Navigation, or the inability to navigate, is one reason why you would choose a guided tour. Nobody likes getting lost when you are trying to get to somewhere, but when you don’t have to get to anywhere in particular, wandering off-course or becoming ‘lost’ is all part of the adventure.

I have spend decades travelling around Europe, and its only in the past year or so that I bought a navigation device. I still don’t use it for navigating, its primary role is to track my riding so I can create GPX files and in particular to keep a record of rideable off-road routes in order to maintain and develop the TET (Trans Euro Trail) in my area.

So how did I get around 14 European countries without using a sat-nav or similar device? Well I am somehow able to look at something and absorb and retain the information within what I looked at. And its not just short term information retention, I can remember clearly information I read decades ago. Have you seen the TV show Suits? When Mike Ross can look at something and recite it word for word. Well I’m not quite like that, but similar. I can look at a map, quickly assess the route, put the map away, go to sleep, wake up and have the image clear in my head.

So that was how I was able to navigate my way around Europe without using a sat-nav, and why I don’t really need to use one today. And not all of the travelling was on a bike, sometimes I was in a car or a truck. There are times when I use Google Maps, primarily for finding specific shops etc. within towns and cities I haven’t been to before.

So you’re probably thinking why is he writing about this? If we want to go from A to B, does it matter whether he uses his memory map or a satnav? Well if you are simply going from A to B, the answer is no, it doesn’t make any difference. But if during that journey, someone asks if there is an alternative route that is less twisty (or more twisty), or can we deviate to find a pharmacy as they have forgot their medicines, or simply is there somewhere interesting we can go and see on our way, then you need someone who can memorise a map and places of interest.

How many times have you heard about people saying their satnav has frozen and they had to wait to reboot it? Tried to enter a place name, but they type it phonetically and it isn’t recognised, or it takes them along the fastest and most boring route. I’m not anti-sat-nav. They have their place like all electronic devices, but I believe that if you go on a guided tour with someone who knows the area, knows the places that you will enjoy visiting, and doesn’t have to stop and research somewhere, you will have more time doing what you want to do, and less time waiting for the sat-nav to decide your route.

My Garmin Montana will always be turned on when we ride, plotting our ride, altitude, speed and distance, but by not using it to get around and by using my knowledge of the area and the roads, and places of interest I’ve memorised from looking at maps, you will have a much better guided tour with a portion of adventure thrown in.

Click here to read about other riding equipment I use.

A local ride can become an adventure

One of the benefits of owning and riding an adventure bike in Spain is that you can always find somewhere new to explore every time you ride. The country is a maze of roads and dirt trails which constantly intersect each other, so no matter where you are, you can simply divert from tarmac to dirt, knowing that the trail will inevitably lead to more trails and more tarmac and the adventure simply continues with each and every kilometre.

I had to ride to my local dealer to get some parts, and I decided to turn it into a circular route which comprises of some of my favourite tarmac roads. Part way towards the dealer, I spotted a dirt track to my right, and something was telling me to explore it. I turned off the tarmac, and hit the trail, and I was immediately presented with a wonderful mix of stone and dirt. The trail was a complete contrast to the road I had been riding, with varying camber angles, dusty lose climbs and descents, and fast but rutted hard-pack in-between.

My instinct to explore this trail was rewarded with some beautiful scenery and eventually a rest stop on the banks of the river Ebro. Every rideout can be like this, and you don’t need to be on an adventure bike or have dual-sport tyres, because the maze of tarmac roads linking towns with villages can also lead to places of interest. This is why my clients enjoy touring with me, they get to see places they didn’t expect and that is what turns a tour into an adventure. Click here to see the video I made after the days riding.

Riding the Trans Euro Trail (TET) in Spain

If you haven’t heard about the TET (Trans Euro Trail), it is a project which aims to map a predominantly off-road but legally rideable network of tracks and trails covering the whole of Europe. At the time of writing this, with the help of a large network of volunteers (I have mapped large sections of Catalunya) and linesmen, 51,000km of trails have been mapped from the Arctic circle to Africa and from Portugal to Ukraine. It is a community driven project, and the GPX files are available for free so anyone with a suitable bike can ride the TET.

