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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)

10 Questions: Bike Touring The Karakoram Highway

Posted March 4th, 2011

The Karakoram Highway (known as the KKH for short) is one of the world’s great roads, and also a classic bike touring route.

The scenery is nothing less than stunning, from soaring mountains to tiny villages wedged into valleys. The people are welcoming and the cycling is both challenging and incredibly rewarding. In short, it’s a heck of a ride.

John & Gayle cycled this route in summer 2010 and here they share some of their experiences and advice on riding a bicycle along the Karakoram Highway from Kashgar in China to Islamabad, Pakistan.

1. How would you describe the experience of cycling the KKH?

John Cycling The KKH

Cycling the KKH feels incredibly exciting and adventurous. The building of the road in the 60s and 70s was a marvel of engineering and riding down the road on a bike is a truly memorable and fantastic experience. The road begins (or ends) in Kashgar, Xinjiang Province, Western China and runs for 1,200km to just north of Islamabad.

Along this road you cross the highest paved border crossing in the world, highest point on the KKH, the Khunjerab Pass at 4,693 meters. You pass though deep gorges with the Karakoram Mountains towering above you and then the beautiful Hunza Valley. The people we met in the small towns and villages along the KKH were friendly and welcoming. This is a very different Pakistan to what you see in the Western media.

Continue reading about bike touring along the Karakoram Highway.

10 Questions: Cycling The Karakoram Highway

Posted March 4th, 2011

The Karakoram Highway is one of the world’s great roads, and also a classic bike touring route.

The scenery is nothing less than stunning, from soaring mountains to tiny villages wedged into valleys. The people are welcoming and the cycling is both challenging and incredibly rewarding. In short, it’s a heck of a ride.

John & Gayle cycled this route in summer 2010 and here they share some of their experiences and advice on riding a bicycle along the Karakoram Highway from Kashgar in China to Islamabad, Pakistan.

1. How would you describe the experience of cycling the KKH?

John Cycling The KKH

Cycling the KKH feels incredibly exciting and adventurous. The building of the road in the 60s and 70s was a marvel of engineering and riding down the road on a bike is a truly memorable and fantastic experience. The road begins (or ends) in Kashgar, Xinjiang Province, Western China and runs for 1,200km to just north of Islamabad.

Along this road you cross the highest paved border crossing in the world, highest point on the KKH, the Khunjerab Pass at 4,693 meters. You pass though deep gorges with the Karakoram Mountains towering above you and then the beautiful Hunza Valley. The people we met in the small towns and villages along the KKH were friendly and welcoming. This is a very different Pakistan to what you see in the Western media.

2. What were some of your favourite moments of the journey?

Dwarfed by mountains on the KKH

For almost the entire way the scenery is breathtaking so every day just being there on a bike is unforgettable. Other nice memories are stopping for some chai at a roadside teashop, buying freshly picked black cherries from local kids and sharing the road with the jangling, painted Pakistani trucks.

Passu is a nice village to stop and take it all in, especially the view of the Cathedral Ridge and the village itself with its stone houses and walled fields. Just before Passu the Batura Glacier reaches the road! Our favourite place though was Karimabad, the Hunza Valley’s ancient capital. Here there’s a beautiful old fort, wonderful hikes, good food and hotels and some nice day rides if you need more cycling.

3. And the most challenging part?

Perhaps being a woman on a bike in Pakistan was the biggest challenge for me but don’t let this put you off (see question 7).

However, another challenge faced us: In upper Hunza Valley the KKH was blocked by a huge landslide that had led to the creation of a 28km-long lake where the road should’ve been. The only way south was to take a boat across this lake. Unfortunately just when we arrived these boats had been stopped as there was a fear that the lake was about to burst and flood the valley below which had been evacuated.

The Pakistani army were now taking people by helicopter across the lake. Luckily this service was free but only available for those who really needed it. As we had plane tickets out of Islamabad we were able to take the helicopter. Trying to put 2 bikes and 8 panniers into an already full helicopter while its blades spin above you and create a strong wind that blows stones and sand everywhere with the Pakistani army directing operations is a challenge we won’t easily forget but Wow! I’d do it all again if I could.

4. The road has a reputation for being in a poor condition, in certain sections at least. What was your experience?

A Pakistani TruckThe KKH begins in Kashgar, China, and here it is in excellent condition and there is very little traffic. Over the border the condition of the road deteriorates rapidly.

It’s not just that there is less money here for the up-keep of the road but also the geography and terrain are such that you wonder how the road was even built in the first place. There are many unpaved sections but nothing too awful. However, the Chinese government are in the process of funding the widening of the whole KKH. You see Chinese road builders every day. In not so long the road will have changed.

