It goes without saying that riders should be extra vigilant generally while riding abroad, but there a are a few hazards that are particular to Spain that are worth knowing about. I’m splitting the hazards into two categories based on road conditions and road users. But this isn’t an “All Spanish drivers are *******” thing. I’ll leave that to some of the flagrantly xenophobic ex-pat blogs that are easy enough to find. Quite apart from that issue though, in my experience Spanish drivers are good, calm, and polite, at least outside of the major cities. Above all they are very bike aware – probably because so many of the are, or were, bike riders, even if only a moped during their youth. It’s also worth noting that accidents*, at least as measured by the death toll, have plummeted since 2005 when penalty points were introduced and the Plan Nacional de Seguridad Vial made great steps to improve the physical condition of roads in general; fitting crash barriers – there has been a scandal over bike friendly barriers, which are being retrofitted widely – improving junctions, and normalizing road standards, at least on the open roads – more on this below.
So here’s the qualitative, non-definitive list of hazards to watch out for – readers anecdotes are more than welcome:
- Overtaking lanes: these are usually very handy given the long hard climbs that many main roads have to surmount. The end of the lane is always indicated 250m beforehand but the standards aren’t universal, i.e. either the overtaker or the overtaken has to give way when the lanes converge – as this occurs at the apex of the climb it’s a horrible feeling when you begin literally to run out of road!
- Camber: there isn’t any! Rainfall in Central Spain and along the Mediterranean coast comes in heavy bouts, sometimes extreme – eyebrows are only raised when over 50l/metre (about 2 inches) fall in less than an hour! Roads in these areas have huge drains, which work, but surface water accumulates when rainfall is steady. If you do get caught in a sudden downpour it’s as well to stop and take cover – as often as not the rain will turn to hail, especially in high summer.
- Roundabouts: these are a New Thing in Spain, but have proliferated since the Plan Nacional. On the open road they are standardized, at least within autonomous regions, but are often excruciatingly tight – but not as bad as French ones! The main problems are drivers not giving way to motors already on the roundabout – this is true for all vehicles, not just bikes, it’s not an, “Honest, I didn’t see you mate!” issue. The other related problem is drivers not using their indicators whilst on the roundabout – so you end up apparently not giving way! – this is due to the rather arcane rules that apply in Spain in which a roundabout is considered to be a never-ending one way street. If it has two lanes the left hand lane should only be used to overtake – it’s true, check it out from The Experts – and one should only indicate ‘left’ when changing lanes within the roundabout, not to show that you are indeed seeking an exit to the left!
- Blind corners: drivers will almost invariably follow the crown of the road, even if there are advisory (seen on many secondary roads) or obligatory markings, including single, solid no-overtaking line. Naturally enough this problem is worse in rural areas, where drivers have the, ” Oi been droivin’ up thus road all me loife guvn’r.“, syndrome!
- Saturday night fever: roads around cities and coastal resorts are inundated with jovenes driving hot hatchbacks; either with all their mates egging them on to ever more barking behaviour or trying to impress their girlfriends by terrorizing them – this is no joke! The phenomenon starts early as kids will readily drive hundreds of kilometres to go party, often to a botellón, a improvised street party where the levels of booze and drugs taken make British tourists look tame – although to be fair, even when smashed Spanish kids are very amenable, loving even – until they get behind the wheel!
- Holidays: Spanish public holidays are taken as and when they fall, not morphed to the nearest Monday like in the U.K. As a result people take long weekends, called puentes (Sp. puente = bridge) and head out of the cities mob handed. Accident rates soar at these times and the traffic department implement special procedures. These include a huge police presence on the roads, extra radar traps, alcohol checks, etc. and heavy vehicles are banned from some sections of the Autopistas (motorways) – this has a knock-on effect though as trucks take to the national and secondary road systems, especially near the borders at each extreme of the Pyrenees. The most important puente is Asunción, August 15th (as in France), which is a time to avoid traveling in general as accommodation is very difficult; even camp sites can be completely full and should be booked in advance if possible.
- Livestock: sheep and goats are normally herded rather that kept in fields, and even cows and horses are left to roam on high ground, so at all times you have to be prepared for flocks and herds crossing the roads. There’s no reliable way of predicting this, but dung on the road surface should heighten your awareness! Not forgetting the risk of wild animal traffic; wild boar are said to be the only genuinely dangerous wild animals in Europe – it’s true, they can kill! – but traffic accidents are beginning to enter into the statistical framework too:
* I’ve made strenuous attempts sift through the statistics, from the EU’s ‘Eurostat’, CARE, the EU-wide road safety QUANGO and the Spanish Traffic department. None of these offer adequate stats., comparative studies by EU agencies aren’t recent enough to take on the changes and the Spanish tables only pertain to Spain, making comparison difficult.