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The World’s 10 Best Bike Tours?

Posted March 18th, 2011

A little over a year ago, we wrote about 10 Places To Ride Your Bike Before You Die – a list of the favourite places we’ve been on our bicycles.

Now, we’ve come up with 10 more dream bike tours – our own personal list of the top places we’d like to go next. Some we’ve been to in part, but we’d like to explore more. Others we’ve never seen but we’ve heard so many great reports that they’re on our short list.

Of course, reducing the world to just 10 bike tours could rightly be described as a great injustice to all the potential routes out there. Think of this as a little inspiration to get you dreaming, and share your ideas of the best places to cycle by leaving a comment.

1. North Sea Cycle Route

Route de la mer du Nord, allemagne

 

This 6,000km marked route traces the coastline of the North Sea. It goes through the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway and it’s easy to do just a section if you don’t have time for the whole thing. Much of the route is on dedicated bike paths or small roads, making this a very tranquil bike tour. More info: North Sea Cycle

 

2. Pacific Coast, United States

The Bike Tour

 

The Pacific Coast Highway has always intrigued us. We’re talking spectacular ocean views, massive redwood trees, classic cities like San Francisco and plenty of facilities for cyclists as you cycle through the states of Washington, Oregon and California. Maps are available from the Adventure Cycling Association. More Info: ACA Pacific Coast route

 

3. Danube Cycle Path

Danube Bike Path

 

We’ve already cycled the start of the Danube Bike Path; a perfectly paved trail running through Germany and Austria to the Hungarian capital of Budapest. This stretch is great for families, beginners or anyone who doesn’t want to spend much time figuring out logistics.

Now we want to finish the job. Apparently the path gets less refined as it goes along. We like the idea of that slow progression.

There are tons of guidebooks describing the route from the river’s source to where it empties into the Black Sea. Ride it on your own or pick from the many package tours. More Info: The Danube Bike path is part of EuroVelo6.

 

4. Japan

Japanese Temple

 

We were in Japan many years ago, and we’ve been dying to go back on our bicycles. We want to check out more temples, soak in the hot springs and gorge on sushi. Many people think Japan is expensive but to keep costs low, you can cook your own food and take advantage of the free campsites and local hospitality clubs. More Info: Japan Cycling and Journey of 1000 Li (We wrote this before the terrible 2011 earthquake in Japan. Hopefully the country will recover quickly and be ready to receive tourists again soon.)

 

5. The Silk Road & The Pamir Highway

Andrew in front of a Bukhara Mosque

 

A trip along the ancient Silk Road trade route and the Pamir Highway is a real adventure. First you’ll cross Turkey and Iran, heading for the Silk Road cities of Bukhara and Samarkand. Then you’ll head for the mountains, where you can still get a wonderful glimpse of nomadic life. Continue on down Tajikistan’s Pamir Highway and you have enough cycling to keep you busy for a good 4-6 months.

We’ve done the first part of this trip, but we missed out on southern Kyrgyzstan and the Pamir Highway. Now that would make a great summer tour one of these days! It’s a pain to get visas (and they’re not cheap) but the rewards are spectacular scenery and a real sense of exploration in this little-touristed region of the world. More Info: Our own pages on bike touring in Central Asia and Tim Barnes’ Totally Knackered tour

 

6. Carretera Austral, Chile

Towards the Cordillera

 

Pack a sturdy bike and your tent for this 1,000km mostly unpaved road. It passes through the region of Patagonia and encompasses some of Chile’s most stunning terrain, including mountains, lakes and glaciers. This is definitely a summer route. In the off-season it can be closed by snow and heavy rain. More Info: A journal of a bike tourist in the Carretera Austral and Patagonia.

 

7. Southeast Asia

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

 

International bike touring doesn’t get much easier than in Southeast Asia, and there’s a lot to explore. We’ve spent 6 months here, and still not seen it all. Next on our list? The east coast of Malaysia and a jaunt into Myanmar / Burma. We also want to return to the Cameron Highlands tea growing area in Malaysia (pictured), where the air is refreshingly cool, for some day rides and hikes, which we didn’t have time for on the last trip.

Throughout the region, costs are affordable (even for the most budget-minded bike tourists), traffic is generally relaxed, hotels are easy to find and the food is great. More Info: Our own pages on bike touring in Southeast Asia and the slightly old but still helpful Mr. Pumpy

 

8. Morocco

 

Cheap flights and ferries from Europe make Morocco very accessible and it’s a great first taste of bike touring outside of the developed world. We’ve been to Morocco several times, and while the country is becoming increasingly touristy, it still offers plenty of opportunities to get off the beaten track.

Classic rides include the coastal route between Agadir and Essaouira and the trip from Marrakech, over the mountains and through the Draa Valley to the Sahara desert near Zagora. We’ve done all of these. Now we want to do a backroads tour of Morocco: no asphalt and lots of camping. More Info: Our own pages on bike touring in Morocco and the video (above) from our friends Blanche & Douwe. They’ve biked Morocco’s paths and tracks several times, so we’ll be picking their brains if we do this trip!

 

9. Great Divide Route

IMG_9573

 

Few places do “pure nature” as well as North America and the Great Divide is at the top of our list of routes to cycle on the continent. This off-pavement mountain bike route traces the Continental Divide from Banff in Canada all the way south to the Mexican border. It takes about 3 months to complete. A mountain bike with front suspension forks is often recommended to help cope with the tough terrain. More Info: ACA’s page on the Great Divide cycling route

 

10. Karakoram Highway

IMG_9573

 

A classic route between China and Pakistan, and one that may change significantly in the coming years (for the worse) as the road improves and becomes more accessible to heavy traffic. Go now, before it’s too late! More Info: Cycling The Karakoram Highway

 

What are the bike tours on your “to ride” list? Tell us. Leave a comment.

