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mountain bike holiday > The Rise of the Mountain Bike in Ainsa (Zona Zero)

Ainsa Enduro mountain bike
Over the last decade we have watched the growth of ainsa as a mountain bike destination. Read about the history of our Ainsa mountain bike holidays.

Ainsa Mountain Bike Holidays

This year Ainsa hosted the Enduro World Series and of course basqueMTB were there. This is the second time that this international mountain bike race has chosen Ainsa to host its penultimate round. The last time, in 2015, Ainsa was voted the best race of the season. Over a couple of beers in the local bar we got reminiscing about how we came to know the area and the changes we have seen over the last decade. I though it might be interesting to put it all into a blog post with some older photos for everyone.

basqueMTB have been involved with mountain biking in Ainsa since the creation of Zona Zero, almost 10 years ago. Antonio, our guide, has been involved since long before then and we have lots of friends in the area. These guys are pushing mountain biking in Spain forward and really writing the roadmap for marked mountain biking trails in Spain at the moment.

ainsa enduro mountain bikeainsa enduro mountain bike
ainsa enduro mountain bikeainsa enduro mountain bike

My First Time Mountain Biking in Ainsa (Zona Zero)

I remember the first time I visited Ainsa to mountain bike. I had just moved to Spain to set up basqueMTB and was exploring the area around Roncal. The weather was terrible, the mud in Roncal is incredible and pretty quickly I had snapped my derailleur. There were no bike shops in the area those days that would stock a 9 speed derailleur (cutting edge back then) so we drove to Ainsa. I remember coming over the pass in the mountains above the Ordessa valley, before the new road existed which takes you more directly to Ainsa now. It was like passing through a curtain of rain and the sun was shining. And so I discovered the microclimate that holds Ainsa and makes it perfect for mountain biking during the winter months.

Spreading the Word: Our First Ainsa Mountain Bike Holidays

Over the coming months I visited many times. I was there for the first gathering in the area where hundreds of Spanish mountain bikers came to check out some trails prior to launching Zona Zero. Most of the future guides from basqueMTB were there, back when they had real jobs and just rode on the weekends. The trails were different then and so were the bikes! Later that year I returned to shoot some video with James McKnight of DIRT fame. The following year I returned again with Steve Jones and Laurie Greenland. That was when Laurie was still racing juniors in the world cup but even then it was clear that he was something special and would be making a very big mark on downhill racing in general.

Over the last decade Zona Zero has grown and mountain biking in Ainsa has flowered. We have helped in the small ways we could, bringing people and journalists. I hope that we have been an important part of that growth, especially during the early years. We have stuck by our principles of only using local businesses. We make sure that the people we bring put money back in to the area and the trails. Everyone should do that. Make sure you leave some money in the areas you ride, ideally with the people who make and maintain the trails. You can do that in Ainsa by using the businesses which are part of the Zona Zero association and, happily, by drinking the fantastic Rondadora beer.

When The Enduro World Series Came To Ainsa

Then the Enduro World Series came. I don’t know how the series seems to people from the outside but we have seen a bit of both sides. From the outside its a big race, lots of media and very serious. The other side we have seen is a real caring about the area and the culture. Chris and the guys at the EWS really want to leave the areas better than they found them and bring a positive economic impact. Did you know that a lot of the top racers spend the day before practice, when others were track walking, with the children from the local school running skills and signing things? These things happen but aren’t reported very widely. Nobody sees photos of Sam Hill giving up track walk time to put back into the local area.

Another thing people maybe don’t see is the time which the EWS organisers spend with the local administration. They help with free advice and networking to help develop and grow the local biking scene. The coming of the EWS definitely moved the area forward, I have seen the numbers that prove that and they are impressive. The mountain biking in Ainsa, and the Pyrenees, has grown exponentially. We have all seen the benefits if it in terms of new trails and facilities. Of course there are always some downsides too. Ainsa used to feel like our own personal playground and, while its still really quite unknown compared to many places, seeing other bikers is something we have to get used to!

My First Enduro Race. And My Last One.

