Europe’s best kept biking secret


James Oxley embarks on a five-day tour of the Canary Islands and uncovers a motorcycling paradise just waiting to be discovered

If you’re from the UK and in need of a break to banish those winter blues, chances are you’ve considered jetting off to the Canary Islands for a week or two of sun, sea, and sangria. In fact, the small group of Spanish islands located off the northwest coast of Africa is the most popular winter holiday destination in the world for us Brits. It’s easy to see why.

Pretty much-guaranteed sunshine, golden sands, turquoise waters, and plenty of nightlife combine to make the perfect package holiday destination during the cold, dark UK winter months. And if you enjoy the comforts of home while you’re abroad, you’ll discover plenty of spots offering a full English breakfast by day and a pint of Guinness by night in the resort towns of Tenerife and Lanzarote.

But what about those of us who prefer bikes to beaches, and mountain passes to Margaritas. During the winter, our regular haunts in the Alps or the Pyrenees are either closed or covered in snow (or both), and even southern climes in Europe like mainland Spain and Portugal can be decidedly chilly.

So, where do motorcyclists go for two-wheeled kicks in the sunshine during the colder months? Well, I can tell you this, not many of us visit the Canary Islands judging by the lack of bikes I saw on the road during my visit. And, for the life of me, I can’t fathom why.

I was pondering this thought as I carved along yet another world-class biking road over a spectacular mountain pass on the island of Gran Canaria. Despite having ridden some of the best asphalt of my life over the past few days, I’d hardly seen another motorcyclist apart from the group of guys I was travelling with.

It was as if I’d unearthed a motorcycle touring paradise and boy, I was delighted to be in on the secret. I was still pondering this thought as we pulled over at a viewing point and marvelled at a barren yet beautiful volcanic landscape stretching to the horizon and beyond. It was clear the Canary Islands was an incredibly special corner of the world, and one I would be telling all my biking friends about.

In the beginning

OK, I should probably rewind a few days and explain how I ended up experiencing motorcycle touring nirvana. As editor of ABR, I receive a lot of emails each day and occasionally one pings into my inbox that puts a giant smile on my face.

This was the case when one such message arrived in my inbox from a nice lady called Chiara from Edelweiss Bike Travel. After a few pleasantries, she got down to business and invited me to take part in the company’s Atlantic Mountain’s Extreme Tour of the Canary Islands. One look at the drizzly view from the office window was all I needed to make a decision. I replied with a resounding yes and set about booking flights.

Twisting our way through the spectacular gorges of Gran Canaria
Twisting our way through the spectacular gorges of Gran Canaria

The plan was to fly out to Tenerife in the last week of January where I’d meet Edelweiss’ tour guide Peter and the rest of the riders in my group. We’d then embark on a five-day adventure exploring the best riding that Tenerife, and the neighbouring islands of Gran Canaria and La Gomera, had to offer, taking ferries in between.

As someone who usually favours independent motorcycle travel, I admit it was a luxury to leave the route planning, bike rental, ferry crossings, and accommodation to someone else. It was a hassle-free VIP experience. All I needed to do was turn up and enjoy myself.

But not before I had the indulgent pleasure of choosing the bike I would ride for the week. I hit the link in Chiara’s email and was presented with an A-list of the best adventure bikes on the market, from KTM’s 1290 Super Adventure to Harley-Davidson’s Pan America. Or if I didn’t fancy one of the big adventure beasts, I could choose from a selection of mid-sized bikes like the Yamaha Tracer 900 or even a Ducati Monster.

What did I opt for after much deliberation? A BMW R 1250 GS, of course.

Bavaria’s finest

It turned out I wasn’t the only one to be seduced by Bavaria’s finest. As we set off from the luxurious and aptly named H10 Costa Adeje Palace hotel on the first morning of the tour, our group was made up of a gaggle of R 1250 GSs and one solitary Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports. Onboard the Honda was Frederico, a lively Italian chap who works in London in the financial services industry. I warmed to him immediately because he always seemed to have a smile on his face.

Riding the BMWs were Ralf from Germany, who ran a global shipping firm, and his countryman Carsten who operated his own business back home. From Austria, there was Max, a lovely guy who worked in finance for an international packaging company, and Andreas who ran his own healthcare business. At 68, he was the oldest in our group and passed his motorcycle licence just four years earlier. But seeing the way he carved along mountain passes, you’d have thought he’d been riding all his life.

