Mad Dogs & Englishmen

When the sun is beating down and it’s over 44 degrees, the best thing to do is swathe yourself in bike gear and head outdoors. We discover the best off-road holiday in Spain…

I’ve just had the best few days riding of the whole year and all it took was a cheap British Airways flight to Malaga. The rest is kind of up to you depending on what tickles your trout. I plumped for a spot of dirt biking – nothing like it to sharpen up the reflexes and shed a few pounds – and some cruising around the sun-bleached countryside on a road bike. Honestly, the tonic of 44 degrees of sunshine, cloudless skies and that superbly relaxed late evening eating and drinking culture is the best anti-depressant available. Stir in a bit of varied bike action and you’ve just invented the best prescription drug ever. 

I flew with a group to Malaga. The group had the definite waft of Honda because they were taking us out there to show off their new off-road playground – a place called Redtread nestled about an hour to the East of Malaga in the pretty mountainside village of Competa. The key here is the word ‘mountainside’.  We were picked up by Redtread’s owner Ian from the airport in his Land Rover, which looked like it was ready for a Long Way Down kind of trip. With the luggage thrown on the massive roof rack it was then a quick drive up the motorway to Redtread’s HQ in Competa. We’d gone for the three night two-day riding package (£495) and, as I type this a week later, my forearm muscles tell me that this is probably enough for the inexperienced dirt bike rider, prone to carpal tunnel syndrome. 

The accommodation at Redtread is just the ticket. A lofty villa is separated from the barbeque area and workshops by a plunge pool and large sun terrace. The rooms are simply furnished, immaculately clean and have a stunning view down the valley towards the sea. My room had a verandah, kitchenette and bathroom with over-bath shower.

But never mind the Villa, check out the garage. A raft of CRF450X Hondas, a smattering of 250s and a couple of 230s for novices are all guarded by two of the biggest (and thankfully friendliest) dogs you’ve ever clamped eyes on. You don’t even need to take your bulky riding kit as Redtread have a full stock of lids, armour, pants, shirts and gloves. Being a great believer that helmets are a very intimate piece of kit, I took my own as hand luggage. Most airlines permit one piece of hand luggage and an additional piece of hand luggage as long as it’s essential safety equipment. Bearing in mind what happened at Madrid airport, I think any airline would struggle to argue against a crash helmet being essential safety equipment.

It was approaching the high thirties after we’d finished breakfast on day one and putting body armour on, heavy motocross boots and nylon pants seemed like the wrong thing to be doing when a well stocked bar and cold pool lay alongside. Once suitably attired, we waited in the gravelled yard area while the ‘famous racers’ adjusted their mirrored Oakley goggles and checked their reflections in the windows to make sure the latest 2008 Shift motocross gear was looking good, sweat dripped off my chin onto the dust-covered plastic tank of my CR450 which had been ticking over for at least five minutes.  None of this seemed sensible. 

Riding with the fast lads

Leon Haslam, Cal Crutchlow, Steve Brogan and James Ellison joined us on our trail ride to, er, liven things up a bit. It certainly did that. They’re all crackers. 10 minutes into day one Leon rode, flat-out, off the road down an embankment and parked his CR250F up an olive tree. Judging by a) the drop and b) the size of the boulders, he was lucky to walk way. 

Crutchlow did exactly the same a few hours later after looking back over his shoulder and veering off the dirt track. His bike fell off a cliff to be stopped by, yes, you guessed right, an olive tree. Ellison seemed to enjoy the tarmac sections, powersliding his knobbly tyred CRF into, though and out of anything even vaguely resembling a corner. It was a delight to watch.

Brogan, having had his spleen removed a while back – presumably because it presented unnecessary extra weight, fell foul of some virus which gave him the chronic shits. ‘Fell foul’ serves a double meaning in this sense.  Brogan was always in the woods, doing what bears do best, and the thoughtful Liverpudlian even tidied up after himself with the aid of a carrier bag. Sadly this carrier bag was still on the roof of the Land Rover at the end of day three. Literally, a bag of shite.

But once we got moving, there was far too much concentration required to notice the blistering heat. After maybe two kilometres of melty tarmac we hit the dirt and the first of our group did just that.  It was a big accident by anyone’s standards. I was right behind when it happened. A third gear downhill left hander suddenly went from tarmac to loose gravel and the lady in front of me just froze, went straight up the bank, high sided and landed back on the road – WHUMP! - with a CRF230 on top of her revving its nuts off.  Thankfully Olivia was made of tougher stuff than the Spanish countryside and shrugged off the incident without even shedding a girlie tear. “Yer fookin’ big bangers saved you there, Ollie,” said a helpful Scouser in the background. A helpful Scouser with chronic, debilitating diarrhoea as it happened, but that’s a whole different bag of, er, biscuits – I shan’t explain. 