Photos: The Bike Tour by Tommy DavisRoute de la mer du Nord (by Vocivelo, flickr)Cycling Along Pakistan’s Gilgit River Valley (by Yodod, flickr)Towards the Cordillera (by Magical World, flickr), Cycling The Great Divide (by rich drogpa, flickr)

Beautiful Cycling Videos

Posted January 20th, 2010

You might not know Dutch, but nevertheless, take a look at the gorgeous cycling videos on Toko op Fietsvakantie, the site of our Wereldfietser friends Marijcke and Dennis.

They put a lot of time and effort into their videos and it really shows. There are tons of videos to choose from, to get you inspired for future trips, but we’ll highlight two here: one from last weekend’s winter camping trip (we shouldn’t be too hard to spot in the crowd) and one from Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Make sure to watch them in full screen to really appreciate the scenery.

Winterweekend 2010 met de Wereldfietser from Dennis Koomen on Vimeo.

Cycling Kazachstan & Kyrgyzstan documentary from Dennis Koomen on Vimeo.

Central Asian Cycling Highlights

Posted September 20th, 2008

Friedel and Rakhima, sightseeingThe three big Central Asian drawcards are the mountains, the chance to see nomadic life up close and the historic Silk Road.

Kyrgyzstan probably offers the best combination of mountains and nomads. Its growing tourism industry has extended to include homestays in many towns and villages where you can sleep in a family’s house and eat delicious homemade food. (More about Kyrgyz homestays)

Groups like CBT and Shepherd’s Life can organise a night in a yurt or you may be able to arrange this yourself by just turning up at some of the more well known alpine sites like Svetov Dolina or Lake Song Kol. Kyrgyzstan also has the simplest and most visitor-friendly visa regulations so if you’re looking for a taste of Central Asia without too much red tape, it’s the country to concentrate on.

Laghman Noodle SoupUzbekistan is still the most visited country in the region, with tourists from all over the world keen to see the beautiful tiled mosques of Bukhara and Samarqand. The old city in Bukhara is particularly beautifully restored. Remote Khiva is another historic and popular destination and you can see silk weaving in the Fergana Valley.

The problem with Uzbekistan is the red tape. You are supposed to be registered in a hotel every night – a hassle for cyclists. Police checks of your papers are common. It’s impossible to extend your visa. (More on Uzbek regulations)

For a pure mountain experience, Tajikistan’s Pamir Highway can’t be missed. You do have to get a special permit to ride the Pamir Highway in addition to a Tajik visa and flying into the capital Dushanbe isn’t the cheapest option so getting set up for a Pamir Highway tour will require a little capital. Once you’re there, there’s little to spend your cash on and other cyclists have spoken highly of the hospitality of the locals in this corner of Central Asia. A nice recount of a trip along the Pamir Highway is The Totally Knackered Tour.

Rushing mountain riverThat leaves just Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Kazakhstan is little visited because it’s perceived as expensive. Most activities like trekking can be done cheaper in Kyrgyzstan, although day-to-day expenses while cycling are comparable. Kazakhstan is also associated with Borat, which may attract or dissuade you. There is some nice scenery to be found but little that measures up to its neighbours.

Turkmenistan tends to be a country people just pass through because of the severely restrictive visa situation. Things have tightening up lately and now 5-day transit visas are the norm – barely enough time to cycle the distance from the Iranian to the Uzbekistan border, let alone do any sightseeing. If you really want to explore Turkmenistan you’ll have to shell out for a tourist visa and guide. The people are very friendly and there are some classic sites like the ancient city Merv but you really have to want to see Turkmenistan to make a cycle tour possible here. Doing it independently, on a budget, isn’t an option.

Cycling Central Asia

Posted September 20th, 2008

A Kyrgyz familyCentral Asia is one of the few places in the world still firmly off the backpacker trail.

On a bicycle, you’ll feel even more as if you’re a great explorer, tackling uncharted waters and exploring an area caught between a host of cultures – Soviet, Middle Eastern and Asian. If you’re a history buff, tracing the ancient Silk Road will be a real highlight.

Let’s be honest. To get there, you’ll probably have to get out a map first. The whole region is a blank space in many people’s minds but the countries of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan offer an incredible chance for cultural immersion. And that’s not all; don’t forget quiet Georgia and Azerbaijan, as well as western China.

The only cluster of tourists is around the Silk Road cities of Bukhara and Samarqand, and the market in Kashgar, China. Elsewhere, you’re more likely to be the only foreigner in town than see a tour group walk by.

Andrew in front of the mosqueYou’ll relish the solitude when you’re taking in incredible mountain views. You may find it less endearing when spending the night in a crumbling hotel. The breakup of the Soviet Union and low visitor numbers means that most infrastructure in Central Asia is in desperate need of repair. Don’t come here if you need those little luxuries like a hot shower.

Need to know more? Read on…

Podcast 18: More on Central Asia

Posted August 3rd, 2008

Greg cooking us breakfastIn the Cambodian beach resort of Sihanoukville, we put together our latest podcast. This time we talk more about Central Asia – the amazing Lake Song Kol in Kyrgyzstan, our favourite and not-so-favourite parts of the region and what to bring. Plus we have an interview with Greg, a Hungarian cycling the Silk Road who made us a great vegetarian breakfast. And we tell you why it’s important to know how to say ‘I am a carrot’ in Russian. Or you could read the blog of Hirsch, the cyclist who introduced us to this important phrase!

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