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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)

At the tip of Asia

Posted November 30th, 2008

What great colours!It was barely 6am when we pulled up to an Indian restaurant for breakfast in the seaside town of Pontian, 60km from the causeway to Singapore.

All four waiters just stared at these strange foreigners who’d rolled up unexpectedly on their doorstep. One man’s gaze was particularly persistent. “Good morning!” we said, trying to break him out of his sleepy state. There was no reaction. “Salamat Pagi!” we said in our cheeriest and loudest voice.

That did it. They snapped to attention and soon we were sitting with steaming mugs of teh tarik – a spicy, milky tea – and two roti canai, a fresh bread grilled up to order. It’s the only way to start the day in Malaysia, as far as we’re concerned.

First night with new friends, Patrizia and BroA few minutes later we emerged back onto the road and started off under still dark skies. The cool temperature was so refreshing but it lasted all of 10km. By 7:15am there was sweat dripping off our chins. “Just get us to Australia,” we thought. Five months of intense humidity hasn’t sat well with us. Our faces are breaking out all over. Heat rash seems normal, as do daily rounds of laundry to wash out our sweaty clothes. It’s just not good cycling.

Aside from a brief photo stop to capture Andrew posing beside a giant pineapple – the area is famous for them – we breezed towards the Singapore border. With 60km on the clock by 11am, it was one of our best days yet.

A few minutes were spent inhaling motorbike fumes in the queue at the border and then we were through. There was no “welcome to Singapore” sign. Just a note on our immigration form that said in bold, red lettering: Death to Drug Traffickers.

There was also to be no jaywalking, no littering and no spitting but oddly enough in this land of rules, no one raised an eyebrow when we rode our bicycles on the sidewalks. Pedestrians politely let us pass and all the curbs were beautifully graded so we didn’t even need to dismount at crossings. The longer we spent in the city, the more we realised that the number of cyclists on the roads was far fewer than those using the sidewalks and incredibly no one seemed bothered. Everyone just got along. We’ve never seen such harmony between those on foot and those on two wheels.

Even better were Singapore’s road signs – so clear that we navigated our way to the city centre and back out again without a hitch, even though we had a highly inadequate map, showing only the biggest roads. Now, if they’d just fix up that humidity maybe we could live here!

Our last stop of the day was home for the next few nights, with Patrizia and Bro, two fellow cyclists who are taking a break to work in Singapore. What a welcome they gave us! We had a BBQ feast down by the pool and talked into the wee hours before our eyes were all drooping and we returned to their flat high on the 17th floor for some much needed rest.

Now it’s time for some hard work. Our bikes, tent and bags all need to be cleaned until they’re sparkling for Australian customs. Then there’s a box to get, packing to be done and a laptop to fix (ours died two days ago). Not to mention another BBQ planned for tonight and maybe, just maybe, a little sightseeing in Singapore. We can always sleep on the plane…

Inspiration Personified

Posted November 23rd, 2008

Strong guy!We were wandering the streets of Kuala Lumpur, when we looked across the road and spotted a motorbike. No ordinary motorbike – this one was decorated with stickers, flags and photographs and a big sign that advertised its owner’s hopes to go around the world.

Of course we couldn’t resist investigating further and a few minutes later we were shaking hands with Vladimir Yarets.

Vladimir turned out to be one of the most inspiring characters we’ve met in quite some time. Both deaf and mute, he’s riding around the world to mark his place in the Guinness Book of World Records. What was most amazing was how he could convey details of his trip, using only a few posters as props and a multitude of hand gestures.

We don’t speak a word of sign language but Vladimir told us all kinds of stories about his trip, just with his hands and facial expressions.

If only we’d been so creative and capable when staying with so many good samaritans in places like the Middle East, Central Asia and Morocco, where we were separated by language! We spent a good half hour talking to Vladimir and came away very much impressed by his determination and joyful personality. An inspiration to us all.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Posted November 21st, 2008

244km Tanah Rata to Malaka

How many cups are in this field?We’ve seen it all over the past few days, from the fantastic to the frustrating and even the downright frightening.

Beginnings are almost always good and the ride from the gloriously cool Cameron Highlands back down to the muggy Malaysian coastline was a joy. A winding road took us past tea estates, waterfalls and vegetable fields, on one of those downhills that eliminated any need to pedal but stayed gentle enough that we didn’t need to grip the brakes the whole time either. It must go down as one of the best descents the world has to offer.

A mango breakBetter sense prevailed at the bottom and we decided life was too short to ride into Kuala Lumpur. With a little help from the locals, we quickly found the bus station and then the Chinese restaurant around the corner selling tickets to the express bus.

“When does it leave?” we asked the owner, who was already writing out our tickets, even though we’d just asked if any were available.

“NOW!” came the urgent reply. The owner ushered us across the street to get all our bags off and the front wheel. “This bus isn’t going to wait for you,” we were told in a serious tone. (more…)

Show 21: A new cycling record?

Posted November 13th, 2008

Alan and his bikeYou saw it here first!

When we were on Langkawi Island, we met 43-year-old Alan Bate, a British cyclist who’s planning to race around the world in 170 days. If he succeeds, Alan would beat the record recently set by Mark Beaumont.

Alan is hoping to start his trip in summer 2009 but first he’s looking for a sponsor – not the easiest of tasks in the current financial climate. So, if anyone out there has $20,000 to spare, get in touch. Here’s our interview with Alan, telling us about his dream to be the fastest man around the world on a bicycle.

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