Epic Bike Rides of the World Lonely Planet

by Lonely Planet

Epic Bike Rides of the World Lonely Planet Author Lonely Planet Isbn 9781760340834 File size 257 59MB Year 2016 Pages 328 Language English File format PDF Category Travel Discover 200 of the best places to ride a bike in this beautifully illustrated hardback From family friendly sightseeing urban rides to epic adventures off the beaten track Destinations range from France and Italy for the world s great bike races to the wilds of Mongolia and Patagonia These journeys will inspire whether you are an experienced cyclist or just g

Publisher :

Author : Lonely Planet

ISBN : 9781760340834

Year : 2016

Language: English

File Size : 257.59MB

Category : Travel

EPIC BIKE

R IDE S
of the

WOR L D

E x plore the planet’s most th ri ll i ng c yc li ng route s

Easy

Harder

Epic

CO N T E N T S
INTRODUCTION 

04

AFRICA 

06
08
14

Clockwise from top: © Cass Gilbert, © Matt Munro, © Julian Love; Courtesy Bridge Road Brewers

Tour d’Afrique 
Riding the Rif (Morocco) 

AMERICAS 
20
Cuba’s Southern Rollercoaster22
To the Tip of Patagonia (Argentina) 
28
The Natchez Trace Parkway (USA)
36
A Circuit of San Juan Island (USA) 
42
Family Bikepacking in Ecuador 
48
Colorado Beer Bike Tour (USA) 
56
North America’s Pacific Coast (USA)
62
Mountain Biking in Moab (USA)
68
Ride the Whitehorse Trails (Canada) 
74
The Minuteman Bikeway (USA)
82
Buenos Aires’ Bike Paths (Argentina)
88
The Covered Bridges of Vermont (USA)
94
Vancouver and Whistler (Canada)
100
Manhattan Circumnavigation (USA) 
106

EUROPE 
164
Bavarian Beer Ride (Germany)
166
Down The Danube (Austria)
172
Monte Amiata (Italy)
178
The Bryan Chapman Memorial (Wales)
184
Pedalling the Spanish Picos
190
Climbing Mt Ventoux (France)
196
Beating the Birkebeinerrittet (Norway) 
202
West Cork’s Wild Coast, (Ireland) 
208
A Corsican Challenge (France) 
214
Circling Lake Constance (Switzerland/Germany/Austria)220
Sierra Nevada Traverse (Spain) 
226
The South Downs Way (England) 
232
Arty Copenhagen Cruise (Denmark) 
238
Around the Île de Ré (France) 
244
The Tour of Flanders (Belgium)
250
From Sea to Sea (England) 
256
The Cévennes: Riding the Rider (France) 
262
Into the Outer Hebrides (Scotland) 
268
All Along the Loire (France) 
274

Beaches and Bicycles in Adelaide (Australia)
The Old Ghost Road (New Zealand) 
Australia’s Atherton Tablelands 
The Acheron Way (Australia) 
The Munda Biddi Trail (Australia) 
Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail (New Zealand) 
Tasmania’s Wild West (Australia) 

280
282
288
294
300
306
312
318

INDEX 

324

OCEANIA 
ASIA 

Mai Chau Cycle Ride (Vietnam) 
Bikepacking in Mongolia 
Cycling the Seto Inland Sea (Japan) 
High in the Himalaya (India) 
Bhutanese Dragon Ride 
Mae Hong Son Circuit (Thailand) 
Sri Lankan Sightseeing 
China’s Wild West 

112
114
120
128
134
140
146
152
158

- EPIC BIKE RIDES OF THE WORLD -

I N T RO D U C T I O N

A

HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
The main stories in each regional chapter feature first-hand
accounts of fantastic bike rides in that continent. Each includes
a toolkit to enable the planning of a trip – when is the best time
of year, how to get there, where to stay. But beyond that, these
stories should spark other ideas. We’ve started that process with
the ‘more like this’ section following each story, which offers other
ideas along a similar theme, not necessarily on the same continent.
Many of these ideas are well established routes or trails. The index
collects different types of ride for a variety of interests.
4

© Cass Gilbert; © Marcus Enno (top)

hours, others a day or two, a week, or more than a month. We’ve
usually not tried to specify times the rides might take beyond the
distance involved – everybody is different; take as long as required.
Instead, we’ve given a general indication of whether a ride is
easy (in terms of terrain, distance, conditions or climate) or more
challenging (bigger hills, longer distances, fewer cake shops). The
most important point of these stories is to inspire you to get your
bike out (dusting it off and pumping up the tyres first if need be)
and explore somewhere new with the wind in your hair.
Cycling is the perfect mode of transport for the travel-lover,
allowing us to cover more ground than if we were on foot, but
without the barriers that a car imposes. We are immersed in our
surroundings, self-powered, independent, and forever pondering
the question ‘I wonder what’s over there?’. The bike rider is free to
follow a whim, discover the limits of their endurance, or stop and
settle for while. Hopefully, this book will prove that there’s no better
way of simply experiencing a place, a culture and its people than
by bicycle. And as some of these tales tell, arriving on a bicycle
opens doors, literally and figuratively.

sk a dozen cycling writers for their most memorable bike
rides and you get many more than a dozen answers.
For some, biking was purely about escapism and
involved nothing more complicated than packing some
sandwiches and meandering into the distance with the wind at
their backs. One or two went a little further and, GPS unit in hand,
ventured into the wilds of Patagonia and the Himalaya, powered
by nothing more than their legs and a desire to see what was
around the next corner.
Those writers with families recommended flat and accessible
loops around traffic-free islands or along river paths. A few
contributors preferred to case themselves in skin-tight Lycra and
seek out heart-pounding ascents, making ardent pilgrimages to the
sites of classic races to pay their respects. Mountain-biking writers
wrote of thrills and spills on rugged trails on every continent. And
more than a few authors agreed that a good ride wasn’t complete
without a beer or two afterwards with old friends or new.
What was clear, though, is that everybody has their personal
interpretation of ‘epic’. You can have an epic adventure straight
from your front door and be back in time for tea. Or you can follow
in the tyre tracks of adventurer Alastair Humphreys and pedal
around the world, through 60 countries, for four years.
This book attempts to reflect that diversity and those varying
levels of commitment. We can’t all take a sabbatical for cycling!
We’ve sought out some of the most entertaining experiences you
can have on a bicycle, whether you’re a casual rider or a cyclist
with a stable of carbon-fibre machines. The settings of these
experiences range from some of the world’s most remote places –
Mongolia, Bhutan and the Outer Hebrides – to its hippest cities
and dreamiest islands. Some of these rides take just a couple of

- EPIC BIKE RIDES OF THE WORLD -

T H E TO U R
D’A FR I Q U E
Tour d’Afrique lives up to its name: a ride across the entire continent
of Africa. It’s tough on the bike and gruelling on the body.