Eventually, it will be wide enough for big Chinese trucks to come through and perhaps will change the whole feeling of this famous highway. But ultimately I imagine it will be good for both China and Pakistan.

5. What did you do for accommodation along the route? Are there hotels most nights, or is a tent an absolute necessity?

Camping on the KKH

We had our tent with us but only used it on the Chinese side of the KKH where I would say it is a necessity. When you leave Kashgar it’s around 200km to Karakol Lake and the first accommodation we saw. In Pakistan it’s not really necessary to have a tent as the distances between villages and towns with basic hotels is not big. The accommodation is very cheap and mostly good value. Oddly enough, the only time we used our tent in Pakistan was in Islamabad where there’s a very cheap and basic campsite for tourists.

6. Is food and water easily obtainable every day, and what kind of supplies can you buy en route?

Samosas on the KKH

When we left Kashgar we took a couple of days food with us as towards Karakol Lake there is not much in the way of supplies. Kashgar has good big supermarkets. You cycle through Ghez Canyon which is dry but we asked at the occasional house for water for camping. In the canyon there’s an army checkpoint and a basic restaurant.

In Pakistan some villages were short of food due to the landslide that I mentioned above but there was only one day, and not a long one, when we couldn’t find lunch. You can buy biscuits, noodles and sometimes fresh bread or chapattis but if you want anything to go on it bring it from China (or from home). Hunza Valley is famous for its apricots. You see these out drying everywhere and they’re delicious. The food is pretty simple in Pakistan, rice and dhal in a basic place. In bigger towns like Gilgit and Karimabad there are better restaurants.

7. In some parts of the KKH, women are rarely seen outside their home. Gayle, how did you experience this?

It’s quite strange arriving in Pakistan from China. In the first Pakistani town we came to, Sost, we didn’t see a single woman and of course a woman on a bike is a great oddity!

As you continue through Hunza Valley women are much more visible. They are Ismaili here, not Shia or Sunni and the women appear to have much more freedom. Women were working in the fields and invited us for tea. In Gilgit and southwards, things change and again there is an absence of women. At first it does feel slightly uncomfortable and just odd.

We would arrive in a village, stop for chai and be surrounded by boys and men. I was always stared at but I didn’t feel that they were unfriendly stares just curious. The men would speak only to John and never give me eye-contact. I accepted this as part of Pakistani culture although at first it seems so rude!!

I only wore a head-scarf in Gilgit, which is a conservative little town, and I had my cycling helmet on when I was on the bike. I wore loose trousers and a baggy t-shirt and we cycled together (usually John is way ahead). Off the bike we both wore shalwar kameez, the traditional Pakistani outfit, long tunic and pyjama type trousers. They are great to wear. I wear mine in the UK too.

8. What about more general security. Did you ever feel threatened or unwelcome as foreigners?

Friendly Faces Along The KKH

No, we never felt threatened or unwelcome as foreigners, in fact the opposite is true. Pakistan receives very few tourists compared with, for example, its neighbour India, and we felt welcomed as visitors. Pakistanis generally speak good English and are often keen to speak to foreigners and ask what you’re doing and what you think of their country. On the ride south from Gilgit to Islambad we often stopped to drink a chai or cold drink as it got progressively hotter….in that whole week of riding we never once paid for our own drinks, someone had always paid the bill before we could!

9. Is it possible to throw your bike on a bus, if you don’t want to cycle the whole way?

Yes, you can take your bike on local transport if you wish and are prepared to bargain hard for a fair price. They only use small buses though or minibuses, the bike would have to be tied on the roof and you’re probably better off doing this yourself!!

10. One piece of advice for people who want to do this route?

Don’t be put off by what you see of Pakistan in the media. The Pakistanis themselves are desperate and sad about what is happening in their country, especially the young people. The Karakoram area is simply beautiful and the people too. Go with an open mind and I’m sure that like us you’ll want to return.

Thanks to Gayle & John for answering 10 Questions and sharing pictures of their bicycle tour along the KKH.

If you’d like to answer 10 Questions about a favourite cycling destination, read the guidelines and then get in touch.

Video: Gilgit to Chitral

Posted November 26th, 2009

This film had us wanting to pack our panniers and head off to Pakistan.

Shot by Isabel and Simon, it tells the story of their challenging 6-day journey from Gilgit to Chitral, over the Shandur Pass – part of their larger journey from Mongolia to Turkey. If you really are heading this way, check out their fabulous cycling resources for Pakistan.

Posted in Map, Pakistan, Video