Kona’s legendary Dr Dew recently skipped across the Atlantic with product manager Mark “Donny” Allison to help launch our line of drop bar/gravel bikes to the European media. The setting was the ever-so-scenic island of Madeira- the perfect terrain for Libres, Sutra LTDs, and Roves. We’ll be rolling out reviews from the press as they come in, but for now, please enjoy this recap of riding and local culture by the doctor, himself.
I was aware that I had a work assignment coming up in the second half of October. I would be attending a gravel launch in Madeira with Mark Allison, a.k.a. Donny, Kona’s most junior product manager. As I pondered his recent 21,000 vertical single day achievement, I began to think of the story of the old bull and the young bull only we wouldn’t be walking down the mountain. We met in Vancouver airport and three planes later landed at the Christiano Ronaldo airport in Madeira. Known as the most dangerous airport in Europe it was good to be on terra firma. Once at the hotel we were warned of the impending hurricane forecast for the next day. I thought back to the plane landing somewhat relieved that our flight had been so smooth. Timing is everything.
The following morning, we awoke to a pleasant hurricane. The brunt of the storm was passing us to the north and we were looking at a promising day with light rain, wind and high seas. After breakfast, we were introduced to the guys from Madeira who would be our guides for the launch. The morning was spent assembling bikes. During the afternoon we weathered the storm and checked out one of the planned rides on the west side of the island. The following day was much the same spent detailing bikes in the morning and riding another trail in the afternoon. Trail guide Joe Sanchez would clear trails and Kona lensman Joonas Vinnari scoping the best photos opportunities. The riding reminded me of California meets Hawaii. It was going to be exciting to have a large group on the ride.
Day one of the launch started at breakfast with introductions. Some of the journalists arrived late and were a bit groggy. Everyone’s spirits were high. Madeira has had good riding reviews lately and everyone was anxious to get on the bikes. After bike assignment, we were shuttled off to the east side of the island. We arrived high in the hills above Machico and had a light rain to contend with. Twisting mountain roads gave way to a modest gravel climb. We ascended up the gravel road until we entered a single track that was part of an old aqueduct system. Banana trees, eucalyptus and sugarcane provided a cover from the wind and rain as we wound our way across the side of the mountain. About a dozen mountain bikers shot us bewildered expressions as we passed them on our drop bar bikes. After maybe 24 kms of singletrack we came out into dry warm skies and continued onto more twisting roads traversing the mountainside. An exhilarating decent led us to a piazza with great views of the ocean. After a quick traditional lunch, the bikes were loaded into the van and it was off to the west side of the island. The west side had slightly denser vegetation and was the same area where the enduro trails are located. This ride was more open and led into some sweet single track. The single track turned into urban trails and finished with a stunning steep descent down to the ocean. At the beach, we hung at two little Rasta bars. Everyone relaxed and reflected on the day’s riding with beer and poncha. Poncha is Madeira’s traditional drink and can help to cure a cold among other things. One of our guides named Alex had his board shorts and convinced everyone to jump into the Atlantic. As we were bobbing in the Atlantic he gave us some advice. “Go where the current takes you,” and, “The waves come in sets of seven. Don’t panic.” After the swim it was back to the hotel for dinner. Everyone looked content after dinner and we retired soon after. Tomorrow would be an early start.
Day 2 started with a 6:30 breakfast. By 7:15 we were off on our bikes equipped with lights heading to the ferry terminal. A 1.5-hour ferry ride ensued as we headed to the island of Porto Santo. Northeast of Madeira this island makes for a great day trip. Porto Santo “Holy Harbour” has lots of sandy beaches that are sheltered. The stark landscape is a result of feral rabbits that were introduced back in the 1400’s. They decimated the island and left it sparse with vegetation. We set out and really experienced what these bikes are all about. Smooth twisting tarmac got us to the top of the island where we rode off into gravel singletrack that circled the island. Singletrack opened into “German Gravel” that was smooth and fast. The riding was excellent and the views unbelievable. It wasn’t until mid afternoon that we completed the ride down at the beach, exhausted. Lunch was relished. Soon after the lunch Donny, Joe, Henry and Joonas took the journalists to a small airport where Tourism Madeira had them booked on a hopper flight back to Madeira. I settled on a swim with Alex, Jim and Bart before boarding the ferry back with the bikes. At dinner everyone seemed to be glowing. Two good days of riding left everyone feeling content. Most of the journalists were talking about the next time that they would be back to ride. We chose to walk back to the hotel from the old town and enjoy the night air. A lot of journalists had early flights so there was no time for any shenanigans.
For our last day in Madeira we had been invited to play a round of golf at the Palheiro golf club. Despite this tempting offer I graciously declined so that I could spend the bulk of the day riding the bikes and exploring Funchal. Joe was kind enough to take some of the remaining journalists along with Donny and myself on a little tour. Tight cobbled roads, coffee bars, the fish market, old forts were just a few of the spots that we visited. It was like old world meets Hawaii as we finished watching the sun traverse the ocean. As we shared a beer and some beans the journalists were comparing the hours that they had between this launch and their next. I was reminded that this was their work and in fact it was our work as well.
I would like to thank everyone but especially Joe www.bikology.pt and tourism Madeira for their hospitality. Everyone else I hope to thank in person next time I am back in Madeira. Oh yeah there better be a next time.