A bike tour around Iceland.

3. TIPS

You don’t need an expensive bike, mine cost me £350 new and made it through until the end on some of the worst roads i’ve ever cycled without so much as a puncture, make sure the seat’s comfortable though.

Bring a GOOD QUALITY bike pump with attachments for schrader and presta valves. I decided to bring a cheap one which broke on my second day. The nearest place to buy another one was Akureyri which was six days cycling away along some very bad road surfaces and through remote mountains. It was always playing on my mind that if I got a puncture, I’d have no option other than to start walking and hitch-hiking.

Front suspension is a good idea and get the right balance between a tyre that’s fast enough on the roads, but grippy and wide enough for the gravel tracks. Mine were 700x38c with a semi-slick cyclocross type tread. Puncture resistant tyres are also worth getting.

No need to work too much on your cardio fitness before you go, but get your legs well conditioned so that they’ll recover overnight and won’t be stiff when you need to start another long trip the following day. Start preparing at least 3 months before setting off. 3-4 fairly intense 1 hour (or more) cycles per week is enough.

Make sure your sleeping bag is a good one, don’t trust the manufacturer’s temperature ratings, it gets very cold at night so get one for winter conditions even if it is slightly bigger.

Don’t take anything with you that you’re not likely to need, apart from emergency equipment. It’ll all add weight, bulk and get in the way when you need to find something in your bags. The only exceptions to this would be a couple of books, ipod and a camera.

There is generally no shelter anywhere between towns so be prepared and have the right clothes to endure some unexpected changes in the weather.

Expect headwinds wherever you are and don’t try to fight against it. Be prepared for an 80km trip to take anywhere between 3.5hrs on a good day and 8hrs on a bad day.

Bring some good, warm waterproofs. Have some waterproof trousers with you and a waterproof jacket with covered zips. My waterproofs were fine for short rides in the UK, but weren’t good enough for long periods in the rain in Iceland.

Don’t think about sticking religiously to route 1, it may seem a nice idea in theory, but you’ll miss out on some of the best cycling, sights and scenery. I’d recommend detours to the Snaefellsnes Penninsula, the mountains in the north between Hofsos and Olafsfjordur and a trip to Asbyrgi.

Don’t take the direct motorway route from Keflavik to Reykjavik. The route from Keflavik to Reykjavik via Grindavik and lake Kliefarvatn is an incredible introduction to cycling in Iceland, with vast lava fields, bubbling mud pools, steaming vents, mountainous terrain and lakes. Not to be missed.

If you’re heading north from Reykjavik I’d recommend getting the bus to Borgarnes and starting your cycle from there. The alternative is to spend a precious day of your trip cycling along a 3-lane motorway. I was very glad I decided to take the bus and a couple of other cyclists I met who cycled the route said they regretted it.

The F862 to Asbyrgi was physically and mentally the toughest cycle i’ve ever completed in my life. The road is either so corrugated that you’ll struggle to break 10kmh for most of the route, or it’s loose sand that the wheels will either sink into or try to slide out from under you. The Journey of approximately 75km took me over 8 hours and once I headed out into the desert, there was absolutely nowhere to shelter when it started to rain. The first half from Myvatn to Dettifoss is tarmac now luckily, but you could still take the old dirt road if you’re looking for a punishing challenge and sense of achievement. I’m really glad that i did it, but i’d never cycle it a second time.

Start as early in the morning as you can. In late July and August the traffic really starts to pick up from about mid-day onwards and can really ruin the experience at times, but this really just applies to the west and north of the country between Reykjavik and Akureyri. When the traffic’s busy you’ll end up being over-taken by a constant stream of 4x4s that whizz past with their trailers every few seconds doing 50-60mph and not leaving as much room as you’d like. The 1st weekend in August is the busiest.

Study Google Maps before you go to give you a basic idea of the routes, distances and a rough idea of a schedule, but…

Don’t trust Google Maps to give the correct locations of campsites or give you any idea of the difficulty of a route or whether a shortcut on the map is actually a good idea.

If the rain traps you in your tent and time on your trip is limited, don’t wait too long for things to improve. Admit defeat and take the bus or you could be waiting for a very long time. It can rain solidly in one place for days at a time while being dry and bright in the next town.

There are no shops between Hofn and Skaftafell in the south, so make sure you have enough food, it’s a 2 day cycle.

Have days off in Myvatn and Skaftafell, they’re amazing and there’s too much to explore to just make a quick visit.

Cycle through the mountains in the north between Hofsos and Olafsfjordur. Some of the cycling is tough, but the scenery is so breathtaking that it hardly matters.

The flies at Myvatn are annoying, but they don’t bite and you don’t necessarily need a fly net hat, none of the locals bother wearing them.

Wear sunblock and UV lip balm, I got burnt on my first day when i forgot to put any on. Hand cream is recommended, after 2 weeks my hands were cracked, bleeding and starting to look a lot like snakeskin.

Bring bike lights for the tunnels and for the really overcast days where it can be quite dark even early on.

Don’t worry about D-Locks or bike chains etc, save the weight, no-one wants to steal bikes in Iceland, in fact you won’t have to really worry about anything getting stolen.

Don’t worry about sandstorms in the south, it’s all covered in long marram grass now so they’re pretty much a thing of the past.

Always carry a pack of maryland cookies on a cycle, they’re really convenient cycling food and very cheap fuel compared to everything else in the shops. Hotdogs are also a good value option.

For the best Icelandic wool jumpers go to Thorvaldsensbazar in Reykjavik. They’re not only the nicest hand-made ones i could find but it’s a charity shop too, so they’re about 20% cheaper than anywhere else and the money goes to a good cause.

