I’d quite like some personalised Continental tyres, just like those on the Di2-equipped Centurion carbon road bike I rented during an April cycling trip to Mallorca. I’ll need to order at least 5,000 pairs though. Huerzeler Bicycle Holidays made that investment and got its branding on umpteen sets of Conti Grand Prix 4000s. Huerzeler is huge. It orders 6,000 bikes per year – 5,000 of which are high-end alu and carbon road bikes – and sells them off locally at the end of each season. The Swiss company’s main destination is Mallorca, which attracts upwards of 200,000 roadies a year.
The company was founded in 1986 by Swiss track cycling champion Max Hürzeler. In 2005 he sold the business to Walter Güntensperger – then the CEO of the Swiss travel company Hotelplan – but he remains on the board. The company’s chief marketing officer is Tony Rominger, the Swiss former professional road-racing cyclist who won the Vuelta a España in 1992, 1993 and 1994 and the Giro d’Italia in 1995.
Anybody who has ridden in Mallorca will know that Huerzeler Bicycle Holidays dominates the island. It has ‘bike rental stations’ in 13 locations. Most of these rental outlets also have ‘boutiques’ where customers can buy Huerzeler cycle apparel as well as Sidi cycling shoes, Catlike helmets and more. At the bike station in Playa de Muro South, the company operates an ASSOS Factory Outlet Store.
Company bike rentals are highly computerised with sizing and duration details placed on a credit card, and even the bike fitting is partially computerised with inside-leg measurement captured by the till via an ingenious air-pressure device that the rider straddles.
Two-thirds of Huerzeler’s clients are German, 20 per cent are Swiss and the rest are Austrian, Scandinavian British. The majority of bikes for rent are bought – in bulk – from German brand Centurion. This was originally an American-Japanese brand founded in 1969, which imported high-quality road bikes from Tano of Japan. The same company later created MTB brand DiamondBank. The rights to the Centurion brand name were sold to cyclo-crosser Wolfgang Renner in 1991, Centurion’s German importer since 1976, and the father of German mountain biking. Merida of Taiwan took a controlling stake in Renner’s company in 2001, creating Merida Centurion Germany.
At the Huerzeler bike station in the coastal resort of Playa de Muro, there is a bike parking garage that holds 1,200 bikes, most of them high-end Centurions.
Most of the 60,000 clients who rent bikes from Huerzeler each season do so for a week at a time. They sign up to guided rides, which are led by 48 leaders trained to Swiss Cycling standards. The company employs 200 people, mostly in Mallorca, but also in Lanzarote, Andalusia, Germany and Switzerland.
The Hotel Association of Platja de Muro is geared up for cyclists. It doesn’t just keep the beaches clean; it makes sure the roads aren’t potholed and that the region’s cycleways are swept.
While the majority of roadies in Mallorca are German (and mostly ride in Huerzeler-led packs of 16) there is an increasing number of Brits. Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome are usually credited for popularising winter riding on this Spanish Balearic Island, but it was 1950s pro cyclist Doug Petty who really put the island on the cycling map. Petty started leading road-bike tours of Mallorca in 1968 – the sprightly 88-year-old led his last Mallorca tour earlier this year.
Mallorca has been attracting tourists for some time – composer Frédéric Chopin holidayed on the island as early as 1838 – but in the off- and shoulder-seasons it’s now cyclists sustaining Mallorca’s rural economy. Petrol stations on the main climbs are surprisingly well stocked with energy gels and 700c inner tubes.
The Coll dels Reis climb – more commonly known by the name of the former fishing port at its base, Sa Calobra – ascends to 668m over 9.4km of supremely smooth tarmac. It has 26 hairpin bends, and, at the top, a bonkers bridge which loops over its own road: a 270-degree coil that kicks up the gradient from seven to 11 per cent. These aren’t tough inclines; the climb attracts roadies because of the switchbacks, not the steepness. The island’s varied topography and excellent weather keep it popular with cyclists.
During my stay at the Iberostar Playa de Muro hotel in Alcudia, the manager told me that 90 per cent of current guests were cyclists. The hotel is a cycling hotspot; it also hosts the annual Challenge Majorca stage race, a pre-season favourite for pro teams. It was fabulous to clip-clop around an upscale hotel in Lycra and look perfectly normal.