Prepare yourself: the roads in Turkmenistan are probably the worst you’ll ever ride on. As one cyclist, Christian from Austria, said: “They have definately seen better times, I would say to the time of Alexander the Great or earlier.”
When we talk about roads, we’re really only referring to the main drag that runs from Ashgabat to Farap and the connector road going from Sarakhs to Hauz Han. Unless you’ve gotten a tourist visa for Turkmenistan, you’re unlikely to be cycling anywhere other than on this key route.
Large potholes, spread across the width of the road, are par for the course. The surface is frequently cracked, bumpy, crumbling and generally deteriorating everywhere you look. Take heart, there are some smooth patches between the bumps but by the end of the day your body will feel like its been rattled up, down and in every other direction possible.
Predictably, there are no paved shoulders to speak of but sometimes the gravel shoulder is a better choice than what remains of the asphalt. In other places, sand makes riding off-road impossible so you’ll just have to work your way through the bumps.
The good news is that other vehicles are fairly patient with cyclists, especially in comparison with Iranian drivers! Most of the trucks making their way between Turkey and Uzbekistan travel in packs and tend to slow down when they see you, giving lots of room as they pass. Traffic varies between extremely light before you get to Hauz Han and medium levels around Mary and Turkmenabad.
Along the length of the main road, a new route seems under construction but at no point does it look anywhere near completion. For the moment, the only thing the new road is good for is taking a break. The shadows cast by the stalled diggers and steamrollers can provide a nice bit of shade in the middle of the desert!
Just about any map should get you through Turkmenistan, since you only need one showing the main road and the few towns along it. You could probably even get by without any map at all as you don’t really have any turns to watch for. Just head straight for the border! We travelled with a Gizi Map (www.gizimap.hu) of Central Asia that depicts eastern Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and south Kazakhstan at a scale of 1:1 750 000. We bought it from Freytag & Berndt’s online store for 10.95 euros.