From left to right Max, Andreas, Carsten, Frederico, Ralf, and James
From left to right Max, Andreas, Carsten, Frederico, Ralf, and James

Upfront was Peter, our Austrian tour guide. His intimate knowledge of the Canary Islands, first-class organisational and language skills, and generally relaxed charm would be key to making the week an unforgettable one. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

That first morning we made the short journey along the coast to the port of Playa de Los Cristianos where we enjoyed a late breakfast and rolled onto the ferry to La Gomera. I admit I’d never heard of this small circular island with a diameter of just 25 miles before. Surely there couldn’t be much riding to be had on such a diminutive landmass, I mused as we waited to disembark the ferry. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Spirited pace

The sensational riding began as soon as we left the port of San Sebastian. The twisting roads and snaking mountain passes came thick and fast, and the pace was spirited from the get-go.

Our tour of the Canaries was categorised as ‘extreme’ by Edelweiss. This meant we were expected to carry our own luggage on the bikes (so, no support vehicle), and we would be spending more hours in the saddle each day than you would on a standard tour, often on some pretty challenging biking roads.

To be honest, I’m always happy to carry my own gear on tour, and I was having an absolute blast on the snaking mountain roads. Judging by the way the rest of the lads were swooping into each new curve, I could tell they were enjoying the ‘extreme’ tour just as much as I was.

The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and we climbed ever higher into the mountains. We swooped along balcony roads, snaked our way through forests, and marvelled at mountains stretching to the horizon. The higher we climbed, the narrower the strip of asphalt we followed became.

Occasionally Peter would signal for us to turn onto a side road that I’d have been oblivious to if I were travelling solo. This would inevitably take us on an even twistier route devoid of any traffic through a draw-dropping landscape. La Gomera was a small island that packed a big punch.

Just before lunch, we pulled over at a spectacular viewing point overlooking the beach town of Valle Gran Rey. Below us plunged a vast valley that was dwarfed on either side by mountainous terrain leading down to the coast and an azure sea below. Clouds drifted beneath us as we took in the majestic view. But even better than the view was jumping back on the bikes and riding the snaking road that led down to the town in the distance.

The Mars-like landscape of Tenerife
The Mars-like landscape of Tenerife

German hippies?

Valle Gran Rey itself was a sleepy spot that became popular in the ‘70s with German hippies. To an Englishman, the thought of a German hippy is something of an oxymoron, but sure enough, I spotted a number of bohemian-looking folk relaxing in the sun while talking in German to each other.

After wolfing down a delicious lunch of spiced chicken and couscous, we hit the road again, and the rest of the day became a blur of endless curves on silky smooth tarmac as we meandered through this magnificent island.

Around 5.30 pm, we looped back to San Sebastian where we stayed in a local hotel and enjoyed a meal together, talking excitedly about the riding we’d enjoyed. If the first day was anything to go by, we were in for a treat.

The following morning, we were on the bikes by 9 am and spent a couple of hours exploring more of La Gomera before we needed to catch the ferry from San Sebastian back to Tenerife. Yet again the riding was sublime, and the landscape reached new heights as we rounded a bend and were met by the island’s most famous landmark, Roque de Agando, jutting into the sky.

This rock formation rises above San Sebastian and would have been seen by Christopher Columbus when he made port at La Gomera on his journey to the New World. Looking down from a viewing platform, the lush green vegetation covering the land reminded me of the jungle-covered mountains of Northern Thailand I’d ridden a few years before.

Exploring Tenerife

The Canaries were formed by violent volcanic activity, and this was soon apparent as we rolled off the ferry at Playa de Los Cristianos and set off to explore Tenerife. Whereas much of Gomera had been covered with forest, the landscape we were now passing through was rugged, barren, and unforgiving.

As we rode to the centre of the island, the twisting mountain passes we’d come to expect were replaced by an arrow-straight road that sliced through the Teide National Park. I admit to enjoying sitting back and cruising in a straight line through the remote landscape for a while until we turned off into a busy car park.

BMW R 1250 GS

It felt strange to be among so many cars and coaches after having the roads to ourselves. The reason for the hustle and bustle was the popular Roques de Garcia viewing point which looked out over vast lava fields with views of Mount Teide, the highest point in the Canary Islands.

If you’d have shown me a photo of that view and said it was from the surface of Mars, I would have believed you. I spent a few minutes soaking up what was one of the most spectacular sights I’ve seen in my life before jumping back on the bike and escaping the tourists. It’s moments like these that make me cherish the fact I ride a motorcycle, rather than having to sit with a coach load of other people in an air-conditioned box.

That afternoon we rode yet more mesmerising mountain roads as we explored the greener, northern side of Tenerife, before finishing the day at a sleepy hotel complex next door to a banana farm (fresh bananas were available on request).


What can I say about BMW’s R 1250 GS that hasn’t been said before?

It’s a magnificent machine that proved a joy to ride throughout my tour. Yes, it’s a big bike, but it proved nimble and precise on the snaking mountain passes of the Canaries, while effortlessly hauling me and my fully loaded luggage on the few motorway sections we rode.

It’s quite simply one of the best bikes ever built for motorcycle travel, and I adore the engine’s excitable bark and shake whenever I hit the starter button.