T

hrough stinging beads of sweat I looked ahead and the
road shimmered into the distance – a thin grey line with
endless plains of sand on either side. We’d cycled 50 miles
(80km) so far and had the same distance to go. The sun
was beating down, and the desert wind was relentless. It was
like riding into a hairdryer. With added grit. What a crazy place
to go cycling.
This was my first day on the Tour d’Afrique, a long-distance
race from Cairo to Cape Town, Africa’s traditional northern and
southern extremities. This annual test of endurance covers around
7500 miles (around 12,000km) divided into eight stages of 14 days,
giving four months to ride the continent end-to-end. And while
some pedal the whole distance, those with less time can ride just
a stage – which is no mean feat in itself. There’s also a team relay
option, and in 2009 I was part of a Lonely Planet team, with two
riders completing each stage then handing on the baton.
The Tour d’Afrique starts at one of Africa’s best-known
landmarks, the Pyramids of Giza, on the edge of Cairo. After
obligatory photos in front of the giant monuments, and one for luck
in front of the Sphinx, the peloton heads south to begin its epic
journey. Route details change each year, as new roads are built or
borders close, or when countries become too volatile to visit, but
the Tour d’Afrique follows pretty much the same overall pattern.
From the Egyptian capital, riders head to the Red Sea then follow
the coast road before tracking inland to reach the Nile Valley and
cycle through a landscape of palm trees and crop fields that have
barely changed since Pharaonic times.
A ferry ride along Lake Nasser brings the riders to their second
country, Sudan, and a demanding few days on sandy roads

AFRICA

START
EGYPT

SUDAN

ETHIOPIA

KENYA
TANZANIA

ZAMBIA

MALAWI

ZIMBABWE

NAMIBIA

SOUTH
AFRICA
FINISH

8

© Martyn Colbeck | Getty Images

BOTSWANA

- EPIC BIKE RIDES OF THE WORLD -

through the Nubian Desert, an eastern extension of the Sahara. In
this remote part of Africa, where travel is hard at the best of times,
cycling adds an extra level of endurance and excitement.
In Khartoum my own adventure began, as I joined a Lonely
Planet teammate on that heat-soaked highway through the endless
desert landscape. Distances between towns were long, so we
often stopped for a drink and a rest at basic roadhouses, some
little more than a lonely shack surrounded by sand. We enjoyed
small glasses of sweet black tea, and an unexpected bonus was
the availability of glucose biscuits. Together they kept us fuelled for
another hour or two of tough cycling.
From Sudan we crossed the border into Ethiopia. Almost
immediately, the flat desert changed to a fertile landscape of
green rolling hills, and dead-straight roads gave way to frequent
bends as we climbed into the Ethiopian Highlands, a range of
mountains sometimes dubbed the Roof of Africa.
From the vantage points of the bikes, we were able to see
local people working in the fields, kids going to school, everyone
just getting on with daily life. We were also joined by a group of
Ethiopian cyclists, and a highlight of the trip was riding alongside
them as the dramatic scenery rolled past, chatting about life in
Ethiopia and the finer points of the local bike-racing scene.
After Ethiopia, the Tour d’Afrique goes to Kenya. The route may
be out of the mountains, but the cycling gets even harder with a
traverse of the arid Dida Galgalu Desert. When the Lonely Planet
team were here in 2009, a freak rainstorm turned dirt roads into
mud. One of the riders later reported: ‘It was much more than just
cycling. It was a matter of survival.’
A day of climbing into the lush foothills of Mt Kenya comes as
a welcome relief, enhanced by crossing the Equator, from where

- EPIC BIKE RIDES OF THE WORLD -

CAIRO TO CAPE
TOWN RECORD
BREAKERS

AFRICA

10

© Wolfgang Kaehler | Getty Images, © Patrick Galibert | 500px

Clockwise from top: Mt Kilimanjaro
in Tanzania; carrying cargo by
bike; feluccas on the Nile; flowering
landscapes. Previous page: the Simien
mountains in Ethiopia

© Aberson | Getty Images, © Mark Read

The first Tour d’Afrique
in 2003 set a new
benchmark in longdistance cycling
events, and also set
a new world record,
with nine riders
cycling from Cairo
to Cape Town in
120 days. Over the
following decade, the
record was reduced
by several solo
riders. In 2015 the
record was broken by
British cyclist Mark
Beaumont, covering
around 6718 mile
(around 10,812km)
in a brisk 41 days, 10
hours and 22 minutes.

it’s an easy ride to Nairobi and on to Tanzania through a classic
African landscape of savanna grasslands dotted with flat-topped
acacia trees. On a bike it’s easier to see monkeys, giraffes, zebras
and other wild animals that car-drivers might miss, and the vista is
further enhanced by the snow-covered peak of Kilimanjaro serving
as a backdrop.
The next port of call is Malawi. In this poor country bikes are
everywhere, metal beasts of burden carrying vast bundles of
firewood, piles of bricks, giant gas canisters, rolls of corrugated
iron, even beds. With locals and Tour d’Afrique riders having two
wheels in common, it’s the perfect opportunity to share a friendly
wave or a few words of greeting.
In Zambia, long straight roads cut through a vast empty country
to reach yet another classic African landmark, Victoria Falls, where
the Zambezi River plummets into a gorge, sending up a cloud of
spray that can be seen from far away; a very welcome sight at the
end of a hard day’s cycling.
Beyond the Zambezi are the relatively developed countries of
Botswana and Namibia, but easy conditions are offset by long
days in the saddle, including the approx. 129-mile (approx. 208km)
‘queen stage’ along the Trans Kalahari Hwy. If that doesn’t raise
a sweat, riders may also encounter elephants on the road –
guaranteed to get the heart pumping.
Then comes the last section through South Africa, where once
again the bikes bring riders closer to stunning landscapes, with
final off-road forays through Namaqualand and the sculptured
orange rocks of the Cederberg mountains.
The Tour d’Afrique ends as it began, at a famous landmark:
weary but elated cyclists pass the flat-topped summit of Table
Mountain to reach Cape Town and the end of a truly epic ride. DE

