Surviving Mallorca’s Roads

Twenty years ago, P.J.O’Rourke, in Holidays From Hell, shared his tips on third-world driving, namely, don’t. Continuing in this spirit, this week I’ll share some hard-earned lessons on cycling and surviving the roads of Mallorca. 


Mallorca presents three animal hazards – dogs, sheep, and goats. There are two types of dogs in Mallorca: miniature Doberman style attack dogs and giant mastiff style attack dogs. The operative word is ‘attack’. Always ride with someone slower than yourself – you only need to outsprint them, not the dog.

The mountainous island terrain lends itself to the development of super sheep that have the agility of goats, the stopping power of disc brakes, and the intelligence of retarded goldfish. Their movements are predictable. If you veer left, they go left; choose a righthand course, and they go right. Pass them slowly.

When faced with goats, P.J. suggested going at full speed because they’re impossible to hit. Sound advice, but I’m not sure whether I’d test it at 70 kph descending Col de sa Batalla.


There are two types of pedestrian: natives and tourists. The former has grown up playing an endless game of chicken dodging smashed up cars Mario Karted around tiny village streets. Head straight at the native, hold your nerve, and they will move at the last possible second. If you swerve, they win, and they lose all respect for you.

On the other hand, tourists, as we know, are immune and oblivious to all forms of traffic. If you place a German or British tourist in your sights and ride full blast, you will lose. By the way, you can tell the difference between these two types of tourist because after impact, the German looks slightly perplexed, as if an insect has bounced off them, and the Brit will deliver a tirade of four-letter abuse about cyclists.

If you are in doubt whether a pedestrian is local or a tourist, it’s easy to differentiate. The local is four feet tall, not pasty white, and never wears shorts.


Signals, or indicators as they are otherwise known, are standard equipment on all modern cars, but nobody has told the locals this. In a bid to save energy, Mallorcians do not use their indicators. They will turn without indication, hesitation, or regard for traffic regulations, such as one-way systems. Conversely, tourists tend to be haphazard in their use of indicators. They will arbitrarily choose one of the following options:

  1. Leave an indicator blinking constantly, just to let the world know they’re a tourist.

  2. Slow down, turn suddenly, and then apply either signal.

  3. Signal one direction and then turn the other. 


Locals follow two rules when pointing their cars towards roundabouts:

  1. Enter any lane of their choosing.

  2. Exit rapidly without signalling, usually swerving across all other traffic.

This seemingly unstructured approach to roundabouts makes total sense when you think of it like the local – who dares wins.

When cycling, if faced with a roundabout, you have a choice whether to go slow and pick your moment (hesitation is weakness, alas) or just go for it and ride as fast as you can (you may not make your exit but you’ll earn respect). Alternatively, choose routes that only require righthand turns, or avoid roundabouts all together.             


Broadly speaking, cars are either those of the natives or hire cars. Knowing the difference will help you predict their movements and actions. All locals’ cars have dents, scrapes, and missing parts. They are always driven at full speed or at a snail’s pace, never between the two. Hire cars, however, are pristine and are driven with great gusto on the autopistas until, that is, the drivers become scared by the locals wacky racing style of driving, and then they amble at 70 kmph. When the hire car driver enters a village or small town, they slow to a crawl because Northern European drivers are unable to judge the width of their vehicles.

You have little to fear from natives because cycling affords great respect – it is fourth only to God, mothers, and football. Hire cars, on the other hand, are a cause of great concern. Their pilots carry with them all of their native driving traits and idiosyncrasies, together with a complete absence of spatial awareness as they have no idea where they are going. To make matters worse, the Brits are befuddled by which side of the road to drive on, so frequently choose to straddle the white line. Regardless of nationality, these auto-tourists are a particular danger on mountain roads, where they are obsessed with completing their sightseeing missions in the shortest possible time, meaning they will overtake you with paper-thin margins on blind bends.


Alas, our fellow cyclists form our final category of dangers. If you take to the lanes, you can be assured that around every blind bend you will be greeted by a large group of cycle tourists occupying the entire road. Your best approach is to jump onto the big ring and send them flying like skittles.

Unless you descend like a pro (check out our e-book if you don’t, btw), it’s only a matter of time before you hear a harsh, “Achtung!” Most Germans treat descents like autobahns where restriction of speed is an inefficient and pointless use of time. To avoid being ploughed over by one of these big units, descend faster than them – there’s no other way.

On any flat or undulating road, you will encounter sprawling pelotons of want-to-be racers, mostly approaching middle age with no hope of ever racing. Their movements are as unpredictable as a Brit in a hire car. Pass if you dare or sit in and enjoy a free ride before they randomly turn off to refuel with coffee and cake – don’t worry you won’t have to wait long because the middle-aged cyclist only has a 10-km range without food.

Finally, there’s the selfie-generation. They’re easy to spot with their top-end hire bikes, coordinated Rapha clothing, and an arm outstretched as they check out their phone looking for the perfect self-portrait. Naturally, they are completely oblivious to you and the rest of their surroundings, but at least they tend to ride in a straight (ish) line. Photobomb if you wish, but it will do little to disrupt their narcissistic adoration.

Happy cycling and hasta luego.

P.S. if you’re planning a trip to Mallorca, check out our previous post that gives some top tips for cycling in Mallorca.

Photo Credit: Aslam Mac

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