Cycling around Iceland – Reserved Only for Crazies

“Do you know how we call the cyclists who travel around Iceland?
We call them crazy nutters.” (c)

Well, we must admit that after 7 days of cycling we started to understand that this nice remark made sense. Also, we think that if we had known how it would be, we would have chosen something else (like Netherlands) for our cycling trip after Denmark. Nevertheless, here we are and we didn’t die. :) So time for us to share our experience and conclusions with all crazy nutters who plan to make a tour around Iceland by bicycle or like in our case – by tandem.

independent people how to cycle in iceland road tandem

Itinerary

No plans, no stress, no fixed dates, no return ticket. Only the matter of feeling. That was our main Iceland mood. We went where we wanted, we had no day goals, we stayed several days in the same place if we felt tired and broken. We waited if the face wind was too strong.
If you cycle in Iceland, be good to yourself. There is no need to force with 8 km/h fighting the wind if the next day you can easily ride 100 km with 20km/h. With such attitude we spent 40 days cycling around the island and here is our final itinerary.
Dates of the total trip (including cycling + a week in Reykjavik): 15.08.2015 – 30.09.2015

Make sure you get an updated “official” cycling map either online (like this one) or in the tourism offices of Iceland.

Transportation

Tandem is a wonderful thing, but it has its disadvantages like the frowning faces of airport employees when we (after having somehow brought our little tandem to the airport) present it for luggage registration. So how it happened this time.

Going to Iceland: From our current location (Toulouse) we had a flight to Keflavik with a change in London. Tandem travelled in its original box repaired after the previous trips and lovely British Airways charged for this 72€, when even EasyJet took it for free! Our box liked neither 9 hours in London nor rain so we solemnly buried it.

In Iceland: Despite our expectation and plans, we didn’t take a bus a single time. Once we were close to do it, but the driver told us that it was impossible, so the matter was quickly solved. However, we heard from other tandem cyclists that they could take the buses, but be sure, that for normal bikes there are no problems at all. (Be ready to pay though)

independent people how to cycle in iceland tandem box airport

Leaving Iceland: We made the biggest mistake ever – we decided to go back to Europe by ferry. As we didn’t have the box anymore, it seemed that going by ferry would be simpler (and it was to some extent). However, we still had to take a plane to get to Egilsstaðir and it was a funny story. As we suspected that for domestic flights in Iceland small aircrafts are used, we wrote e-mails and even came on purpose to the airport to show the tandem and to find out if it could be taken or not. Apparently, it could. But when it was time to take the plane, naturally it appeared that there was no place for such a big bike. So, after several panicky minutes the tandem was completely disassembled and stuffed into the tiniest cabin we’ve ever seen.

And how do you transport your bike? We are too afraid to do it without a box, so maybe you know some reliable alternative method?

Equipment

Or how the YouTube vloggers say «What is in my Bag?» lol. The risk to take too many useless things is always present, but this time we were real heroes of optimization, since we used everything we took (except for our first aid kit, thanks god). So what was in our bags?

Camping equipment: 1 tent, 2 sleeping bags Marmot, 2 isolating sleeping pads, 2 sleeping bag sheets, 2 inflatable pillows

Cooking equipment: 1 thermos (1l), 2 camping mugs, 1 kettle, 1 set of camping utensils, including 1 frying pan, 1 plate and one casserole, 1 Gas Stove Primus, 1 Gas Bottle, 3 Sporks, 1 set of dinnerware, 1 knife, 3 bottles (1l each) + 4 bottles (0,5l)

Clothes & Other: 4 pairs of light socks, 4 pairs of warm socks, 2 pairs of overshoes, 2 pairs of trainers, 2 cycling shorts, 2 pairs of leg warmers, 6 cycling shirts, 2 sport sweaters, 2 light yellow jackets, 2 GoreTex jackets, 2 pairs of light gloves, 2 pairs of GoreTex gloves, 2 Buffs, Underweare, Basic hygiene stuff, First Aid Kit

Electronics: 2 cameras + chargers, 3 lenses, 2 smartphones + cables, 1 Ipod full of Harry Potter audiobooks, 2 pairs of headphones, 2x16GB + 1x32GB memory cards

Cycling: 1 spare tire, 1 repairing kit, 2 spare air chambers (not used), basic tools

Budget

It is not a secret that Iceland is a very expensive country. Even more expensive than Norway (and it means something) but whereas Norway proposes decent services for crazy money, Iceland is not the same case, unfortunately. During our cycling trip the thing that hit our budget the most was food (if not to count the tickets to Iceland). Cyclists don’t need much after all. Accommodation is also a possible danger but after trying several official campings we quickly understood that it was a real waste of money, so since then we slept mostly «in the wild».

independent people how to cycle in iceland money

Another point that can lead anyone to bankruptcy are the touristic activities. Whale watching? Glacier hiking? Boat trip? «Northern Light safari »? (what a shit to pay for the thing that anyone can see errrr in the sky). Every even the most stupid activity (like horse riding or rafting) costs at least 60€ (per person). And don’t forget that you will be accompanied by 20 other tourists.
Did we regret not doing some real Icelandic stuff like snorkeling in Thingvellir (and yes, we didn’t go to the Blue Lagoon)?
No.
We saw Northern Lights, we saw a whale, we saw puffins, we touched the glacier, we fished, and we enjoyed hot springs absolutely for free.

Nevertheless, the total cost of the trip hurts. According to different types of our mood and circumstances, our approximate budget per day and per person looked this way:

Basic day Day when we need
some burger moral support
Day when we want to die
Wild camping Official camping Airbnb room (hotel)
3 supermarket meals 2 supermarket meals 2 supermarket meals
1 burger 1 restaurant
2000 KR 4000 KR 15 500 KR (+3000 KR if it is a hotel)

Accommodation

Hotels

Ridiculously expensive. Impossible to overnight less than for 100€. Hostels might be a bit cheaper, but honestly, paying for the room that reminds a dirty student campus 60-80€ (depends if you want with sheets or not) is very upsetting.

