Roads in Iran are in quite good shape for cycling with good surfacing on most roads and ridable shoulders on the larger routes. Road signs tend to be in English as well as Farsi. Perhaps the network’s main fault is that not enough smaller alternatives exist and what looks like a good option on the map can sometimes turn out to be a dirt road. This can push cyclists towards main roads more often than most would like. On the upside, some parts of Iran are sparsely populated so depending on where you’re cycling, you may find that you have even the main road nearly to yourself.
In mountainous areas you may come across a few tunnels. Most of these are short and longer ones tend to be lit but it’s worth bringing a good set of lights and reflective gear to maximise your visibility. If all else fails, you can always flag down a friendly Iranian driver to help escort you through.
The biggest challenge for cyclists comes not from the roads themselves but the crazy manoeuvres of Iranian drivers. Speeding is common as is driving the wrong way down a street and without headlights at night. Motorbikes especially will think nothing of driving alongside your bike while trying to interrogate you about what you’re doing in Iran, even if it means holding up traffic for miles behind and making other drivers angry. The good news is they do tend to give cyclists ample space when passing and they’re surprisingly accomplished at steering around you when heavy traffic makes space tight.
Maps are reasonably accurate, although you may find that smaller roads no longer exist. You can find maps printed in Farsi and English in Iran. One such map is printed by Gitashenasi. It marks towns with hotels and tourist attractions and costs 15,000 Rials from bookstores. The scale is 1:2 250 000 – it doesn’t sound like a lot but it’s adequate for Iran. Some tourist bureaus give out free regional and city maps.
When asking for directions, try and find someone who speaks English to make communication easier. If this isn’t possible, just say the name of the next town you want to go to and usually someone can point the way. If there is any doubt about the direction, ask several times as people will sometimes give you an answer even if they don’t know the right one. Asking three times is a good rule of thumb. Iranians will try to be helpful by pointing out the main road, probably because that is the one they are most familiar with when they travel by car, and will often tell you that a smaller alternative is dangerous or too long because they don’t feel you can do it on a bicycle, when in fact the smaller route may be better both in terms of traffic and wild camping.
Handing a map to an Iranian to try and indicate roads is a recipe for disaster. Very few of them can find their general area on a map especially if the town names are in Roman script, let alone something on a smaller scale. We have seen people looking around Tehran for Shiraz, for example. If you give your map to a local, usually they just want to examine it in detail and find all the cities for their own interest.