“On a bike it’s easier to see monkeys,
giraffes, zebras and other wild animals
that car-drivers might miss”

TOOLKIT
Start // Cairo, Egypt
End // Cape Town, South Africa
Distance // Approx 7500 miles (approx. 12,000km). The
route varies but usually goes via Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya,
Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia. Riders
can opt to do the race (with competitive sections most days)
or the ‘expedition’ (which means just taking part).
Duration // Covering the entire distance requires
around 120 days, divided into 90 riding days and 30 rest/
sightseeing days.
When to ride // The Tour d’Afrique is organised every year,
usually mid-January to mid-May, by TDA Global Cycling
(www. tdaglobalcycling.com/tour-dafrique).
More info // Support trucks carry supplies and camping
gear. Some riders may also take advantage of a truck-ride
to cut daily cycling distances.

11

The Tour D’Afrique

- EPIC BIKE RIDES OF THE WORLD -

Opposite: the switchback turns of
the Sani Pass in Lesotho

MORE LIKE THIS
AFRIC AN RIDES
If you’ve got more time to spare after
tackling the Tour d’Afrique, a challenging
option is the loop around the base of
Africa’s best-known mountain, Kilimanjaro,
a distance of 146 miles (235km). A good
start point is Moshi, a popular base for
trekkers, and the route goes via Sanyaa Juu
and Tarakea. It’s well off tourist itineraries,
so you’ll need a tent. Roads are a mix of
terrible dirt and perfect tar, with everything
in between, while numerous rivers mean
plenty of valleys to cross, so this is not a
trip for the faint-hearted.
Start/End // Moshi
Distance // 146 miles (235km)

AFRICA

SANI PASS, SOUTH
AFRICA TO LESOTHO

The Drakensberg range forms a line of
jagged peaks and steep valleys stretching
in an arc though the eastern part of South
Africa. Sitting at the top of this mountain
chain is Lesotho, a separate country,
sometimes called the ‘Kingdom in the
Sky’ thanks to its lofty location. Forcing a
route up this precipice is the Sani Pass,
a tortuous gravel track linking the two
countries, and a cycling challenge. You
start at the small town of Himeville and
follow the road (tar at first, then dirt),
gradually climbing to the South African
border post. Then it’s dirt all the way, a
constant grind, with ramps increasingly
sheer, and turns increasingly tight, to
finally reach the Lesotho border post at
the summit. Temperatures can be baking
hot, or freezing cold. Either way, thirst can
be quenched at the nearby Sani Mountain
Lodge, which claims to be the highest pub
in Africa.
Start // Himeville, South Africa
End // Lesotho border
Distance // 23 miles (37km)
12

MASSAWA TO ASMARA, ERITREA

Of all Africa’s countries, Eritrea has the
richest cycling heritage, thanks to Italian
colonial influence, and today it’s the
national sport, with a thriving race calendar
that includes the Tour of Eritrea. Get a
taste of it by tackling the spectacular
climb from the port city of Massawa
up to Asmara, the capital. Sometimes
billed as ‘Eritrea’s Mortirolo’, a nod to
the infamously rugged Alpine pass, it’s
a winding snake of a road with steep
gradients and hairpin bends, plus dizzying
drops and great views over the sandy
plains below. The first 26 miles (42km) is
fairly flat (but very hot) then the bulk of the
ascent, over 2000m, is in the next 41 miles
(66km). Currently, Eritrea’s government is
cited by human rights organisations as one
of the most oppressive in the world, which
may deter travellers, but when the tide
turns, add the Massawa–Asmara road to
your bucket list.
Start // Massawa
End // Asmara
Distance // 67 miles (108km)

© Edwin Remsberg | Getty Images

KILIMANJARO CIRCUIT, TANZANIA

- EPIC BIKE RIDES OF THE WORLD -

RIDING
THE RIF
Northern Morocco’s Rif Mountains aren’t on most cyclists’ bucket lists.
The riding and culture can be taxing, but epic isn’t meant to be easy!

I

Mountains, which parallel the Mediterranean coast of northern
Morocco and include several significant climbs. I pondered how the
Rif isn’t particularly sought out for cycling or, really, any standard
form of tourism; but as I was on the first leg of a nine-month,
counterclockwise bicycle circumnavigation of the Mediterranean
Sea, from Morocco to Gibraltar, geography had dictated my path.
Also top of mind was how the Rif, home to large kif (aka
cannabis) plantations, is perhaps best known for its primary export:
hashish. Over the decades, this has been both a magnet for and
source of friction with tourists. Young backpackers and hippies have
long trooped here to avail themselves of the product, even though

have a love-hate relationship with hills. I’m big on the
cycling challenge, mostly in principle, and I love the reward,
especially in practice. As I make long ascents, though, I lose
enthusiasm and tend to abandon the two-wheeler’s don’tstop dictum. And while I lament the added burden of gear-filled
panniers — a necessity for self-supported, multi-day pedals into
mountainous places with limited food availability, poor-quality
amenities, meagre mechanical backup and unreliable alternative
transportation — I depend on it as an excuse when I slow down
and, yes, even stop.
This was in my thoughts on my first days of riding in the Rif

START

TANGIER

TETOUAN

CHEFCHAOUEN

NADOR

AL-HOCEIMA
NATIONAL PARK

FINISH

SAÏDIA
KETAMA

AFRICA

KASSITA

14

© David Santiago Garcia | Getty Images

AL-HOCEIMA

- EPIC BIKE RIDES OF THE WORLD -

- EPIC BIKE RIDES OF THE WORLD -

MOROCCAN
FOOD TIPS

AFRICA

16

© Neil Julian | 500px

when it stayed within view of the sea through hot and arid undulating
lands flanked by the Beni-Snassen Mountains. In fact, besides road
construction, pass-clinging clouds, lowland midday heat and police
checkpoints, the external obstacles were few. We glided on usually
good pavement through valleys of cedar trees, sweated along rolling
deforested hillsides, slogged up to and then thrillingly down from high
elevations, and sliced through coastal headwinds, all while marveling
at sweeping vistas and seeking the unseen sources of lamb bleats,
cow bells and echoing calls to prayer.
That isn’t to say the roads were empty. While motorised traffic
wasn’t frequent, it was hardly absent. There was also almost
always a djellaba-clad man in sight (women were largely absent),
even halfway through nine switchbacks, 6 miles (10 km) and 800m
of elevation gain to the mountain pass before Kassita. These
inexplicable wanderers were present as well on the steep climb
between Tétouan and Chefchaouen, the two gruelling ascents
between Chefchaouen and Ketama, and the two epic one-day
plunging descents to sea level, from Ketama to Al-Hoceima and
from Kassita to Nador.
Interestingly, the first words out of these roadside characters’