20 responses

  1. carl cartlidge

    Hi mate, looks like you had a great trip. It’s certainly wet my appetite. I’m flying out in 3 weeks for a 6 week trip around Iceland – I was wondering how easy it is to find camping gas canisters. I’ll be taking a primus stove. Are they widely available in petrol stations or would I need to stock up in Reykjavik?

    Any advice appreciated

    Thanks

    Carl

    April 10, 2013 at 11:53 am

    • Wow 6 weeks, you’ll get to see a lot in that time. I had a Primus stove too, you won’t have trouble finding places that sell cannisters along the way, petrol stations etc. I just carried the one at a time. If you can’t find the Primus branded ones, there’s another variety of blue cannisters with the same screw-on attachment. You can also often find some free leftover half-full ones in some campsites.

      April 10, 2013 at 2:03 pm

      • Thanks for the quick reply !! That’s exactly what I wanted to here – one less thing to stress about. I thought six weeks may be too much as from the blogs I’ve read most people get round in 3-4 weeks. I’m banking on some slow days into a biting headwind, so better to have too much time than too little.

        How did you get on with just rear panniers? I’m not sure whether to take my front ones or not as ideally I need to keep luggage down for the flight but if I have to carry a few days worth of food then maybe the extra space would be useful.

        April 10, 2013 at 5:48 pm

  2. I’d say you’ve definitely got the right idea factoring in the inevitable bad weather. If I’d had 6 weeks I’d have felt a lot freer to enjoy myself more and take things in, a lot of the way I felt like I was in a race against time and had to get the bus for some sections to catch up after losing several days to some pretty horrible rain and wind. There are also loads of places that demand a day off to explore them properly, I guarantee there’s no chance of running out of things to see in 6 weeks. In hindsight 6 weeks would have been than 4.

    I got on fine with just the rear panniers and handlebar bag too, but I’ve never used front wheel panniers for touring. I also never needed to carry more than a day and a half’s food on me at any one time, I think the longest stretch without a shop was between Hofn and Skaftafell. If you’re going to the interior though you’ll definitely need to carry several days food and water.

    April 10, 2013 at 8:40 pm

  3. Thanks – you’re gent!!

    I think I’ll aim for a similar set-up to yourself. The interior is possibly not an option, I think I’m a month or so too early for the roads to be fully open, so I’ll be mostly sticking to the coast.

    If I have any other worries I’ll no doubt pester you again 🙂

    Carl

    April 12, 2013 at 7:28 am

  4. Yeah happy to offer any advice, enjoy the rest of the planning

    April 13, 2013 at 11:41 am

  5. Geoff Harper

    Great video journal. Thanks for putting it together.
    I’m toying with the idea of doing it on my fatbike ie trying to ride as much beach as possible. No clue how doable that is if at all…

    May 12, 2013 at 3:40 am

    • Never tried that before myself, but there’s no shortage of miles of beaches along the south, so worth a try I reckon. There are also some vast expanses of dunes in the south too. I doubt riding the beaches in iceland would have occurred to many people either, so you could well be the first to give it a try. If you film or do a write up, I’d be interested to see what’s involved.

      May 12, 2013 at 9:29 am

  6. Geoff Harper

    Great to hear! I would certainly put together a video log/blog of some sort may even get some sponsorship seems worth a try.
    I was also inspired by these blokes…
    http://vimeo.com/m/25943565

    May 12, 2013 at 1:13 pm

  7. Wow, not the quickest way to go, but that looks Amazing! That’s also pretty much what a lot of southern Iceland looks like if you take away the bears and trees but throw in some sheep and a few tractors instead. That video reminds me a lot of the south coast.

    May 12, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    • Geoff Harper

      Agreed. Time would take a back seat not all bad.
      Whose cat is that on day one???

      May 13, 2013 at 3:21 am

      • I think the cat just lived at the campsite at Keflavik, it was doing a lot of networking

        May 13, 2013 at 4:48 pm

  8. Geoff Harper

    So which months would you say the trip is doable?
    …or perhaps I should ask which months are simply no go?

    May 14, 2013 at 5:11 am

    • Well I went for the whole of August, which felt similar to September/October conditions in the UK, it really started to get colder towards the end though, with every morning feeling colder than the one before.

      The most comfortable months are June, July and August with peak summer being from about mid June to mid August.

      With a really good sleeping bag and good quality warm waterproofs I reckon you’d be ok any time between start of May and end of September, but beyond that is probably a no go unless you’re a masochist and/or have mountaineer type clothing and camping gear.

      Not sure why, but some people give winter touring a go:

      http://tomtheroad.blogspot.co.uk/

      http://bike-nord.de/islandwinter.html

      May 14, 2013 at 8:31 am

  9. Geoff Harper

    Ouch!

    May 14, 2013 at 5:13 pm

  10. Geoff Harper

    I suppose choosing to ride out of phase with the high season holiday makers means you are less likely to get squashed by a camper van weilding road hog but more likely to lose a few toes/fingers to frostbite…
    Perhaps there’s a sweet spot September/October…
    Hmmm.

    May 14, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    • Yeah, you’d be ok with the winter clothing and camping gear

      May 14, 2013 at 11:54 pm

  11. Bastian

    I just completed my two-week bicycle trip on Iceland. Your blog really helped me plan the trip and my equipment. However, I can’t agree about the one pack of maryland cookies. I always carry at least 4 to 5. 🙂 It is hillarious because the package indicates you should eat a maximum of 2 biscuits per day. I can’t agree with that at all. 🙂

    August 3, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    • Glad the info was useful and hope you had a good trip. Whoever wrote that you should only eat a maximum of 2 cookies per day obviously hasn’t been on a bike tour of Iceland on a budget. Tasty fuel.

      August 4, 2014 at 7:06 pm

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