Guadarrama — gravel geology in the heart of Spain

The Lozoya Valley is hidden with an almost childlike innocence inside Guadarrama Mountains in the Region of Madrid. The Valley is tucked away from the popular westernmost enclaves of The Sierra; it is colourful and it has captivated us by its beauty and its gravel routes.

Back to gravel discipline, back to adventure. Not only are we about to explore a geography steeped in history, but we’ll experience it riding a model design for gravel rides, the new Canyon Grizl. This route is diverse; paths of moderate technicality, high pace tracks and asphalt, we’ll enter the Sierra de Guadarrama experimenting with the Canyon Grizl’s adaptability.

Red pine forest, the master of the Valley

The Scots pine, or red pine forests, at the heart of the National Park Sierra de Guadarrama provided for the families of the Lozoya Valley for generations. The wood's even texture and straight grain makes red pine suitable for timber, among other uses. The history of the autonomous community of Madrid changed when vast sections of pine forests, owned until 1837 by the church, were acquired by wealthy landowners in search of fast profits. The red pine forests were used for commercial forestry during a time when the Spanish capital was growing at a fast pace.

However, an area known as Cabezas de Hierro was spared from the deforestation. This small part of the mountains was eventually acquired by a group of friends from Belgium who founded Sociedad Anónima de los Pinares de El Paular (El Paular Pine Forests Limited Company).Their sustainable management of the woodland has been held up as a prime example of good forestry and it is still carried out today in a way that is dedicated to the preservation of the natural environment. Not even the high demand for timber, which stemmed from the reconstruction of Europe after World War I, changed the leadership principles of this Belgian Society.

Unique geological conditions for gravel

A need for a network of roads was born out of the logging activities that took place all over the Sierra de Guadarrama. Providing communication to different areas, was critical to the logging process, so a wide web of paths was created that linked the valley with the high areas. The geology of the terrain had already laid the foundation for a perfect network of trails, and the local community transformed the landscape to finish the project.

Sierra de Guadarrama is a realm for the most widespread of all igneous rocks: granite. Granite is formed by masses of slow cooling magma with high quartz silica content solidified at great depths beneath the Earth's crust, brought to the surface by the geological movements and processes that span our natural history. Classified by their mineral composition, granite has a coarse grained and has large crystals. Quartz dominates the area that we are now. This is the birthplace of the particular tones of Guadarrama’s granite — whiter and grey. Its weathering results in sand, which of course lends itself to gravel riding.

Indeed, this geological and historical context has made this terrain a blessing for the gravel lovers. The Sierra de Guadarrama, and the secret gem within, the Valle de Lozoya, boasts stunning scenery with a network of easy access and well defined tracks. Extensive miles that lack frequent steep slopes, a wonderful surface. What a surface — porous, absorbent, compact, no mud and very fast.

Three intensive days

The small village of Lozoya, where the Hotel and SPA Ciclolodge El Nevero is located, was our base camp for our adventure around the Sierra de Guadarrama. We had three days to discover Canyon’s new creation in an optimum environment. During our time there we had plenty of rain, and more rain, and some brief sunny spells. If the previous Canyon model, the Grail, was a bike with dimensions and geometry for gravel, the Grizl has a geometry for adventure – with a larger wheelbase, a frame prepared for mounting a luggage rack, up to three bottle cages and gravel or road handlebars.

The Spanish branch of the German brand invited its ambassador the journalist Ainara Hernando to join some parts of the route and enjoy her a debut in this discipline. Ainara, although more familiar with road bikes, had the chance to check the great versatility of the Grizl. This bike is very suitable for soft and hard gravel, it thrives on asphalt, on trails, and deals well with the nuances of a dirt track.

We ventured through a number of gravel paths in the Lozoya Valley, including a circular route taking in 80km and 1300m of elevation gain. This valley located in the heart of the Sierra de Guadarrama National Park, runs along the southeastern slope of the Peñalara peak, the highest mountain peak in the mountain range of Guadarrama. It is an enclave of geobotanical interest. Pines, oaks, ashes, holm oaks and natural pastures enhance the gentle climbs that rise progressively to peaks of almost 2,300 metres in altitude. These slopes and valleys are adorned with a multitude of tracks that captivated us at a glance.

Rain, rains, more rain and a smile

We set off in the direction of Nava Redonda, riding parallel to Villar stream and trailed through Umbría meadow, resplendent in a deep green hue, thanks to the generous rainfalls. After a stretch of tarmac, we pass through the town of Buitrago de Lozoya and enter a sector of tracks that descend towards the Atazar reservoir. Skirting the reservoir above Canal de Isabel II, we link sections of path and track where the ground, despite the rain, continues to be drained. Once we cross the A-1 motorway, and we enter an area blossoming with granite, El Espaldar. As we roll over an undulating terrain that prepares us for the final steep slopes of Medio Celemín mountain pass.

From the summit we can already see Lozoya, alongside the next storm on the horizon. Swollen black clouds bring an intense rain that once again leave us soaked. The torrents of water prevents us of stopping at La Garganta de los Montes, a rocky gorge of the Lozoya river; although we plan to return the next day to take it in from its centenary stone bridge. Back at the Pinilla reservoir, where we set off, a discreet sun dries our waterproof jackets and allows us safe, dry arrival at our hotel — still eager for more. A smile spreads across our faces. The experience in the Sierra has been one to remember for months to come.

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