the Collserola Natural Park, known simply as Collserola, is the largest urban park in Europe. It is made up of a chain of mountains separating the Mediterranean from the inland valleys of Catalonia with more than 20,000 hectares of parkland. It is the lung of the Barcelona metro, which has more than 3 million inhabitants. Within the park is a maze of intertwining gravel paths and singletrack whose future is unknown due to the longstanding legality of riding anything narrower than three meters – ten feet – wide.
In the early 2000s, cyclists were grouped with motorized vehicles, prohibiting them from riding on almost all of the singletracks of Natural parks, or those designated as “natural parks” throughout Spain. This policy has been individually endorsed by the Autonomous Communities of Spain, with mountain bikers in Valencia, Andalucia and Madrid also having run into trouble with the law over the years. The autonomous community of Catalonia, in which Collserola is located, also approved this change. For the last couple of decades or so most park officials have turned a blind eye to pedal bikes on singletrack, but with the increase in park usage among all user groups, this could be about to change.
Collserola is managed by a consortium known as Consorci of the Natural Park of the Serra de Collserola, hereafter called the park, composed of various actors such as the nine municipalities that make up the park. In the spring of 2019, the park drafted the Pla especial de protection del medi natural i del paisatge (PEPNat), a new document with more stringent requirements and a strengthened application protocol. This plan bans not only mountain biking, but all singletrack activities that could be considered “sports,” including running and horseback riding. It was drafted before the pandemic began, but like many parks around the world, usage has only increased. The PEPNat was officially adopted in April 2021, but the battle for access is far from over.
When the park consortium was asked about the park’s priorities and how they have evolved over the past decade, one representative expressed his views on habitat protection in response to a variety of factors.
“The knowledge we have about the threats to protected natural areas has grown over the past 10 years, as has our awareness of their importance for people’s health (there are scientific studies that support this fact ), especially in particularly difficult times like the one we’ve been through with the pandemic. This more accurate information on so-called global change (climate change, invasive species, biodiversity loss, wildfires, etc.) has guided efforts to conserve and protect biodiversity and habitats. towards more prudent management practices, limiting and excluding activities that are more aggressive towards the environment.
Although it appears that the aforementioned environmental concerns are the main driver behind the latest single track bans, there are also conflicts between user groups. Additionally, the park suggests that other users believe mountain bikes cause more damage to the environment.
” Our role [the park consortium] is to improve biodiversity and the practice of cycling on singletracks is totally contrary to this objective. Most other users see it that way, and it’s actually the main cause of the complaints we receive: the lack of respect from some cyclists (we emphasize that they are in the minority).
Although it appears that the park consortium is similar to other park systems around the world in terms of high attendance levels with limited resources, the divergence seems to lie at the heart of the definition of mountain biking in Spain. Local runners in the area have even started using the rallying cry and hashtags “#sinsendasnoesbtt” (Spanish) and “#sensecorriolsnoesbtt(Catalan), which translates to “without singletrack, it’s not mountain biking. From the park’s perspective, you can still mountain bike on gravel roads and trails over three meters or ten feet wide.
Xavier Serret, one of those local riders and co-chairman of the mountain bike advocacy group, Collserola Sport Respeto Ciclismo (CSRC), bought a house in Collserola three years ago, just before discovering PEPNat. As an entrepreneur by profession and a mountain biker by passion, he and five others rallied in defense of single-lane access and formalized the advocacy organization as a registered nonprofit.
“With this new law, there will be fines [for mountain biking]”, Serret said. “You only go there to see, not touch, nature. Like a closed zoo.
The CSRC tried to find a compromise with the park consortium, suggesting the closure of the most ecologically sensitive areas, such as the park’s two nature reserves which have a higher ecological value with diverse flora and fauna, in exchange for areas smaller with a modern and sustainable environment. single-track network. This met with strong opposition.
“It was like the city didn’t want there to be any dialogue with us,” Serret said. “[The park consortium] basically told us that they would never negotiate with us. […] The park reads scientific research in Catalan and if there is no other option, in Spanish. Consequently, there is a real lack of knowledge about sustainable trail design.
