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Pandemic Cycling: Dispatches from Mallorca

By Megan Flottorp

Originally from New York, Julie Chasin moved to Mallorca in 2018 to pursue her dream of becoming a cycling guide. After getting settled and a successful season hustling as a freelance guide, she started her own company, Venga Cycling, a guiding business where she also planned to offer women’s cycling retreats. There was plenty of enthusiasm about what she was offering, and she was going into the spring of 2020 fully booked. We all know how that turned out, though. Julie and her team ran their first Venga Cycling Amateur Women’s Race Craft Skills camp at the start of March 2020, and 24 hours after the end of this thrilling and successful event, Spain went into full lockdown.

Not one to be easily thrown off course, though, Julie has spent the last year exploring Mallorca, gaining cycle coaching qualifications, and trying to plan, brand, develop and launch her own women’s focused cycling retreat company. She talked to us about how the pandemic has given her a new appreciation for cycling, discovering how many women riders are actually locals, and how the cycling community has come together to support one another during this challenging time.

Julie Chasin
Julie on the road.

Has your relationship with cycling changed since the pandemic, and if so, how?

When we couldn’t leave our houses during the Spanish lockdown, the daily time I spent on my turbo trainer on the terrace was what kept me sane. It was exercise, structure, something to do, a piece of normality and a connection to friends around the world.

Once we were allowed to train out of our houses, cycling continued to be something that has kept me fit, sane, social. And provides some predictable structure in a world where at the moment we can’t predict or plan anything! After a few years of structured training in the UK when I was competing as an amateur racer and then several years as a guide, cycling the last six months has become something I simply do for fun, and because I CAN. I’ve taken the battery out of my power meter and just get outside and ride every day because if March and April 2020 in Spain taught me nothing else, it was to appreciate how important the freedom to just get out and ride is.

Cycling in Mallorca
One of the highlights of the year has been realising how many local women cyclists there are living on the island now.

How has the cycling community in Mallorca changed since restriction came into place?

The cycling community in Mallorca has been incredible. As a small island that depends on tourism, the pandemic has hit many of us extremely hard. We are now looking at a probable third season (spring 2020, fall 2020, spring 2021) of little to no cycling-related work. Many small businesses have shut up shop, and many expats working in the cycling business have chosen to leave Mallorca and head back to their home countries to pursue other work. But for those of us who have been fortunate enough to be able to stay (with the knowledge that when travel resumes, there will be many hungry cyclists eager to get back to Mallorca), the supportive community that has developed here this past year has been pretty incredible.

People in the industry that I knew before the lockdown have become some of my close friends. In a normal year, we are all too busy during cycle season to do much more than nod, smile and have a quick chat as we pass each other in the busy lanes or at the bustling cafes. Now, we have had plenty of time to get to know one another in much more relaxed circumstances when we are not all exhausted from a busy week or busy season. Cafe owners, shop owners, mechanics and competitor guides are now friends I meet for a drink or go out for a ride with.

Cycling friends
Getting to ride with one of my favourite local Mallorquín hotel and café owners. In a normal spring we’d never have had time to gor for a ride together.

It must be a very different vibe without all the tourists! How has knowing everyone you see on a bike is local influenced communication or facilitated connections?

This year, I have realised how many women cyclists are actually living on the island and how cycling is growing in popularity with women. While more and more women’s cycling clubs and groups have been starting in the UK and US the last few years, when I first arrived in Mallorca in 2018 it was not common to see a group of local women riding together. But like many places worldwide, cycling has boomed with women here in Mallorca this year. It is not uncommon to see small groups of international or Mallorquin women riding together here.

I now have three different groups of women I regularly ride with; a small group of international road riders (we have women of a variety of levels from Ireland, UK, USA, Germany, Czech Republic, Canada, the Netherlands and the Basque Country in the group!), a small group of Mallorquin women I ride with from my village, and an international group of beginner women mountain bikers. Word of mouth and information sharing through the local cycle cafes and WhatsApp groups have been the most common forms of communication and ways for women to connect. I have just started the “Mallorca Women’s Cycling” Facebook group as a friendly and inclusive place for women either currently living in Mallorca or thinking of visiting and riding here to connect, meet other riders, support one another and access information about the best routes, cafes, shops, places to stay etc. in Mallorca.

Women cyclists
I love this crew of women who I now ride regularly with and who have become family. We all live here but come from the USA, UK, Canada, the Basque country, Ireland, Germany and the Czech republic.

Have you made any new cycling buddies as a result of the pandemic?

So many! Before lockdown, if I wasn’t cycling with guests, I was guiding, most of my rides were with a small handful of friends or with the local Mallorquin cycle club I belong to. With so many people out of work, but the beautiful roads and glorious sunshine remaining, many people have ample time to get out and ride as much as they’d like, and the variety of locally based people I ride with has grown. I now mix my days and have cycling buddies ranging from a Mallorquin gravel expert, to a woman training to hopefully be selected for the 2021 Olympics, to a few friends brand new to road cycling. I still ride once a week with my local village cycle club (CC Sa Pobla) and have picked up a bit of Mallorquin cycling vocabulary, and have ventured out and started doing some mountain biking for the first time with a small group of international women. Overall, I just look forward to catching up with any of my friends on two wheels. Because, really, is there any better reason to ride?