A Decade of Freeride Madeira
Madeira is well known now as being a hot spot for mountain bike riding globally, this wasn’t always the case though.
Just over 10 years ago three friends founded Freeride Madeira, and now a decade later, having hosted multi EWS, Trans Madeira and global film segments, it seemed like the right time to look back at how incredible the ride so far has been.
Freeride Madeira was established in 2013 by three friends, Filipe Caldeira, João(John) Fernandes and Roberto Chaves who have a huge passion for mountain biking and the Island we were born on.
We started mountain biking in Madeira in 2003, then around 2008 we started doing our first trips to the Alps, which were an eye opener! We realized Madeira had more to offer to riders in terms of diversity of terrain, landscapes, vegetation, extra activities, all packed on one exotic beautiful and friendly island.
We switched our way of thinking and in our free time we started to build trails that would suit a bigger audience and we did it across the whole island so people could explore the 4 corners of Madeira on a bike.
The next step was to buy a vehicle and build a trailer to shuttle the locals, organize bike camps and local races, and advertise!
Filipe was a sales manager at Volkswagen and Audi, Roberto was an insurance broker and event organizer, I had finished high school and decided I should take a year long mountain guide course, develop some MTB itineraries and start developing this project before someone got ahead of us and we missed this opportunity.
Soon we started to be contacted frequently by local tourists to go on daily rides, people started to be interested in a full week of guided tours and that’s when we realized it was time to establish the company. It didn’t take long to see Filipe and Roberto hang their suits and all us three start working full time on the company and making a living out of the sport we love.
The volcanic Island of Madeira is located 600km West of the African Continent, at the same latitude of “CasaBlanca”, Morocco. Madeira is 57km long from East to West and 24km long from North to South, doesn’t sound big but then there are several mountains above 1500m. The three highest peaks are all above 1800m. This means many valleys were formed, cliffs, ridge lines, micro climates, the perfect cocktail for an insane amount of diversity and mild weather all year round.
On the North Coast of Madeira lies the oldest and biggest patch of Laurel forest(Laurissilva) in the World, on the South Coast the Eucalyptus, Acacia trees and Pines have taken the place of the native forest. The terrain on the East and North are predominantly steep, rocky and humid in contrast to the West and South where ridge lines with a gentle gradient nestle, with great dirt and the warm and dry weather is much more frequent.
All this complemented with insane landscapes and 360º Ocean views makes Madeira unique for Mountain biking!
Although the trails haven’t always been there. When we started riding in 2003, there were maybe 4 MTB tracks and a couple of ancient footpaths we rode on. We had to build our trails to ride, there was no other way. When we started the company there were approx 10 tracks on the whole island.
Our priority was to build more tracks and right from the start, so we employed Alex, a full time trail builder, that works Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm all year round for 10 year now. Together with him, Rob and myself would spend all our free time with him building. Year upon year our trail crew has grown, we´ve been able to employ more trail builders and educate them with our experience and through courses from the International Mountain Bike Association(IMBA) and from the Portuguese Cycling Federation.
We are the only company until today that works on our trail network full time and it is all funded by what we earn from our guided tours and events such as Trans Madeira. This unique example of trail development and sustainability allowed us to make history and put Madeira on the map of the most wanted MTB destinations.
Back in 2014 WideopenMag was the first magazine that accepted our invitation to come experience the riding in Madeira, with us, for a week. They sent out the official EWS Filmer Jacob Gibbins and EWS riders Mark Scott and Sam Flanagan, at the time.
I was a bit nervous of what they would think of the riding out here back then. We had way less tracks than we have today but the raw ridges lines and natural trails complemented well the whole trip. Their feedback was overwhelming, they believed we had something special in our hands and encouraged us to keep battling for our dreams and even organize an EWS, putting Madeira on the map of the best MTB destinations on the planet
We were lucky enough to meet the talented Jacob Gibbins, who became a massive Madeira fan and friend, who started spreading the good word of the island and our company through the whole mountain bike industry!
I remember Jacob asking me before he left, who I would love to have in Madeira riding and filming with us in the future… I answered, without thinking much, Brendan Fairclough! A month later, after this trip, Brendan Fairclough emailed me to come on a bike holiday with his friends to ride with us(I´ll never forget that moment, I was so happy!) and from there on it’s been a snowball of dreams come true!
After a week of guiding Brendog, Olly Wilkins and a few of their good friends, on their first trip to Madeira, back in February 2014. Bren approached me about a film he had in mind to produce together with Clay Porter ( Deathgrip ) and thought Madeira would be a great place for a segment. In a blink of an eye I said, let’s make it happen!
A lot of scouting went on after that and meetings with many landowners and government identities until we had a few locations approved.
Fairclough had to make four trips to produce the movie, from scouting, building the tracks and filming. We were side by side with him all the way, from presenting all the locations, building the tracks and assisting throughout the whole filming process.
Like Clay Porter once said, “This film will be eternal!”. We are so honored to have been a part of it! A true work of passion filled with some of the most talented people of the industry.
For the Gamble Movie the process was quite similar. Loic Bruni and Aaron Bartlett came on a trip to Madeira to produce a short edit for the final episode of a series they had back in 2016. They loved the whole experience and with the Gamble movie in the pipeline they approached us about building a custom track for Loic´s segment on “Gamble”, and the game was on straight away!
With the knowledge we gained on Deathgrip the process was more linear and we focused right from the start that the track had to be accessible for everyone after the film, which everyone agreed. Today the track is one of the highlights of our trail network and was even an iconic special stage of the Enduro World Series Madeira in 2019.
We´ve been a part of the production of a few over film segments and dozens of over media projects. It’s a process we love and we feel blessed to work with all these talented people, which allows us to do as much justice as we can to the beauty of Madeira.
As well as some big film segments we have also hosted and organised some amazing events. Hosting the Enduro World Series in 2017 and 2019 (this last considered by Chris Ball back then as the most successful EWS venue to that date), established Madeira as a World class MTB destination. It has also helped us show the dimension of the sport to our local authorities and proved to the world that with hard work and passion great things can be created, even if you come from a small dot in the middle of the ocean.
Trans Madeira is the perfect format of our bike holiday concept, where you explore the 4 corners of the Island in five days. Bringing together professional and amateur riders from across the globe, from all sorts of biking backgrounds, to explore together the best tracks, views, culture and cuisine in a stress free race format. Promoting all these elements that we offer all year round.
There is still a lot to do for sport in our Region to get it where we want to see it! Having a sustainable trail network is essential. With all the work we do we´ve seen a massive increase of locals riding and bike tourism, which benefits bike shops, shuttle companies, hotels, restaurants etc creating more job opportunities for the locals. Everyone takes for granted the job we do on the trails and there is barely any support for anyone else, which has to change! It’s a long and complex battle we´ve been having with our local authorities but we believe we are on the right path for a fair and sustainable trail network.
We need to build more Green level tracks for beginners and also safe jump lines, two kinds of tracks that we lack on our trail network.
We will keep working closely with the club we are associated with and support the new generations and make them appreciate the work that goes into the trails and the care we need have with nature, with reforestation and cleaning initiatives.
Forming new guides and trails builders will always be a priority to keep our services prime!
More and better film projects and international events are under development!
Overall leave a good base for Madeira to be an eternal and premium Mountain Bike destination for the future generations.
Thanks to everyone who has visited and ridden with us, and in turn helped keep the trails here running so sweet. Hopefully see more of you over the next 10 years!