The park said it was linked to the IMBA, but did not mention any mountain bike-specific plans.
“We are in contact with the IMBA through the National Institute of Physical Education of Catalonia, and a team from this institute is undertaking monitoring of the use of the park by visitors.”
According to Serret, the park has only “doubled down on that attitude” to eliminate the use of singletracks. On December 28, 2021, the CSRC filed its official complaint against the PEPNat, within the 20-day period required by the park.
“Outdoor activities are an important part of life here,” Serret said. “Not only that, local politicians underestimate the health, fitness and economic value that mountain bikes bring to Barcelona and the surrounding area.”
Serret is not alone in this reflection. Lukasz Tolwinski, a software developer from Poland who works for a Barcelona-based startup, moved here specifically for mountain biking after living in the UK and visiting places like Finale Ligure and Whistler.
“I once came to Catalonia with my bike and I said to myself: ‘it’s like a little Finale Ligure.’ I could live here and ride all year round. So I moved. Lukasz now participates in the Enduro Copa Catalana.
Local group leader Roger Albors sees Collserola as an essential part of the community and contributes to his mental health and his decision to continue living in the town.
“It’s a meeting point for the cycling community, whether it’s gravel, road or singletrack […] If it weren’t for the Collserola Natural Park, I would have been tired of Barcelona a long time ago, but today it’s a must for my enjoyment of the city.”
Miguel Suárez, certified tourist guide of Catalonia (Guia Habilitado de Catalunya), however, sees why the city would want to limit access with PEPNat due to the amount of use the park sees.
“There are about 3 million people in the AMB [Barcelona metro area] who could be potential visitors […] There are cyclists who understand the value of the environment and protect it, but a small percentage, regardless of the mode of recreation, abuse it.
The park echoed that sentiment.
“Fortunately, there are many [mountain bikers], the majority, who abide by the rules, although there is unfortunately a small proportion who do not accept the ban on using singletracks. Vis-à-vis other users (runners, riders, hikers, etc.), the perception is the same: the vast majority of users understand the rules and enjoy the park with respect, both vis-à-vis the environment than other users.
On the park’s website it says: “In Collserola you will find a cycle network of more than 250 km. We invite you to discover and enjoy this natural space in a civil way that is compatible with the conservation of the Park.
- You can only use the park’s cycle path network. (paths and tracks 3 meters wide)
- The speed limit is 20 km/h [12 mph]
- You cannot ride on the trails. Downhill bikes are prohibited.
In response to the PEPNat, the CSRC launched a crowdfunding campaign in mid-2021, which reached nearly 20,000 euros. This allowed the group to hire lawyers to challenge the PEPNat on the grounds that it had been adopted illegally, without sufficient public participation.
Serret remains optimistic that it will succeed. “We are not alone. There are others, such as neighborhood groups, who are also filing a complaint against PEPNat due to lack of public engagement. Ultimately, people who live near the park want to be able to take advantage of it.”
The Àrea Metropolitana de Barcelona (AMB) and Barcelona City Council are two of the groups in favor of PEPNat, supporting the banning of singletrack. Since the PEPNat was certified at a high level with the Generality of Cataloniathe autonomous community that makes up Spain’s most northeastern region, Serret expects this legal battle to be a slow and drawn-out process.
We asked the park consortium what success would look like in 10 years.
“The park must strengthen its role as a Natural Park and as a site belonging to the Natura 2000 network of protected areas, with all the implications for the conservation of the ecosystems and species that live there, while allowing its enjoyment by people, and above all with regards to the promotion of activities that involve calm and healthy contact with nature without compromising its conservation value.
On all of Barcelona’s many hot sunny days you can still see throngs of people on mountain bikes enjoying the park, but a dark cloud looms in the form of potential fines of 1,000 euros for riding on a single track . There are also questions that arise. With so many people mountain biking, will the park be able to enforce these limitations? If not, will environmentally sensitive areas be even more susceptible to damage due to uncontrolled use under a general ban? Although strict enforcement has yet to begin, that is on the minds of many who recreate in the park.