© Christine Wehrmeier; Frans Lemmens; Evgeny Sergeev | Getty Images

“We glided on usually good pavement
through valleys of cedar trees, sweated up
hillsides and swept thrillingly down”

smoking it is illegal. Unfortunately, that means anyone visiting the
Rif Mountains today is assumed to be interested in buying hashish.
Sellers and touts are constantly pressing their case, sometimes to
the point of harassment. Drugs trigger other criminal behavior too,
especially smuggling, so police checkpoints are common.
These are important reality checks when pondering a ride in the
region. But while it may not seem all that conducive to cycling, the
gorgeous mountain scenery, challenging and changeable terrain
on fairly good-quality and uncrowded roads, and glimpses of
typical Moroccan life away from the touristy commercial hubs make
for something genuinely different and extremely appealing. The Rif
is worth the journey as long as you’re steeled and ready for polite
and purposeful self-sufficiency, not to mention some discomfort, as
the food and lodging along the way can be basic.
Our path took us east from world-famous Tangier to relaxed,
seaside Saïdia on the Algerian border, via Tétouan and bluepainted Chefchaouen, both known for their bustling medinas,
and Al-Hoceima and Nador, two coastal communities with fine
beaches. These towns all offer solid gastronomic and touristic
solace. The many miles between them, however, pass through
villages that can lack creature comforts for visitors. The two in
which we found ourselves on two different nights were Kassita and
Ketama, the latter the notorious kif capital of the region.
Outside the towns, the reliable Rif constants we grew to
appreciate were the scenery and the road quality. These were big
pluses because the route was rarely flat, even from Nador to Saïdia,

Roadside stalls have
slim pickings, but
tourism-ready towns
promise Morocco’s
best foods: couscous,
tagines, such grilled
meats as méchoui
(lamb), fried sardines,
harira (soup), salads
including zaalouk,
shakshouka and more.
Tagines and couscous
are often only served
at home for special
occasions, so accept
any invitations. And try
street foods, such as
ksra (anise flatbread),
sfenj (deep-fried
doughnuts) and kefta
(meat seasoned with
ras el-hanout spices).

mouths wasn’t ‘as-salamu alaykum’ (a standard greeting in
Arabic) or ‘makh dith?’ (‘how are you?’ in northern Berber dialect),
it was ‘hashish?’ Few would accept a single ‘no’. One young
tout jogged alongside us – up a tough hill – for several miles,
determined to make a sale. Another proffered a grapefruit-size ball
of congealed hash oil. A Mercedes even followed slowly behind us
for a while; it eventually turned back without a word or a wave.
But those quirky moments of awkwardness and suspicion
were far less common than the locals’ displays of generosity
and befuddled curiosity. At roadside stands, where we guzzled
cold Orange Crush soda or sipped mint tea, our round-theMediterranean project elicited amazed reactions. While we were
snacking, another Mercedes discharged some official-looking
gents (who we thereafter nicknamed ‘the diplomats’) who simply
wanted to know where we were from and how the biking was.
And at our overnight stops, someone usually took us under
his wing and made us feel welcome. This was even the case
in Ketama, a place many Moroccans won’t go. There, Bayloul
Mohamed, a local university student working at our hotel, led us to
a tagine meal in an unassuming, unmarked restaurant and taught
us all about the region.
Cycling has always transported me – physically, mentally and
especially culturally. I hit many highs and lows in the Rif, even
without any kif! The challenges were many, but it was a road
and an experience that stands out more than most among many
epic rides. EG

Left to right: Chefchaouen;
a Berber family; the Straits of
Gibraltar; stocking up in the
medina of Tetouan. Previous page:
the blue town of Chefchaouen

TOOLKIT
Start // Tangier
End // Saïdia
Distance // approx. 373 miles (600km)
Getting there // Tangier-Ibn Battouta Airport, located 7½
miles (12km) southwest of Tangier, is used by Royal Air Maroc,
easyJet, Ryanair, Air Nostrum (Iberia Regional) and more.
Where to stay // A mix of accommodation is available in
larger centres, such as Tangier, Tétouan, Chefchaouen, AlHoceima, Nador and Saïdia. For small in-between villages,
always research options in advance.
When to ride // April to the end of June. September and
October are also good, though the kif harvest keeps locals
and roads busier than usual.
What to take // Everything you need, including tools, spare
parts, extra food and drink, and gear for changeable weather.

17

Riding the Rif

- EPIC BIKE RIDES OF THE WORLD -

SOUTHERN NAMIBIA

SOUTHERN SRI LANKA

THE LYCIAN COAST OF TURKEY

Namibia has the second lowest population
density in the world. Most of its people are
in the north, so the south is empty indeed.
Not surprisingly, it’s dry and unforgiving
land. Towns and amenities are few and far
between. Roads are mostly loose gravel.
But it’s also unutterably gorgeous. A
seven-day, 621-mile (1000km) unsupported
pedal through this astonishing landscape,
from Namibia’s capital of Windhoek to the
South African border, requires planning,
packing, perseverance and profound selfreliance. Factoring in the vast distances
between towns, roadhouses, campgrounds
and great attractions, an ideal itinerary is
to head south-west to Sesriem for a visit
to Sossusvlei’s red dunes and salt pans,
then turn south via Helmeringhausen and
Seeheim to pause in Hobas and view Fish
River Canyon (rivalling the Grand Canyon),
and then point south again to Felix Unite,
near the Noordoewer international crossing
to South Africa.
Start // Windhoek
End // Felix Unite
Distance // 621 miles (1000km)

