Warm trade winds. Turquoise waters. Quiet roads. Spectacular views. Hard hills. Friendly, welcoming people. Biking in Barbados is all of these, and more.
It was hard to get much information before we set off, and my big worry was the roads. What were they like? Could I use a road bike? There is a Barbados Cycling Union but whilst they appear to be pretty active I didn’t find the type of info’ I was looking for. One Trip Advisor posting asking for Barbados cycling advice was dated 2011(!) and hadn’t been answered so I drew a blank there. Sam, an Italian rider working in my local coffee shop, Rubens, had just come back from Barbados, ah great news, and his advice was to leave my bike at home, ah not so great news. “There are-a pot-o holes-a as-a big-a as-a your-a car-a” he said (please excuse my attempts at replicating an Italian accent). I was worried. I found some YouTube videos, admittedly filmed from car interiors, and the roads looked okay. I was slightly less worried. Wolfgang the owner of the apartment we had booked was the man on the spot and a cyclist, windsurfer, kite boarder. “Bring your bike, use 25 mm tyres, you’ll have no problems,” and he was right, no worries, we were on our way.
I’ll start at the end of my trip by saying that cycling in Barbados is a fanastic experience. Being on a bike really puts you in touch with the island and its culture. Everyone is so friendly and the claim that Barbados is the friendliest country in the world is well deserved.
Grinding up a hill so slowly that my Garmin was flashing Auto Pause, a guy walking downhill and into a side turning looked back at me, laughed and called out “strong legs”. Barbados is a place where you see a lot of people smiling and laughing. Flying downwind on the flat a very elderly, very skinny lady wearing a red wide brimmed hat, looked up and impulsively gave me a huge wave. Riding past the many small countryside bus stops and through the villages, just about everyone would smile and wave, shout out words of encouragement, or give you a simple “yeah mon” in reply to your “hiya”.
They drive on the left in Barbados and the drivers seem to have endless patience and drive extremely carefully and courteously, giving you a wide berth and often letting you out at junctions. My rides often meant crossing the busier main highway that runs South from the airport to the North of Barbados. I was waiting for a big truck to pass. He slowed up to a stop, flashed his lights and waved me across. I waved my thanks as he bipped his horn and I was on my way. This sort of simple gesture is not uncommon. You’ll often get a simple, single toot to warn you that a car is behind you, and often whilst pushing uphill a lorry, or a tour bus would beep or flash their lights in encouragement. This didn’t happen occasionally, it happened all the time. Stop to look at the map and someone will ask if they can help you find your way. I have rarely felt safer on my bike.
Barbados, the most westerly of all the Caribbean islands is a pear-shaped island approximately 21 miles long by about 15 wide with steady trade winds blow from the North East Atlantic. The glitzier, hotter west coast sits in the lee of the wind, but where we stayed, right on the less commercial, more rural southernmost tip, is where you get the maximum cooling benefit from the trades. Average temperatures are around 28 degrees. It’s a great climate. It’s tropical and it does rain, but it can do so in one spot and not another. 5 minutes later though it’s all dried up. But beware, the roads do get slippery when wet; I had an interesting sideways moment on a negative-camber right-hander.
A coast road runs right up the west side, and then running South to North inland and almost parallel is the main Highway connecting all the larger towns. You won’t want to ride on that but the other main roads that run North East across the island are all good road-bike-riding routes with a whole network of minor inter-connecting roads in between.
At some point you will always ride into wind and the trades can blow up to 20 mph, so it will be a slog, but the pay-back is the fantastic big-grin downwind flyers. The blast flying up the rise passing Pollards Mill, dated 1712, through open countryside with the wind pushing me hard on my back, was one of the memorable moments of my trip. Flying down and down Gun Hill towards Bridgetown on perfectly smooth surfaces, was another momentous moment. The guys in the van chasing me gave me a congratulatory beep-beep da beep-beep as I eventually took a left hander towards home. (I had overtaken them earlier and it was a great, good natured chase).
The roads are generally good, and there are some pot holes, but I’ve seen worse in the Surrey Hills. Some of the surfaces are perfection. Some have what can be best described as elephant knee creases, which don’t pose any problems and some of the back roads suddenly deteriorate into handle bar bouncing roughness. I called these my Paris Roubaix moments. Punctures? Zero.
If you’re a glutton for punishment, the aptly named Mount Pleasant is for you. That arm shaking 44.7% gradient (according to Strava) ground me to an embarrassing halt. Luckily there was no one around to see my humiliation, and I nearly succumbed to the walk of shame before criss-crossing the road to finish the thankfully short climb. There are plenty of challenging rides to be had, and during my 2-week stay I covered 320 miles and climbed 19,000 feet in 8 rides, all followed with the reward of a dip in the beautifully warm turquoise surf to cool me off later.
I took my own bike even though there is bike hire on the island which I didn’t check out. There are bike shops and Taylor’s in Bridgetown was recommended. BA charged me £60 to take the bike; they charge bikes at the same price as any other additional baggage. Watch out though. Due to local airport charges and taxes you will be charged at the airport to bring your bike home. You cannot pay in advance from the UK. Cost is a whopping $118. However we had a really great check-in guy and when I asked “can my bike go for free?” he said “yeah we’ll put it down as mobility”, so I was lucky and a perfect end to a perfect bike break. Its a tough ride in the winter!
This article was written by Mike Ramseyer, a regular contributor to PedalTripr and an all-round cycling nut.