rain on Gran Canaria, and with weather in the mountains of Tenerife forecast for more of the same, we all decided to modify the route and ride directly to the sun. This road was undulating with views of the east coast, and all 40 women met up along the way to celebrate a birthday. The energy and vibe were awesome arriving in Los Christians for a beautiful sunset and ice cream. On the final day, our camp spot gave us an amazing sunrise over the sea, and a finishers party where we could share highs, lows and everything in between with our new found friends.

Komoot 2023 gravel ride

Looking back it was the most amazing week, one which I owe to the inspiring women I had the honour of meeting and made even better by the bike - the On And On, such control off-road and speed on-road. So comfortable, stylish and as the name suggests, I could ride on and on. Where to next? 

Written by Millie Gibbons. 

Photos by Liz Seabrook and Mia Altieri.

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