For us, Kyrgyzstan brings to mind remote dirt tracks, high mountains and generally that wonderful feeling of riding your bike in the middle of nowhere. It’s an adventurous place to ride.
So we were surprised when a journalist recently called to talk about a paved bike path that the Kyrgyz government is planning to build around Lake Issyk-Kul. They want to call it Bai Issyk-Kul – a word that means ‘rich Issyk-Kul’ in the local language but sounds like ‘bicycle’ to English speakers.
From the sounds of it, this bike path would be quite the change from what we experienced in 2008: a slightly bumpy (although perfectly rideable) road along the relatively undeveloped southern shore of the lake.
Will this project fly, or will it be a flop? Will it attract the more gentle, less adventurous cyclists who currently cruise around the bike paths of Europe? At this point, it’s hard to say.
Much will depend on how well the path is built and maintained. Cyclists can be a finicky bunch. Nothing ruins our enthusiasm more quickly than a poorly thought out path. It’ll have to be easy to navigate and smooth to ride. Otherwise, we may all well prefer to be on the road which (at least in our experience) wasn’t that busy or unpleasant to ride in the first place.
We also wonder if the kind of people who decide to bike tour along the famous Danube River bike path would be willing to take that long flight and get a visa for what is essentially quite a short path?
If the Kyrgyz government is lucky, it could attract a whole new group of cyclists to Kyrgyzstan, and once they’d tried the bike path they might branch out to other routes through this beautiful country.
One thing is for sure: if any country in the region can do it, Kyrgyzstan can. They already have the most tourist-friendly policies of any of the ex-Soviet countries and a growing tourism network that organises experiences such as homestays and trekking trips.
Would you be attracted to a bike path in Kyrgyzstan? Leave a comment and let us know.
While you’re thinking about it, here are some of our favourite photos from a month of cycling in Kyrgyzstan.
Kids on the beach at Lake Issky Kul.
Climbing into the mountains.
Fording a stream.
Hanging out with nomads.
A remote track around Lake Song Kul.