Gravel cycling in Iceland: a dream for tough riders
Iceland has become a trending destination for bikepackers and gravel cyclists. Never ending gravel roads and black volcanic landscapes. This is the side of Iceland that social media shows. But is it the only terrain Iceland has to offer? And most importantly, what type of obstacles do gravel riders have to overcome in Iceland?
A gravel cyclist’s paradise
Overall, Iceland is covered with more miles of gravel roads than tarmac roads. Sounds like a dream, right?
Icelandic backcountry roads have a surprise at every turn. Most of them are winding around dormant volcanoes, glaciers or moss covered lava fields. Reaching a remote farm can hide the next thrilling descent. The forgotten gravel roads also lead to remote peninsulas or mountain passes. There is no doubt that Iceland offers a great backcountry gravel riding experience.
The cycling expedition will test both your endurance and your skills level. A gravel trip with Icebike adventures will most certainly be the ride of your lifetime!
The type of roads we ride
n Iceland, you will ride three main – and different- types of roads on your gravel bike. We have tarmac roads, gravel roads and F-roads in the Highlands – the latter designed for off-road vehicles only.
We spent more than fifteen years scouting the most scenic routes of the Land of Fire and Ice. We have designed cycling tours offering a diverse selection of terrains.
Some of the routes we elect are remote, ruthless and exposed. But they reward you with the most scenic landscapes and cultural discoveries.
Icebike adventures’ gravel philosophy: chasing the best gravel roads
All our gravel tours are designed with one goal in mind. Guiding cyclists on gravel and F-roads offering the best of Iceland’s riding and views. On our tours, tarmac sections are liaisons between gravel segments.
We do not hide that the roots of Icebike adventures are deeply connected to mountain biking. The “love of dirt” is still driving us towards creating Gravel adventures with a majority of off-road riding.
We recommend riders with a road cycling background to contact us and arrange a bespoke tour. We know the best tarmac roads of the island!
Adjust your distance expectations when riding in Iceland
The famous physicist Albert Einstein discovered that “time is relative”. Like him, you will find out that “distance is relative” in Iceland. Jokes aside, our experience is that most riders fail to ride as long distances here as they would do at home.
For example, most cyclists describing themselves as “strong” request our guides to plan for “100 km of riding everyday”. Well, we usually have to replan for a more reasonable target of 60 “Icelandic kilometers”!
Why is gravel cycling in Iceland so demanding?
The terrain in Iceland is very undulating. There are few mountain passes you will have to overcome, but mostly a lot of hills. At the end of the day elevation gain can sum up to surprisingly high numbers. Furthermore, Icelandic gravel cycling is on average very demanding on your cardio. This is because the elevation gain is not totalled in one large climb, but rather many smaller ones.
The specific gravel tours we offer are different. Please note that there is way more climbing on our Westfjords tours than on our Hekla tour.
The nature of the soil:
Volcanic ash is sometimes unevenly packed. We strive to get the latest information about the gravel roads condition, but the highlands have a life of their own. We sometimes have to ride road segments where recent floods or storms have transformed the packed gravel into soft sand. These sections are way slower and consume more energy.
Some roads also have “washboards” sections. They demand focus, and ability to choose the right line. Once again we tend to avoid them and change routes if we get notice of their formation. Riding such segments will take a heavy toll on the cyclists.
Some rocky technical terrain:
Other sections – for example on the way down from Hungurfit mountain hut – are very rugged. They can feature a mix of loose small rocks and fixed larger ones. Those segments need focus and careful selection of your lines. Some sections – thus short- are almost cross-country mountain bike like.
The strong winds (almost everyday):
Don’t get us wrong, Iceland offers stunning days of incredible weather. Wide open blue skies and epic sunsets. But Freyr – the god of weather according to norse mythology – tends to balance those breathtaking landscapes. Indeed, your ride is ofter spiced-up with heavy winds or rain showers.
Locals tend to say something like: “In the highlands, no matter which direction you ride, it is going to be headwind”. This is actually quite accurate on a stormy day, because most of the remote areas are little to not sheltered.
We have experience with the weather being our boss though. Our team of guides closely monitor the weather and wind forecast everyday. They have the ability to reschedule routes on a daily basis to avoid headwinds as much as possible.
The views and photo breaks:
Do not forget to stop and enjoy the views! Like our mountain bike tours, our Gravel tripss are not about racing. We of course have guides able to keep up with any pace, even the fastest riders. The question is: can you follow 20 times Icelandic champion and world cup XC Racer Maria Ögn. And what about ultra-endurance cyclist and ITI Alaska finisher Bergur?
But this cycling adventure is also part of your holidays. Cultural stops, rivers, hot tubs, group pictures are likely to happen – and they will be long remembered! To say it boldly, you might not be the “King Of the Mountain”, but more likely the “Happiest rider on the mountain” 😉
No worries, there is almost only “hero gravel”!
And this is by far most of what you are going to ride with us 🙂 When hard packed, volcanic soil is extremely fast rolling. The kind of dream gravel terrain where you can effortlessly reach average speeds of 30 km/h.
We hope this article provided you with useful knowledge about gravel cycling in Iceland! Looking forward to having you in the peloton!