Off-road biker José Manuel Fernández – swapping the Actros for a mountain bike
Determination, adrenaline, dexterity and some crazy views – after work, José jumps out of his Actros and onto his mountain bike.
Brake on, off the saddle, the weight shifted towards the rear. In front of José Manuel Fernández is a steep drop. So steep in fact, that he almost went over the handlebars. Thankfully, it all went well, though. It doesn't matter how often he rides down this drop, he's still amazed every time at just how steep it really is. The shocks which his front suspension don't soak up head straight through his hands and into his lower arms. At the bottom, there's a steep left turn – on with the rear brake and a swift slalom around the corner. Stones fly everywhere as he pedals hard a couple of times. He's out of the saddle and pulls the handlebars up high – it's as if he's flying through the air for a couple of seconds. Then he leans forward to keep the bike level. Simultaneously, the wheels touch back down on the trail. He pedals off immediately to keep his tempo up – and then he's already at the next climb.
“On my bike, I don't think about anything else.”
– Actros driver José Manuel Fernández
An hour earlier: José checks the exterior mirror of his Actros. His company has been tasked with re-establishing the ground of a former quarry. The tippers empty thousands of tonnes of earth where the rock had previously been removed. José engages reverse and backs his orange truck up until the end of his semitrailer tipper is in the right spot. Then, the final load of the week slides down into the quarry.
It's Friday afternoon and the end of the day is drawing ever closer. José has been driving trucks for 18 years. “And it's still my favourite job to date,” he says, allowing the Actros to slowly roll away from the precarious edge. “I love being out and about and not having to work all day in the same place,” he continues. “And despite that, I normally stay in and around Zaragoza.”Approximately 300 kilometres north-east of Madrid, this is the town where he grew up.
Tight bends, steep drops.
It was a tough week. Áridos y Excavaciones Carmelo Lobera, the construction company for which José drives, has seen a 40 percent increase in orders compared with the previous years. The company is working on road-building and motorway construction projects in the Zaragoza region, as well as the construction of the high-speed rail link for the Spanish railways. That means lots of tours for José and his colleagues as well as long days.
But, right next to the company's premises is a playing field which he's already got his eyes on from within the cab. The plot of land is a true piece of paradise for the mountain biker. Narrow trails, tight curves and some steep drops make for some awesome jumps. 300 square-metres of pure adrenaline. “It's purely coincidence,” says the 40-year-old, beaming.
His big hobby used to be diving, but travelling to the coast become too cumbersome. Now he rides his bike to and from the company headquarters on the edge of town, directly at the foot of the mountains. It's a twenty-kilometre round trip. Whenever he has the time to do it, he heads out after work to the plot of land adjoining their yard – he jumps directly out of the cab and onto his bike. A four-kilometre uphill stretch to get the sweat pouring. From that point on, things start getting a bit more wild. He's been doing this for five years now. “I just can't get enough of it,” he says. “After a day in the cab, it's the perfect recompense for me.” Sweat starts pearling down his face. But he hasn't given it his all yet.
José lets some air out of his tyres. On the road, it's the more the merrier, but here off-road, two bar is plenty. And off he goes again. “The view in the mountains is something quite spectacular,” says José looking at Zaragoza. “The thing I like best about being on my mountain bike is just how much of the landscape you get to take in.”
Always stay focussed.
Today, Miguel is joining his training session. He was the one who introduced José to the sport five years ago. “I had to do something. I was 35 at the time and had just become a parent, but I must have had around 15 kilos too many around my waist. Plus, I used to easily smoke an entire pack of cigarettes a day,” José tells us. “I spend a lot of time sitting down while at work, and so the movement out here really does me well. I can feel the difference.” The money which he previously used to buy cigarettes now gets spent on bike equipment. Now, José can even keep up with his friend, Miguel. That said, José still refers to him as the “Maestro”. “It's great that we're riding together with several others,” says Miguel. "We're often a group of five blokes. At training, we all look out for one another.”
Generally speaking, there aren't any major injuries. “But when you do fall, it tends to hurt quite badly.” José and Miguel are well kitted out, wearing helmets, gloves and protectors. “If I fell off each time I rode, I think my wife would already have taken my bike off me,” José says. Both burst out laughing.
On a more serious note: “You do have to stay focussed. If we're riding down a slope just a few centimetres away from one another at 30 km/h, there's no room for me being distracted in the slightest. At times like that, I can't think of anything else. And there's a good reason for that.”
The pair want to use all the time available to them until darkness falls. They both get back on their bikes and wave to a couple of other bikers. A strong westerly wind kicks up sand and dust in their faces.
One more time with power.
“This stretch is my favourite bit,” explains José during his next small break. He takes off his left-hand glove and massages his hand which has absorbed a number of shocks from the rough ground. Next month, the pair will take part in a mountain biking marathon in Monegros, an area which resembles a desert. 216 kilometres, 1 600 metres altitude. 8 000 riders. “The competitions are good for your motivation. We want to keep improving,” says José.
To be in good shape for the marathon, he also goes jogging several times a week and keeps an eye on what he eats. Last time round, the course took him five hours to complete. “Now I'm aiming to get round a little bit faster than that.” He takes a sip of water. Then he puts his glove back on and rolls off in the direction of the trail. Another ten more minutes of powering round. José's eyes glisten.
Photos: Sebastian Vollmert
Video: Martin Schneider-Lau