In stark contrast to Namibia, Sri Lanka
(see p152) has high population density,
abundant services and variable landscapes
that pack significant natural and cultural
punch into small distances. The challenges
to cyclists are poorly maintained roads,
steamy temperatures and the frequent
excited calls of ‘Where are you going?’
(a literal translation of the traditional
greeting) from locals. The reward is a
cornucopia of pleasures: tea-covered hills,
commanding panoramas, and the southern
coastal plains and their famous wildlifefilled parks and colourful, religious centres.
One five-day, 168-mile (270km) ride
commences in hilltop Haputale and enjoys
the temperate tea plantations for a day to
Ella before hurtling down the escarpment
past historic caves, waterfalls and national
parks to temple-rich Kataragama. Three
days of lowland pedaling pass through
Tissamaharama, Embilipitiya and many
small villages on the way to the shoreside
city of Matara.
Start // Haputale
End // Matara
Distance // 168 miles (270km)

The coastal road from Antalya to Fethiye
parallels the Lycian Way, Turkey’s most
famous long-distance footpath along
ancient Lycia’s seafront. Especially
memorable for its sheer cliffs and plunging
views to the Mediterranean Sea, it winds
around the hidden coves and sandy
beaches of this so-called Turquoise Coast,
but also up and down an uncompromising
clutch of hills, including one called Mt
Olympos (not the one of Zeus fame). Easily
completed in three or four days, the 171
miles (275km) traverse the resort community
of Kemer; Kale (Demre), site of the real
St Nicholas’ restored 6th-century church
and the ruins of the Lycian city of Myra; a
picture-perfect seaside town called Kaş ;
and present-day Kınık, site of more Lycian
ruins, once the city of Xanthos.
Start // Antalya
End // Fethiye
Distance // 171 miles (275km)

AFRICA

18

© David Noton Photography; Sklifas Steven | Alamy, © Travel_Nerd | Getty Images

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SELF-SUPPORTED ADVENTURES

Clockwise from top: on the road
in southern Namibia; an ancient
Lycian amphitheatre in Turkey;
touring tea plantations in Sri
Lanka’s Southern Highlands

AFRICA

- EPIC BIKE RIDES OF THE WORLD -

CU BA’S
SOUTHERN
RO L L E RCOA S T E R
Pounded by surf, overshadowed by mountains and deeply imbued with revolutionary history,
this lonely ride along Cuba’s Caribbean coast pulsates with natural and historical drama.

C

preserve of goats, vaqueros (cowboys) and the odd two-wheeled
adventurer on a bicycle.
During nearly 20 years of travel in Cuba, I have traversed this
epic highway in numerous ways, most notoriously on a protracted
hitchhiking trip involving at least a dozen changes of vehicle, from
a terminally ill Fiat Uno to a truck where the only other passenger
was a dead pig. But my preference, if time and weather allows, is to
tackle it on a bicycle. As visceral experiences go, this is Cuba as its
most candid. The salty air, hidden coves, and erstwhile revolutionary
history conspire to form a proverbial Columbian voyage of discovery
that becomes more magical the further you pedal.

uba is full of dichotomies and its roads are no
exception. Take Carretera N20 for instance, the 106
miles (170km) of potholed asphalt that runs along the
south coast between Santiago de Cuba and the rustic
village of Marea del Portillo, a spectacularly battered thoroughfare
that could quite conceivably be described as the nation’s best and
worst highway. Shielded by purple-hued mountains that tumble
down to meet the iridescent Caribbean, it scores ten-out-of-ten
for craggy magnificence. But, lashed by hurricanes and beset by
a severe lack of maintenance, it can be purgatory for aspiring
drivers. Not surprisingly, few cars attempt it, leaving the road the

LA MENSURA
NATIONAL PARK

SIERRA MAESTRA
NATIONAL PARK

BAYAMO

TURQUINO
NATIONAL PARK

SANTIAGO
DE CUBA

CHIVIRICO

FINISH
MAREA DEL
PORTILLO

CARIBBEAN SEA

AMERICAS

START

22

© Jeremy Woodhouse | Getty Images

MANZANILLO

- EPIC BIKE RIDES OF THE WORLD -

- EPIC BIKE RIDES OF THE WORLD -

CLIMBING PICO
TURQUINO
Cuba’s highest
mountain, Pico
Turquino (1974m), is
regularly climbed from
Hwy 20, starting from
a trailhead at Las
Cuevas just west of
El Uvero. It’s a steep
and gruelling 10-hour
grunt to the top and
back, but no specific
mountaineering skills
are required. The
ascent must be made
with a guide, but can
be split over two days
with a night spent in a
basic mountain
shelter.

AMERICAS

24

© Jezdicek | Getty Images

named for their mustard yellow uniforms; their job is to stand by the
side of the road and flag down passing vehicles for hitchhikers.
Chivirico also has one of the route’s strangest epiphanies,
the Brisas Sierra Mar, an unpretentious all-inclusive hotel that
springs seemingly out of nowhere 40 miles (65km) west of
Santiago. Treat yourself: there is precious little accommodation
for the next 62 miles (100km).
West of Chivirico, traffic dwindles to virtually nothing, while the
eroded state of the road can make the going ponderous, even for
cyclists. Fortunately, the magnificence of the scenery makes slow
travel highly desirable.
This remote southeastern region has remained utterly unspoiled,
a glorious ribbon of driftwood-littered beaches and crashing
surf backed by Cuba’s two highest peaks, Turquino (1974m) and
Bayamesa (1602m). Such settlements that exist are tiny and etched
in revolutionary folklore. El Uvero at the 60 mile (97km) point has a
monument guarded by two rows of royal palms commemorating a
battle audaciously won by Castro’s rebels in 1957. Further west, La
Plata, the site of another successful guerrilla attack, maintains a tiny
museum. Just off the coast, vestiges of an earlier war lie underwater

© Pierre Logwin | Alamy, © M G Therin Weise | Getty Images, © Mark Read

“This remote region has remained
utterly unspoiled, a glorious ribbon of
driftwood-littered beaches”

