Bike Tours: About a three-hour flight away from central Europe lies a fascinating island of ice and fire that offers a landscape of marked contrasts. Iceland is different from arguably anywhere else in Europe.
Situated near the Arctic Circle, it features snow-capped mountains and glaciers but also stunning waterfalls, fjords, volcanoes, thermal springs and geysers. However, most importantly for all keen cyclists, it also offers a unique cycling touring opportunities. Many bike enthusiasts choose to travel on the 1300 kilometre Ring Road around the island. Yet many of the most interesting places, such as the Kjölur mountain route, are situated off the Ring Road, and are very well worth a visit.
Although cycling paths can be found in the larger towns, there are no officially-marked cycling routes on the island. Preparation is therefore the key to creating an enjoyable tour in the area. The distance between urban areas where you’re likely to find a bike shop can also be quite considerable, so it’s best to have a repair kit, oil, extra tubes, brake pads and tires already on hand.
To truly explore this country, camping will likely be your best choice of accommodation. There are almost 125 campsites scattered along the island, most of which provide adequate cooking facilities and hot water washrooms for less than you might pay in other European countries. However, if you don’t fancy pitching a tent, there are also mountain huts available that offer decent basic sleeping accommodation. Consulting with the Iceland Touring Association during the summer months is highly recommended, as they have proven to be very popular with travellers visiting the region.
Maps to help guide your way through the often times unpopulated areas are also essential. The best maps, particularly for cyclists, are the Ferdakort maps, as the they present up-to-date details and are readily available from most bookshops and tourist information centres in Iceland. If you are using a GPS, you might also find an Open Street Map to be another useful resource.
While many of the bigger towns offer a range of supermarkets, once you get out into the countryside, and in particular into the less populated interior of the island, shops became few and far in between, and so it’s best to stock up on food and water for several days whenever you can.
If you want to get to your next destination, but feel like taking a break from cycling, consider taking the bus. There are many bus routes connecting the main towns and smaller villages, and buses are well equipped to carry bikes when there is space, either in luggage compartments, additional trailers, or, in the case of smaller buses, even on bike racks.
If you’re keen to explore some of the outer islands of Iceland, they can best be reached by ferries run by operators such as Seatours. The journey via sea will take between 1.5 to 2.5 hours, with ferries running daily during the summer. As far as road surfaces are concerned, keep in mind that not all roads are asphalted in these areas. In fact, most roads in the highlands consist of gravel, where your regular street bike will not likely go the distance. A fully equipped bike with good shock absorbers, a steel luggage rack and tough tyres, around 42mm wide, are recommend to cope with these conditions. Don’t be surprised if you also find yourself pushing your bike up some of the steeper inclines, as the loose gravel might make keeping traction almost impossible. Take note that some of the interior roads, particularly during the colder seasons, become virtually impassable due to icy conditions. The Icelandic Road Administration provides a visual map of road conditions, as well as information on opening times for mountains roads.
The lunar-like landscape of the interior areas, with their lava fields, sand and rugged mountains, also features many rivers and fjords. Shallow rivers and streams can be easily crossed, however, where no footbridge is available, be sure to check out the current and depth beforehand, to find the best and safest point to cross. If the water is higher than your bottom bracket, you should, if possible, carry your bike across the river, to prevent water getting into your bearings.
The weather in Iceland is unpredictable and can be perilous. You can expect summer temperatures to be anywhere from 10 to 20 degrees, but even in summer you need to be prepared for colder days and nights, with temperatures in the interior sometimes dropping to freezing point. Under and outerwear has to be both warm and water-resistant, and gloves are essential. Winds can be problematic for cyclists, especially headwinds, so good eye protection is essential to keep yourself protected, not only from the wind, but also from dust produced in the more gravelled areas. Before heading out, it’s definitely worth checking with Icelandic weather forecasts to get the latest weather information.
Keeping this in mind, when is the best time of the year to tour Iceland by bike? The winters are long, starting from October and extending all the way to May. During this time, most roads in the interior are snow-covered and inaccessible. So the best months to embark on your adventure would likely be from June to September.
Another point worth mentioning is that in Iceland, it’s not always possible to rely on consistent mobile phone coverage in the highlands. It’s therefore highly recommended that you take a satellite phone or two-way radio, in the case of any unexpected incidents.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of touring Iceland by bike, if you’re looking for some local advice, The Icelandic Mountain Bike Club has quite a lot of helpful information that can assist you to better prepare for your journey of the island of fire and ice.