I challenge anyone to spend a week riding one of these magnificent machines in the Canary Islands and not end up booking a test ride at their local dealership.

The evening was spent at a cosy local restaurant in the small coastal village of San Pedro de Daute where we ate freshly caught fish, drank good wine, and enjoyed each other’s company.

No one on the tour had known each other beforehand, but we’d already bonded over the shared experience of exploring such a spectacular part of the world together. The conversation and laughter flowed freely. I sat opposite Max and asked him what his wife and kids thought of him coming away on holiday without them. He said they were pleased he was enjoying himself and doing something he loved. I told him he was a very lucky man.

I awoke the next morning to the sound of rain lashing down outside. It was so heavy, I thought for a moment I’d left my shower on overnight.

Thankfully, the wet weather eased a little by the time we’d had breakfast and left the hotel. But with conditions worsening up in the mountains we were due to explore, Peter sensibly decided to change the route to stick closer to the coast.

A continent in an island

We tip-toed our way to the ferry port at the city of Santa Cruz on slippery roads before making the 90-minute crossing to the third island of our journey, Gran Canaria. You’ll sometimes see it described as a mini continent and it’s an apt description. As we explored the island over the next couple of days, I never ceased to be astounded by the stark changes in the landscape.

One moment we’d be riding through misty conditions that resembled a rain forest, and then half an hour later, we’d find ourselves plunging deep into barren gorges looking like the set of a Wild West movie in America.

But the crowning glory of this magnificent island, at least for bikers, were the roads. Oh boy, does Gran Canaria serve up spectacular roads. I mean, world-class, heart-thumping, adrenalin pulsing, soul-soaring roads. I’ve no idea how many sweeping bends and tight turns we navigated on the island. Definitely thousands, maybe tens of thousands, probably more.

We travelled balcony roads clinging to towering cliffsides overlooking the ocean, we twisted our way up narrow single-track lanes over mountains tops, we cruised along sweeping bends, navigated hairpin turns, and flicked our heavily loaded bikes between S-bends. It was motorcycle touring at its most pleasurable and we were loving every minute.

But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why we saw so few motorcyclists touring any of the islands we’d visited, but particularly Gran Canaria. Yes, you need to fly there, but it’s only a four-hour flight from the UK, and tour companies like Edelweiss are only too happy to show you the ride of your life once you arrive. If you get the chance, I implore you to book a tour and ride this magnificent corner of the world. You won’t regret it.

A fond farewell

Want to ride in the Canary Islands?

I travelled with Edelweiss Bike Travel on the company’s Atlantic Mountains Extreme tour. As someone who usually favours independent motorcycle travel, I admit it was a luxury to have someone else plan the trip for me.

Edelweiss provided an experienced tour guide (who spoke fluent Spanish), as well as the route, all accommodation, breakfast and evening meals, a new model bike, map, and guidebook, which were all included in the price of the tour.

Prices start at £2,226 if you ride a mid-size bike like the Suzuki V- Strom 650 XT or a Yamaha Tracer 700. My tour cost £2,410 because I opted for a premium bike in the BMW R 1250 GS.

I booked my own flights which cost £75 return from Birmingham to Tenerife South Airport. I also paid for my fuel for the week which cost about £12 per day, as well as lunches which varied from £5 to £15 per day.

After an unforgettable day and a half of exploring the magnificent roads and landscapes of Gran Canaria, we boarded the fourth and final ferry of our trip and made the crossing back to Tenerife.

With only a couple of hours left before we needed to return to our palatial hotel in Costa Adeje, Peter was determined to give us a fitting finale. And boy, did he deliver.

Soon after disembarking the ferry, we joined the absurdly twisty TF-28 that wriggles the length of the island on its southwest side.

The road needs to be seen to be believed. On the map it looked like an alcoholic with the shakes had tried to draw a line and failed miserably.

Over the next hour or two, I hardly got out of second gear as my GS swooped into curve after glorious curve on the type of smooth road surface usually reserved for racetracks. Frederico and I had a hell of a lot of fun chasing each other along the glorious road in a game of motorcycle tag that was peppered with smiles and thumbs-ups as we overtook each other. It was an absolute blast and a fitting end to a week of road riding at its very best.

And then, the trip was over. We rode back to the hotel, parked up our bikes, and enjoyed a final meal together before going our separate ways. I was sad to say goodbye to such a great group of guys. We’d ridden together, looked out for each other, laughed throughout, and become friends in a short space of time.

Later that night, Peter took a stroll down to the beach and we shared a beer together while reflecting on the week we’d had.

“Thank you, James,” he said. “And to all of the guys on the trip. I enjoyed showing you around. You all made it a great week.”

“No, the thanks should all go to you Peter,” I replied. “You just served up one of the best week’s riding of my life.”