Fidel Castro and his band of bearded guerrillas lived as
fugitives in these mountains for over two years in the late 1950s
and the sense of eerie isolation prevails. Indeed, so deserted is the
road that, in the handful of bucolic hamlets en route, farmers use
it to air-dry their coffee beans, kids hijack it for baseball games,
and cows parade boldly down the middle of the sun-bleached
thoroughfare as if the motor car had never been invented.
Base camp for anyone attempting the ride is Santiago de
Cuba, the nation’s second largest city and, in many respects, its
cultural capital. Heading west from here, the journey is best split
into three stages. While route-finding is easy, the ups and downs
of the highway as it curls around numerous headlands present a
significant physical challenge. Be prepared. Roadside facilities
range from scant to non-existent.
The first time I ventured out on a borrowed bike, I carried
inadequate provisions and ended up knocking on the doors of
isolated rural homesteads to ‘beg’ for water. Sure, I met some very
obliging campesinos (country dwellers) offering liquid refreshment
(including rum!), but the head-lightening effects of the dehydration
probably weren’t worth it. To avoid a similar fate, arm yourself with
a robust bike and carry plenty of food and water.
The first recently repaired section from Santiago to the small town
of Chivirico sees a modest trickle of traffic. Look out for growling
camiones particulares, the noisy trucks that act as public transport
in these parts. Around Chivirico you might spy another unique
Cuban-ism, the amarillos, government-sponsored transit officials

in the wreck of Cristóbal Colón, a Spanish destroyer sunk in the 1898
Spanish-American war. Today it’s a chillingly atmospheric dive site.
By now the steep headlands and tropical temperatures will
have turned your legs the consistency of overcooked spaghetti.
La Mula, around 6 miles (10km) west of El Uvero, is a rustic
campismo with basic bungalows where you can recuperate just
metres from the ocean.
On day three as the road crosses from Santiago de Cuba
province into Granma, I like to pull over at one of the wild,
Robinson Crusoe-like beaches and admire the increasingly dry
terrain. Dwarf foliage including cacti is common, a result of the
rain shadow effect of the Sierra Maestra. Aside from sporadic
ramshackle villages, civilisation is confined to occasional bohios
(thatched huts) dotting the mountain foothills. Sometimes, you’ll
inexplicably spy a lone sombrero-wearing local pacing alongside
the roadside, miles from anywhere, clutching a machete.
The tiny fishing village of Marea del Portillo is equipped with
two low-key resorts that guard a glowering dark-sand beach
framed by broccoli-green peaks. Don’t be deceived by the homecomforts. You’ve just arrived in one of the most cut-off corners of
Cuba. To the north, crenelated mountain ridges shrug off clusters
of bruised clouds. To the west sits Desembarco del Granma
National Park, famed for its ecologically rich marine terraces. For
me, this is paradise personified, a chance to resuscitate my bikelegs, carb-load at the hotel buffet and go off into the wilderness
to explore some more. BS

Left to right: a coast road in the Sierra
Maestra; Catedral de Nuestra Señora
de la Asunción in Santiago de Cuba;
street scene with a 1951 Plymouth in
Santiago de Cuba; the Sierra Maestra.
Previous page: a rural church in
Santiago de Cuba

TOOLKIT
Start // Santiago de Cuba
End // Marea del Portillo
Distance // 106 miles (170km) along a rutted but easy-tofollow road.
Getting there // The nearest airport is Aeropuerto Antonio
Maceo, 4 miles (6km) south of Santiago de Cuba. From
here there are daily flights to Havana, and direct flights to
Canada.
Bike hire // This is rare and unreliable in Cuba. Most
serious cyclists bring their own bikes with them.
Where to stay // Club Amigo Marea del Portillo (+53
23-59-70-08; www.hotelescubanacan.com); Campismo La
Mula (+53 22-32-62-62; www.campismopopular.cu); Brisas
Sierra Mar (+53 22-32-91-10; www.hotelescubanacan.com)
When to ride // The best time is mid-November to lateMarch. However, the road is prone to flooding and closures.
Check ahead in Santiago.

25

Cuba’s Southern Rollercoaster

- EPIC BIKE RIDES OF THE WORLD -

Opposite: a Cuban cigar roller
in the Valle de Viñales

MORE LIKE THIS
CUBAN RIDES
GUADALAVACA TO BANES

VALLE DE VIÑALES

Hailed as one of the seven modern
engineering marvels of Cuba, La Farola
(the lighthouse road) links the beach
hamlet of Cajobabo on the arid Caribbean
coast with the nation’s beguiling oldest
city, Baracoa. Measuring 34 miles (55km)
in length, the road traverses the steepsided Sierra del Puril, snaking its way
precipitously through a landscape of
granite cliffs and pine-scented cloud forest
before falling, with eerie suddenness, upon
the lush tropical paradise of the Atlantic
coastline. For cyclists, it offers a classic
Tour de France-style challenge with tough
climbs, invigorating descents and relatively
smooth roads. La Farola starts 124 miles
(200km) east of Santiago de Cuba and is
thus best incorporated into a wider Cuban
cycling excursion. You could also charter a
taxi to drop you off at the start point.
Start // Cajobabo
End // Baracoa
Distance // 34 miles (55km)

Talk to savvy repeat visitors in
Guadalavaca’s popular resort strip and
you’ll discover that one of the region’s most
epiphanic activities is to procure a bicycle
and pedal it through undulating rural terrain
to the fiercely traditional town of Banes 21
miles (33km) to the east. This beautifully
bucolic ride transports you from the resortheavy north coast to a gritty slice of the
real Cuba in a matter of hours along a
road where you’re more likely to encounter
a horse and cart than a traffic jam. Some
of the resorts lend out bikes but pedalling
these basic machines can be hard work; inthe-know visitors often fly in with their own
bikes (Holguín’s Frank País international
airport receives direct flights from the UK,
Canada and Italy).
Start // Guadalavaca
End // Banes
Distance // 21 miles (33km)

Viñales is a small farming community that
does a lucrative side-business in tourism.
It sits nestled among craggy mogotes
(steep, haystack-shaped hills) in Cuba’s
primary tobacco-growing region. With
about as much traffic on its roads as 1940s
Britain, the region – which is protected
as both a Unesco World Heritage site
and National Park – is ideal for cycling.
Various loops can be plotted around the
valley’s multifarious sights, which include
caves, tobacco plantations, climbing
routes and snippets of rural Cuban life.
Riders can hire from the Bike Rental Point
in Viñales’ main plaza. Or your casa
particular (private homestay, of which
there are dozens in the village) may have
bicycles available to rent.
Getting there // Viñales is easily
reached from Havana by bus
Distance // Whatever you feel like

© Mark Read

LA FAROLA

AMERICAS

26

- EPIC BIKE RIDES OF THE WORLD -

TO T H E T I P O F
PATAGO N I A
Cyclists rub shoulders with gauchos and guanacos in southern Argentina,
braving howling wind to reach the tip of the South American continent.