At the moment, the Spanish TET is part of one large circular route incorporating Portugal, with some small branch routes to places of interest, and some circular routes around the more scenic parts, which becomes more of an Iberian TET. The entire TET network is under constant development so before setting off, you always need to ensure you have downloaded the latest GPX file. Check out my post about navigation. Sometimes trails can be washed out by rain, rockfalls can make some tracks impossible to follow, and sometimes the right to ride along a trail can be revoked.

The Spanish TET GPX route is maintained by a friend of mine, Simon Rice, also known as The Spanish Biker. My own contribution to the Spanish TET focuses around the town of Flix in Tarragona province. I own a farm here and I was able to route the TET right past the farm which had a legal holiday cottage. Unfortunately that business had to close following a wildfire which swept through the area in June 2019.

Using my farm as a starting point, I have been able to regularly ride the TET north and south of this area, and I can now ride for a day in each direction without needing to use any form of navigation. Due to the weather systems in the inland parts of Spain, the TET can be a very different experience at different times of the year, which is why I would suggest people return and try it again, possibly reversing the route to make it even more interesting.

So what can you expect on this part of the Spanish TET? Well the tracks here are wonderful. Typically, they are tracks that the farmers use to get to their land and they criss-cross the entire country. As they are used by tractors, they are wide enough for two bikes to pass, but not wide enough for a bike to pass a tractor without one having to pull over. The soil varies considerably, from slate and shale to the most gloopy and sticky terracotta clay. Most of the soil is a pale, sandy substrate which is like concrete when its dry, but this quickly becomes gloopy clay after some rain. I personally find this soil perfect to ride with knobbly tyres after a couple of hours of rain. Just a bit or rain allows the tyres to bite into the soil without it becoming too soft and slippery.

The trails are never far away from civilisation for food and drink stops, even little sleepy rural villages will have a bar that does a coffee and a generous sandwich (bocadillo) for just a few euros. Having said that, it can be incredibly hot when travelling slow along the trails, so make sure you carry plenty of water to hydrate, and especially if you get a puncture or break-down, it can be a long, hot walk to get help, and the chances are the local garage will be closed for siesta. Fuel stops can be found easily with just small detours from the trail into a nearby town. Its the same for accommodation, practically every town will have somewhere for you to stay and a selection of bars serving food. Most towns will also have a mechanic, should you need any repairs or spares.

During the dry months, you will see people riding on almost bald tyres because the ground is too hard for anything to dig in and find any traction. But after the first rains of Autumn (usually the end of September), everyone rushes out to get some new knobbly tyres. I have tried various tyres on the TET here, the first were a set of Mitas enduro tyres. These were probably the best in terms of grip, but they didn’t last long enough. I then tried some Michelin Sirac tyres, which were great in the dry months, but very difficult to ride along the trails after a bit of rain. I then tried some Continental TKC80’s, which were OK. They aren’t an outstanding tyre, but they are a great all terrain tyre. Comfortable on or off-road, and with a reasonable lifespan for the money. I’m currently riding on a set of Motoz Tractionator Adventure, and I have mixed feelings about them. They certainly last longer than the others, although I am getting through 2 fronts to 1 rear which is really unusual for bike tyres. I find the front lacking bite when cornering off-road, but the rear is good and confidence inspiring.

There are a few dangers to be aware of when riding the TET in Spain. The fact that the trails have to be suitable for tractors means that there is the risk of you coming across one at some point, so please only ride as fast as you can stop safely. And farmers don’t always drive around on a slow tractor, you will see them driving around in their 4×4’s. Wild animals are also a risk on the trails, particularly wild boar. If you hit one of these, you will do a lot of damage to your bike, but worse than that, if you encounter one with babies, you can expect one to charge you. These beasts with their tusks have severed femoral arteries and people have bled out and died, so whilst they look cute and interesting, please stay away from them. And where there are wild animals, you will also find hunters and their dogs. Hunting seasons and the days they can hunt vary from region to region, and there can be exceptions, but when they are hunting, you will generally see lots of 4×4’s parked up, sometimes guys in hi-viz who act as spotters, and of course dozens of hunting dogs which generally have a hi-viz collar so they aren’t mistaken for a wild animal and shot.

Take a look at a YouTube video of me riding parts of the TET so you can see what its like, and feel free to email me if you have any questions or are looking for someone to guide you along part or all of the Iberian TET.

I have had the pleasure of riding the TET with Will Spray (read his testimonial here), and also with Jurga Zukauskaite (read her testimonial here).