Approximately 300,000 trips are made every day on two-wheeled vehicles in Barcelona. That’s 45 percent of all journeys made on the city’s roads. Barcelona has the highest number of motorbikes and scooters per capita than any other European city and most of these are not monster-sized Harley-Davidsons, but scooters, or as they are locally known, motos.
Catalunya’s love affair with the scooter runs pretty deep—Marc Marquez, the current motocross world champion is from Lleida and the Gothic Quarter even has a motorcycle museum—and the number of two-wheeled vehicles may continue to grow here as the range of motos buzzing around the streets looks set to diversify. The Ajuntament is pushing forward with creating more recharging points for electric-powered bikes. Currently there are 262 locations where you can recharge your battery-powered scooter (an 80 percent charge can get you thirty minutes of drive time).
The advantages of these small-engine vehicles are many. They’re cheap, quick, the parking’s free, they allow you to beat the traffic, and a legislative change in 2004 means that a driver with a standard driving licence (technically known as Licence B), who has at least three years’ experience, can drive a scooter with an engine of up to 125cc.
Convenience isn’t the only advantage. Investing in a moto—even for just a day—allows you to enjoy areas of the city that are difficult to get around on foot or by public transport, namely, Pedralbes, San Gervasi and Sarriá.
Once you cross the seven-lanes of Diagonal, the city’s streets quickly become uninvitingly steep and continue to incline until reaching the peaks of Tibidabo and Collserola. While serviced by the metro and local barri buses, ambling around on foot here is tiring, sticky and, with maze-like roads, often confusing. A day on a scooter, however, lets you reach this illustrious part of Barcelona and gawk at the mansions of business owners and footballers while travelling at a steady 30kmh.
Now wealthy residential areas, all three barris were once self-contained Medieval villages that have long since been absorbed by the urban sprawl below. Leaving Diagonal at Zona Universitaria will take you into Pedralbes, where seven-storey apartment blocks are replaced by classic Catalan villas of terracotta stone roofs and ivy-strewn walls. Passeig de la Reina Elisenda is home to the imposing American consulate and is mostly deserted, unlike the bustling streets at sea-level. This area hosts many other consulates and its streets contain some of the city’s most oppulent manors, many of which are now home to international schools.
Within this area is one of the city’s most visually rich and historically intriguing sites, the Reial Monestir de Pedralbes. The Monastery is up a long stone drive which leads uphill (as always) to a secluded entrance. Founded in 1327 by Reina Elisenda, the monastery was designed for a female order of nuns called the Callrisens. Within these superbly preserved walls, widows would retire from society in order to serve God, in accordance with 1263 monastic regulations of total seclusion. Pedralbes means ‘white stone’ in Catalan, and there is an enormous Gothic cloister in the centre of the monastery with sandstone arches, bordering a collection of orange trees and small birdbaths. For four euros you can wander around the impressive permanent exhibition.
Nipping around on a moto also means you can venture into Sarriá for lunch. The area, independent until 1921, is home to much of the city’s wealth and to Bar Tomás (Major de Sarrià 49), widely known to serve the best patatas bravas in town. The area has several small art galleries and gourmet pizza bars and is at its quietest at the weekend.
After lunch, set off for a final stop and a stretch of the legs on the Carretera de les Aigües on Collserola—you’ll need an engine bigger than 50cc for this steep incline. Take a stroll along this unpaved dirt road, a popular running route that wraps around the mountain for 10 kilometres, and enjoy the unrivaled panoramic views of the city below.
Don’t forget that you can’t leave the city on your 125cc scooter so stopping before Diagonal turns into the B23 motorway is essential. And, of course, every bike has space for two, so there’s no need to discover another part of Barcelona alone.
You don’t need to own a moto to get a taste of life on two wheels. Provided you have your driving licence to hand and a credit card for the deposit, you can rent a scooter for as little as €25 a day, plus fuel.
Cooltra (www.cooltra.com) in the Eixample offers a reliable selection of different bikes. The image conscious can get themselves an iconic Vespa at Via Vespa (www.via-vespa.com) in the Born for an hourly rate of €9. And, the environmentally conscious can opt for an electric scooter from Green Electric Moto (www.greenelectricmoto.com), also based in the Eixample, for as little as €33 a day.
If you do want to fork out for your own moto you can dive into the huge online world of second-hand scooters. A vehicle with 15,000km on the clock could cost anything from €400 upwards, but make sure you get the brakes checked in a local garage before handing over the cash. The websites www.solo-motos.com and www.moto.coches.net offer the most comprehensive listings. If it’s a brand new scooter that you’re after, the stores TotMoto (Còrsega 380, near Verdaguer metro) and Via Scooter (Avinguda Vallcarca 69, near Park Guëll) have a big selection, starting at around €1,300.
Scooters have a notoriously bad safety record. Of the 22 deaths from road accidents last year in Barcelona, half the victims were riding either a motorbike or scooter. Two-wheeled vehicles were involved in 37.2 percent of all accidents that occurred in the city.
5 golden rules
1. Don’t zigzag between cars.
2. Leave a safe stopping distance between you and the vehicle in front.
3. Don’t run red lights.
4. Indicate all your manoeuvres
5. Avoid accident hotspots. A consistently high number of accidents take place at the following five intersections: Diagonal and Passeig de Gràcia, Diagonal and Balmes, Diagonal and Pau Claris, Gran Via and Passeig de Gràcia, and Gran Via and Marina.