O

ut on the bolt-straight roads of the Argentinian pampa
(vast plains) my handlebars stay true, but my mind
wanders. The open expanse of Southern Patagonia
is a pensive place, a vast and empty land that stirs
memories and emotion, like a calling to fill its void.
As my legs spin, I hum along to the buzz of knobbly tyres on
smooth asphalt. I listen to the snap of my open shirt, which flaps
behind me like a cape. I try and clear my head. But like any
meditation, I become stuck on certain thoughts, clanking around
like coins in a washing machine. Before long, an ostrich-like rhea
waddles out of the camouflage of the plains. I smile, my spirits
lifted. Then, a guanaco, the camelid native to these parts, breaks
rank and jumps daintily over the endless fence line I’ve been
following. It makes a chuckling sound as I pass, as if remarking on
the ridiculousness of my toils.
It’s a sentiment that seems to be echoed by others. Once, I see
the blur of a passenger photographing me from a minivan that
hurtles past. What must they be thinking? I guess I must look a
little crazy, bearded and unkempt, out here in the emptiness. Later,
a couple flag me down to quiz me about my bike. We talk a while
by the roadside. I’ve noticed a distinct soulfulness in Argentinians,
perhaps intensified by the thought-stirring sparseness of their land.
‘Que lindo este viaje,’ the man says, gesturing to his heart, and
shaking my hand warmly. ‘What a beautiful journey.’
A beautiful journey indeed, and one that captures Patagonia’s
contemplative character, its windswept isolation and its spectacular
vistas. Indeed, the ride down from El Chaltén showcases one its
finest moments; the granite silhouette of Monte Fitz Roy is the stuff
of picture postcards and mountaineering legends.

AMERICAS

START
EL CHALTÉN

EL CALAFATE
TORRES
DEL PAINE
RÍO
GALLEGOS

PUNTA
ARENAS

TIERRA DEL
FUEGO

ALBERTO DE
AGOSTINI
NATIONAL PARK

USHUAIA

© Cass Gilbert

FINISH

28

- EPIC BIKE RIDES OF THE WORLD -

© Cass Gilbert

Clockwise from top: riding with horses
on the Patagonian pampa; portrait of
a gaucho; off-road trails run through
beech forests. Previous page: heading
into the Patagonian hills

AMERICAS

30

31

To the Tip of Patagonia

- EPIC BIKE RIDES OF THE WORLD -

PENGUIN
COLONIES

Clockwise from top: King penguins at
Parque Pingüino Rey; riding a fullyloaded fat bike; icebergs calving at the
Perito Moreno glacier

© Cass Gilbert

No visit to Patagonia
is complete without
an encounter with
its most characterful
residents. Of the two
penguin colonies en
route, one involves
a ferry ride to Isla
Magdalena, home
to 60,000 pairs of
Magellanic penguins.
Like drunkards
dressed up for a ball,
they stagger around
in the high winds. The
other is at Parque
Pingüino Rey in Bahia
Inútil, where cyclists
can camp near a
group of majestic
King Penguins that
stand up to 1m tall.

© xxxxx | xxxxx

I pedal on. As asphalt peters out, I plough my way through
deep, corrugated ripio (gravel), gliding from one side to the other
in search of the truest line. In this light, it’s hard to even tell what
time of day it is. It could be just before sunset, but in fact it’s
early afternoon. Scale plays games on the pampa, and distance
takes on a different quality; perhaps a more mysterious form of
measurement is appropriate, like leagues. Only roadside shrines
mark the passing of time, and drainage culverts, into which cyclists
sometimes burrow to escape the howling winds.
And those winds! They’re incessant. Thankfully, my southerly
trajectory means they’re in my favour much of the time. But when
they’re not, it’s like slamming against a steel wall. A particular tactic
is thus required: strategic hops from one wind-free or rain-sheltered
enclave to another. Most are abandoned buildings, skeletal husks
that resonate former lives. Like hallowed secrets, the exact locations
of these sanctuaries are swapped around a carton of wine at a
campsite, or scrawled onto a crumpled map out on the road.
Among the most popular is the so-called Pink Hotel on Ruta 40,
the legendary road that spans the entire length of this country. An
abandoned complex set on a solitary stretch of pampa, the Pink
Hotel has long shielded a migration of riders from the howling, tentcrushing wind that gathers with gusto each afternoon. On the night
I pass through, it’s a surprisingly social premises. I’m one of five
riders heading south, joined by a French-Canadian couple braving
the elements north. We roll out our mats on the hotel’s parquet floor
and sign the guestbook: the canvas of a graffitied wall, onto which
cyclists scrawl their names and a precis of their journeys.

- EPIC BIKE RIDES OF THE WORLD -

“Together we cycle through the gates
of Ushuaia. Connected by a rush of
similar emotions, we high-five”

Other such places of calm come and go. At a lonely outpost
near Tapi Aike, Fabien the police officer ushers me in, as he has
done to so many cyclists before me. He feeds me a hearty dinner,
and together we watch dubbed movies late into the night. And
there’s Panadería La Union, about which I hear stories months
before I actually arrive. Its location is triple-ringed excitedly on
my dog-eared map, and a note scrawled to the side: ‘Bakery.
Delicious empanadas and cakes. Hosts cyclists for free.’
Breaking the monosyllabic mood of Southern Patagonia, there
are also moments of startling eloquence. Sometimes, it’s as simple
as a lenticular cloud, or a team of muscular horses watching me
ride by. At other times, it’s raw geology. In El Calafate, I head
out to Perito Moreno Glacier. Spanning 2.5 miles (4km) in width,
the sight itself is as impressive as the sound it emits: an incessant
soundtrack of gurgles and murmurs, of deep, resonant rumbles
and thunderous crunches.
I ride on, away from Ruta 40, forging my way closer to the
coastline, until finally I cross the Strait of Magellan to Tierra del
Fuego, the Chilean and Argentinian archipelago that lies off the
southernmost tip of the South American continent. It’s named after
the myriad of fires once kept by the indigenous Yámana – a hardy
folk who walked barefoot through snow. By now, I’m a member of
my own impromptu cycling collective, pilgrims drawn from around
the globe, pedalling by day and sharing stories by night.
For many, riding to the very tip of the South American continent
is the end of long, arduous and undoubtedly beautiful journey;
adventures that have unfolded since Colombia, Mexico or even
Alaska. And now here we are. Together, we cycle through the gates
of Ushuaia. Connected by a rush of similar emotions, we highfive. We hug. We look round in slight disbelief. Yes, we’ve arrived.
Ahead, the road has finally run out. CG