Airbnb

The best alternative for a comfortable stay in the “big” cities. Cheaper than hotel, better conditions, warmer attitude. Requires to be settled in advance though.

Welcoming Networks

Even if there are around 10 000 members of CouchSurfing, we failed to find a host. Either they were too overwhelmed with the requests, so we even didn’t get any answer, or their last log in was 2 years ago. With WarmShowers it was almost the same story, but in a critical moment we were hosted, and we thank you, Saemundur, one more time.

Campings

Do not make the same mistakes that we did at the beginning– avoid official campings. Yes, sometimes it’s not easy (like near Myvatn lake or the Westman islands), but for the price you pay in campings you get in the majority of cases nothing except for the right to put a tent on the ground. They are dirty and as a rule badly organized and expensive. We stayed in campings only in very touristic places (Geysir, Vik) or if it was too close to the city centre.

independent people how to cycle in iceland camping scenery

Wild camping

With «wild camping» we had not a single problem but this way you feel Iceland much much stronger than just being one of hundreds tourists with guidebooks in some camping. However, even if Iceland is full of deserted wild space, it was not always easy to find a suitable place for three following reasons :
too wet. Even the most attractive grass suddenly turns into a horrible swamp as soon as you make a step on it.
too hard. Lava fields make your back hurt.
too private. Oh yes, all these endless hectares of land are someone’s property, and this someone never forgets to put an electrified fence to mark it.

In such cases, we were glad to sleep just near the road.

independent people how to cycle in iceland camping tent lake
independent people how to cycle in iceland road tent

Hygiene

So if we don’t stay in campings, what do we do with this delicious smell in certain areas of our bodies? In Iceland the solution is simple and genius – going to the swimming pools. It’s the only thing that costs much less than anywhere else. For something like 3-4€ you get unlimited in time access to very descent swimming pools that offer beside regular swimming pools hot pots with Jacuzzi. Even in the smallest villages, there will be certainly a swimming pool. Attention, 99% of them is under beautiful Icelandic (rainy) sky.

independent people how to cycle in iceland swimming pool

Weather…? Surprise!

independent people how to cycle in iceland tandem bike road

One simple advice. Forget that the weather forecasts exist. Icelandic weather is so unpredictable, that there is only one way out – to relax and to accept things as they are. The only site we were consulting was http://en.vedur.is mainly to check the wind direction. The weather keeps changing every half an hour, which makes Iceland so attractive for photographers. We were extremely lucky in Icelandic standards. Out of 40 days of cycling we had maybe 7 days with rain. So not that bad after all J Wind is the worst thing, but it has no definite direction, so there were both horrible days when we were asking ourselves why we were doing all this, and perfect high-speed days with the back wind. One important point – South&West are much more unstable and rainy than East&North. Some families from Rykjavik have even «summer houses» on the north of the country where they can enjoy sunny days.

Food & Drink

independent people how to cycle in iceland food burger fries

The question that bothered us the most before our departure was how much food and water we should carry with us? How often one can cross supermarkets? Or gas stations? Will we die from hunger or not this time?

Everything depends on your itinerary. As we mainly took the road 1, we quickly understood that there had been no need to bring 10 packages of freeze-dried meals. Almost every day we could refill our supply or maximum once in two days. We always had with us 6l of water and 1l of tea.

Security

I think there is no place in the world that is as peaceful as Iceland. No risk of stealing, kidnapping or I don’t know what else. Just imagine, the last winter was the first case EVER when Icelandic police had to use the weapon and even that was kind of unfortunate accident!

However, we didn’t feel so confident on Icelandic roads. It seems that local drivers are not used to tolerate cycling neighborhood, fortunately nervous trucks remain to be a problem only 100 kilometers from Reykjavik, then riding a bike with rare cars becomes quite fine.

Technical Problems

The tandem behaved perfectly during this adventure, only our back tire got completely worn off even if it was a best quality Schwalbe Marathon. Partially because of the weight it had to carry, but also because the quality of Icelandic roads is far to be what we are used to. The asphalt is horribly rough, as if it was made of small sharp stones glued together. Anyway, the spare tire we brought with us had its use.

Our tent, however, was damaged by the horrible wind that it had to endure. Nothing really serious, only one of the metal tubes was bent so it made the tent look like a frog with a broken leg.

independent people how to cycle in iceland tyre schwalbe marathon tandem
independent people how to cycle in iceland tyre schwalbe marathon
independent people how to cycle in iceland tyre schwalbe marathon

So was it all worth of efforts?

independent people how to cycle in iceland tandem feet

Yes. Even if it was hard, even if it was cold, even if it was wet, we don’t regret that we’ve done it by bike. In the beginning, we were really considering the option to send it all to hell and to rent a car like every second tourist in Iceland. (Or even more radical – to take a flight to Netherlands and cycle there :) ) THANKS GOD WE OVERCAME THIS TEMPTATION. Firstly, because it’s the matter of habit – human body can be adapted to anything and anywhere, it needs only a bit of time. Secondly, because we entered the zone of «good weather». We felt like a part of scenery, one of Iceland elements, we were inside Iceland and vice verse. It was exploring Iceland and not consuming it. We took a decision to switch to cycling trips wherever and whenever it’s possible.

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And one more thing…

Dreaming about loosing weight? Then 40 days of cycling around Iceland is just what you need! We lost 4 kg each ;)

2017-05-13T13:16:56+00:00 October 31st, 2015|