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.