TOOLKIT
Start // El Chaltén
End // Ushuaia
Distance // 714.5 miles (1150km)
Getting there // Fly or bus into El Calafate,
and out of Ushuaia.
When to ride // The best time to visit the area is during
Patagonian summer – from November to March.
How to ride // Head north to south, or face a soul
destroying headwind much of the way.
Where to stay // Bring a stout tent, and keep your eyes
peeled for abandoned houses!
What to take // Weather can be notoriously mixed; pack
plenty of layers and reliable waterproofs.
Detours // Allow time to day hike in Argentina’s world
class Los Glaciares National Park, explore Torres del Paine
in Chile, or connect this route with the 621-mile (1000km)
Carretera Austral.

33

To the Tip of Patagonia

- EPIC BIKE RIDES OF THE WORLD -

Opposite: Lake Namtso on the
Friendship Hwy, north of Lhasa

SALAR DE UYUNI, BOLIVIA

CANNING STOCK ROUTE, AUSTRALIA

FRIENDSHIP HWY, TIBET–NEPAL

Cycling atop the salt crust of Bolivia’s
Salar de Uyuni – and the more petite but
perfectly formed Salar de Coipasa – is
an undisputed highlight of many a South
America journey. It’s a high-altitude ride
that takes five or six days, segmented by
an opportunity to resupply with water and
food at the midway settlement of Llica. As
the largest salt flat in the world, cycling
here provides an other-worldly experience.
There’s nothing quite like pitching your tent
on a bleached white canvas, seasoning
your dinner with the salty ground on
which you’re sitting, and awakening in the
morning to a glow of ethereal, lavender
light. This journey can only be undertaken
in Bolivia’s winter, as during summer the
salt lakes are inundated by seasonal rain.
Start // Uyuni
End // Sabaya
Distance // 186 miles (300km)

Riding Western Australia’s Canning Stock
Route is a monumental challenge. In fact,
it’s only been successfully completed by
a handful of riders. Given the extended
sections of soft sand, dunes and
corrugation that typify such a vast, remote
and unforgiving desert, this is a route that
can only be undertaken on a fat bike,
sporting a colossal tyre size of at least 4in
in width. You’ll also need to carry enough
food for more than 30 days, and water
for four- to five- day stretches at a time.
Despite the 51 old wells that punctuate the
route, only a handful can be relied upon.
But for anyone prepared to tackle this
physical and logistical feat, the reward is
complete, unmatched desert solitude.
Start // Hall Creek
End // Wiluna
Distance // 1243 miles (2000km)

Bookended by the cities of Lhasa and
Kathmandu, the Friendship Hwy crosses
the Tibetan plateaux via a series of high
elevation passes, the highest of which
reaches 5251m. Given that much of the
pedalling takes place at over 4000m
– across the Roof of the World, as it’s
often called – pre-ride acclimatisation is
vital, particularly if flying into Lhasa. The
journey itself takes 3 weeks, including a
detour to Everest Base camp, promising
stunning views of the planet’s highest
peak. Elsewhere, the Himalayan showcase
continues, with the likes of Cho Oyu (8241m)
and Shishapangma (8042m) prodding into
the atmosphere. Leaving the Land of Snows
is like entering another world; Nepal’s green
backdrop provides a sudden and stark
change from Tibet’s vast and windswept
plateau. Given the political sensitivity of the
area, independent travel can be limited.
Currently, the Friendship Hwy can only be
ridden as part of an organised group.
Start // Lhasa, Tibet
End // Kathmandu, Nepal
Distance // 594 miles (956km)

AMERICAS

34

© Nancy Brown | Getty Images

MORE LIKE THIS
REMOTE RIDES

- EPIC BIKE RIDES OF THE WORLD -

THE
N ATCH E Z T R ACE
PA R K WAY
The Natchez Trace coasts through three Southern states of America, with thousands
of years of history beneath your wheels and the sounds of Elvis in your ears.

A

t the northern terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway,
a milepost sticks up like a thumb on the side of the
road. For many bikers, the brown sign represents the
final lap, an exclamation point punctuating a twowheeled odyssey that started two states away in Mississippi.
For southbound cyclers like me, however, the marker is just the
beginning. ‘Mile one,’ I exclaim ceremoniously, translating the
sign’s three digits.
Over 10 days, I will pedal 444 miles (714.5km) from Nashville
to Natchez, with a small wedge of Alabama in between. During
my journey on the National Park Service road, I will roll through
thousands of years of history, and not necessarily in order. I will
follow in the footsteps of giant sloths and Chickasaw tribes,
Kaintucks (Ohio River farmers and boaters) and Elvis, and Civil
War soldiers and Oprah.
During hours-long rides, I will share the two-lane paved road
with a handful of cars and motorcycles (the maximum speed limit
of 50 miles/80km per hour deters rushed drivers), kindred spirits in
padded shorts and helmets (peak season is autumn) and countless
critters, including armadillos both dead and alive. And in and out
of my saddle, I will experience Southern traditions that touch all
aspects of life, from grits to music to football.
The New Trace, a straight arrow that dates from 1936 and
roughly parallels the original foot trail, is not as arduous as the Old
Trace, a meandering dirt path studded with rocks and roots. Nor
is it as perilous: the poisonous snakes, tribal attacks and bandits
appear only in yellowed accounts.
But the communities are still dispersed like distant beacons.
I have to watch the clock and my pace if I want to arrive at my

AMERICAS

TENNESSEE
NASHVILLE
START

LEIPER’S FORK

MEMPHIS

TUPELO

MUSCLE SHOALS

GREENVILLE

JACKSON

36

MISSISSIPPI

ALABAMA
© Jeff Crass | 500px

FINISH
NATCHEZ

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