Back in 2006 myself and a friend Legs, packed our bags and bikes and headed to Iceland for a 6 week pootle round the island. We’d originally been looking at cycling to Norway’s North Cape, but for a variety of reasons (which I can’t quite remember) we sacked that in, and decided to go cycling in Iceland.The cycling trip ended up being one of the most amazing 6 weeks of my life – howling gales which lasted days, thoroughly pot-holed dirt tracks, stunning views and the invention of tuna tikka-massala.
Route/itineraryWe started our cycling in Iceland from Reykjavik and headed out on Route 1 (the circular road around the whole island). At Borgarnes we took route 54, then 56 to Stykkishlmur, where we took the ferry to Brjnslkur (via Flatey). We then worked our way to safjrur and then back to Route 1 along Route 61. We roughly followed this past Akureyri to Lake Mvatn, and then u-turned back and followed the Kjller route through the interior back towards Reykjavik. We then cycled along the Iceland south coast on Route 1 for a while and then caught the bus back!
How experienced/skilled/fit should I be?Cycling in Iceland was my 2nd proper cycle tour – I’d done New Zealand earlier that year – so I had a vague idea of what to expect. In my opinion cycle touring isn’t something which requires a lot of experience to get a lot out of it. Sure, I’m not sure I’d go and cycle some of the high passes in the Tajik Pamir Mountains as my first tour, but in general I feel its a really accessible form of travel.
One thing I would say though, is to be sure of the cycling kit you are using, and to make sure you can erect your tent, or light your stove in some pretty unpleasant conditions. The weather in Iceland isn’t exactly balmy – we experienced hail in July, and were effectively trapped on a campsite by a storm for 3 days, whilst our camping compatriots tents flew around the campsite. Being able to break camp pretty quickly can be an advantage too, so perhaps a bit of experience camping first would be an advantage!
Guide or no guide?We went cycling in Iceland without a guide, just a map. Iceland doesn’t have a particularly extensive road system, and we didn’t really have any plans – just headed out of Reykjavik in a clockwise direction! We used a guide book from time to time, just in case there was anything ‘not to miss’, or to find details of campsites. I guess anyone going cycle touring in Iceland is probably going for the scenery, as opposed to a full on cultural tour.
Time of year?We went cycling in June and July, taking advantage of the better than average weather, and long daylight hours (I used my torch once in 6 weeks, at 3am, to look deep into a pannier)!Having said this, we were rained on pretty much constantly for 3 weeks, and then intermittently for the next 3 weeks. You can’t guarantee the weather in Iceland! Speaking to other travellers and locals there was a guy who went cycling in Iceland in winter, on a recumbent, in near 24hr darkness. Hmmm…
How to train?Just get the miles in on the bike! Definitely worth trying out your touring bike with panniers (or trailer!) loaded up too, just to see how it handles in various conditions. There are plenty of hills and poor surfaces to contend with when cycling Iceland, so best to make sure you are comfortable in a range of conditions. It also gives you an excuse to go on shorter weekend practice trips beforehand!
What kit to use?Bike – something youre comfortable on for hours on end. We both used our MTBs, with rigid forks and Schwalbe Marathon tyres. I’ve been perfectly happy on my cyclo-cross bike on more recent tours, and ultimately perhaps a proper touring bike would be ideal. The main thing is to be comfortable though, and to be sure that the bike is reliable enough to carry you and your kit on rough surfaces experienced when cycling in Iceland.
Camping – The weather in Iceland can be pretty awful at times, so a decent tent which is nice and waterproof, easy to put up and spacious was ideal for us. There’s nothing worse than getting into a wet tent when you are already wet. We used a Terra Nova tent on our trip, and were very happy! Thermarest and 3 season sleeping bag for ultimate sleeping comfort and light weight. Gas is pretty easy to get for camping stoves, however we used liquid fuel, which was also very accessible in Iceland.
Clothing – WATERPROOF! As you might have noticed, we experienced a lot of rain! We also took a range of regular cycling clothing – mainly long sleeved merino tops (both a fan of Ground Effect clothing) and lycra bottoms. A Buff was also invaluable (mainly for blocking out the light when trying to sleep!)
How to organise myself? Where to stay?While cycling in Iceland we camped every night bar one (when we were offered a hotel room for the price of the camping as the weather was so bad). Most villages (and quite often farms and hotels) had campsites in Iceland, and we never struggled to find somewhere. Only when cycling through the Iceland Interior were we required to press on and cover larger distances to find somewhere to camp. Wild camping isn’t encouraged, and there aren’t many places to camp in the Interior!Getting to Iceland is likely to require a flight, you can use the Much Better Adventures flight finder to find your flights from a more efficient fleet. Ferries do go from Denmark (via the Faroe Islands), but they aren’t particularly cheap, and take a few days. (info can be found here)
How much it will cost me?Thanks to the financial meltdown that Iceland experienced a year or two back, Iceland is reportedly cheaper than it used to be. We did the trip on the cheap (hence camping all the time), BONUS Supermarkets are the place to go to stock up on cheap food, they’re located in some of the bigger towns. Drinking isn’t cheap – 17 for 2 pints of lager was the worst we experienced. The 6 week tour itself (not including new kit) can’t have cost us more than 1000.
Top TipsMidnight sea kayaking on Flatey, lake Mvatn and the pseudo-craters, Northwest Fjords, roomy tent
If you are interested in visiting Iceland, check out our accommodation and holidays in Iceland. If you want to go cycling somwhere yourself, then start your adventure at our cycle and bike holidays page!
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