In 2015 we took a bunch of people to Ainsa for the EWS and I also raced. It was a massive eye-opener for me with regards to the fitness, skills and outright balls you need to race at that level. I’m noramally reasonably fast in a group of riders, nothing special but able to ride at the front of most groups. During the Enduro World Series I was giving it everything I had and ending up around the middle of the pack. To get into the top 100, or even 200 I suddenly realised the commitment you needed to have, both during the race and during the months running up to it. Those guys are super fast. It wasn’t for me though, I found that I didn’t like the competition. It was my first and last race!

The EWS organisation during the event was really top notch. Everyone at basqueMTB felt really proud to have been be involved with mountain biking in Ainsa. The local history, food and drink really took a central place in the event, much as we try to do when we run our mountain bike holidays in Ainsa. The course was another eye opener, it was long and technical. There was over 2000m of climbing during each day of the 2 day race. To be able to compete at your best during that you really needed to be in top form. The thing that we all really sat up and noticed was how the practice worked. The organisers offered two shuttles a day and then the rest climbing on great trails to link descents. That really went on to shape what we now call our “Ainsa Enduro” mountain bike holiday, (formerly the Winter Enduro).

Advice For Mountain Biking in Ainsa: R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

We would obviously recommend that you visit with a guide. A good guide can unlock the area, linking together the trails in a more interesting way. A bit of van assistance really helps get the most out of the area as well. We can help with both those things. We don’t offer day trips in Ainsa, we only offer our Pyrenees holidays (Backcountry and High) and our Ainsa Enduro holidays, all of which are week long, however if you find yourself looking for a day trip then give us a shout and maybe we can hook you up with a local guide for the day.

If you really don’t want to get a guide then here are some tips for getting the most out of the area.

  • Visit L’Abrevadero and drink local beer. Really do this at least once!
  • Don’t just ride in the area right around Ainsa. Explore a little. Zona Zero was named as the zone just around the town and is a very small area in a huge area of mountains. Use Ainsa as a base but get out and explore the surrounding mountains. This is something we feel strongly about and is where our expertise lies.
  • Switch off Strava: This is a direct request from the people who work on the trails in the area.
  • Respect the trails, try not to skid and don’t cut the corners. Help shift fallen stones and do your part in keeping the trails pristine.
  • This is very important. Respect the people who have lived all their lives in the area and have had to adjust to the influx of bikers in the last few years. That means slowing down when you come to villages. Remember that what you think is slow might not seem it to a non-biker so slow right down. It also means respecting the voluntary hunting trail closures and making the effort to be informed about that. Visit the tourist centre if you are unsure.

Advice For Mountain Biking in Ainsa / Zona Zero: Trails

If you feel that you can respect those things then I will pay you back by suggesting a few trails that maybe aren’t so well used but we think are fantastic.

  • You can do a lot worse for a day out than the trails from the Enduro World series. There are 4 days and all of them are very worthwhile, particularly the trails from 2015 which were ridden without uplift and so work best when you are self supported. Sunday from 2015 is my personal favourite.
  • Everyone rides the two trails from Campodarbe back to Boltaña. They are great but you can also link from Campodarbe into Coño del Mundo, route 20. This takes you back to the Monastery of Boltaña and is a personal favourite of mine. Just keep it for the dry maybe and watch out for surprises. And make sure you take the detour to visit the “Coño”, its a cool place.
  • The trails around La Fueva are pretty new and less ridden than many of the other trails. We ride them differently because we are lucky to have a support van, however route 48 is a good way to see the area.

Our “Ainsa Enduro” Mountain Bike Holidays

We returned again in 2018 for the second EWS. It was bigger and the organisers has it dialled. We knew what to expect and we organised a trip for a few guests to spectate, ride and in some case compete. The race was noticeably bigger but there were more people there just to watch than previously. That was obvious because of how busy the bars were! The racers don’t visit the bars, even the also-rans, they are too busy watching their Go-Pro videos of the track and memorising all the ways they are going to cut the corners. It was amazing in 2015 how empty the bars were but in 2018 we were amazed at how full they were!

Our Ainsa Enduro mountain bike holidays have just finished for the year. These trips use uplifts to see a lot of the Zona Zero, and lesser known areas, during a one week holiday. After a break for Christmas we will be running trips from January through March. Get in touch if you are interested.

Enjoy the photos below, they might take a second or two to load! Sroll left and right for more.


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