The rest of the day didn’t get any more sensible. Ian, our genial host and guide did just that while our ‘sweeper’ was none other than legendary Dakar pirate, Mick Extance. Theoretically we should have been in safe hands.  But involve any racers and there’s always going to be trouble. Involve Honda’s top BSB racers and it’s guaranteed to be carnage (see box out). That last sentence pretty much sets the tone for the banzai level of riding for our two-day excursion. The pin was well and truly pulled.  The terrain (right on the edge of the Sierra Nevada mountain range) is flabbergastingly stunning. The altitude and vistas warrants a whole new adjective. It’s proper jaw-saggingly beautiful. You get the hot, sweet smells of coniferous forest, wild lavender, sage and thyme and an amazing array of mountainous views. A lot of the time you’re 10,000ft above sea level and on a clear day we were assured you can see Morocco 120 miles away across the Med’. The pictures, really, don’t do the experience justice. If you’re lucky you may spot snakes (we ran over one), Wild Boar (leg it), eagles and more lizards than you’ll ever see this side of a MotoGP paddock. 

In terms of terrain, Ian will pick and choose trails to suit the ability of the group. We had a mix of un-metalled roads (flat in top), fast forestry tracks (flat in top), twisty, sheer-drop mountain passes (flat in top) and gnarly rock and boulder strewn dry river courses with a bit of deep sand thrown in just to keep you on your toes (part throttle, second gear.) The first day, after two spectacular accidents, we rocked up at a vast open wasteland of jumps and berms. There was some kind of track but I was buggered if I could remember which way to go. Ian talked us off-road knobbers through the basics of body positioning and technique and then let us all loose on the track. To be honest, it wasn’t my cup of tea but everyone else charged around flat knacker for over an hour while I sat in the shade and watched. Mick Extance made it all look easy, fluid and swift, relaxed and in control. He uses this area a lot for his Dakar training and it showed.

But do you know the best thing? There was nobody for miles. No one to piss off. No Janet Street fucking Porter types with ramblers socks and hiking boots and maps round their necks. No NIMBY angry local residents phoning the police. This, for me, marked the canyon of difference between the mealy-mouthed, intolerant residents of the crowded UK and the more open minded laissez faire attitude of the Spanish.

It was just the same on the trails. There we were, riding flat-stick, powersliding round big sweeping loose turns, not having seen another soul for two or three hours and there would suddenly be a group of Spanish walkers. They’d clap and wave. They may have been choking on our dust but they were smiling and loving it. Just amazing. Not in Britain. They’d be furiously ringing local authorities and penning angry letters to MPs.  And that, dear reader, is priceless. The trails may be so good that you think you’ve died and gone to heaven but it’s the fact that you can enjoy them without pissing everyone off that really makes this a truly special experience. This might not affect those of you with little or no conscience but, for me, it turned a great experience into a truly outstanding one. 

By the time lunch comes, you’re ready for it. Ian picks a known restaurant whose management aren’t too stuffy about a group of sweaty bikers rocking up on noisy dirt bikes. First day we ended up at a beach side restaurant and dined on swordfish, dourada and langoustines the size of lobsters. That afternoon only resulted in one person riding off a cliff and after a bit of photography we arrived back at Redtread for some much-needed swimming pool action.  Day two saw a slightly more sedate approach to the morning. With half the group walking like they couldn’t stop a pig in an alley, it was only to be expected. It’s amazing what you don’t feel when you’re concentrating 100%. 

Day two’s route took in some seriously fast quarry and forestry routes with plunging 200ft drops and no Armco (just to focus the attention). Names like Death Valley and The Corkscrew added to the mystery and intrigue. Seriously, though, if ever you’ve played Colin McRae Rally on Playstation, these trails looked like special stages from Corsica or Greece, upper three gears, gravel, cloying dusts and the occasional rock fall just to make sure you pay attention.  We stopped for some puncture fixing at the highest point (over 10,000ft) and drank the view as swallows darted and swooped above our heads feeding on the insects attracted by the wild lavender. The only noise was us. Sat in the shade of the chase Land Rover I downed a two-litre bottle of water. Temperature? A sizzling mid-day 44 degrees.  Best thing to do is ride, even a hot breeze is better than no breeze at all. So ride we did. All the way to lunch via the trickiest, boulder strewn dry river bed any of us had seen. It went a bit nuts but was some of the best riding I’ve done all year. Not best in terms of my piss-poor off road ability but best in terms of fun, excitement and exhilaration.

Getting there

It’s further than you might think to the Costa Del Sol. Just 120 miles from the African coastline, it’s a three-hour flight from most major British airports. August is obviously peak season but it’s possible to pick up some great deals now the school holidays are over. British Airways are currently charging just £160 for return flights to Malaga and have a sale on until the end of September. Go to to check flights.