Life on two wheels is a beautiful thing, and travel on two wheels can be epic. Here are a few of the world's greatest cycle routes to consider for your next big trip.
The world’s most epic cycle routes
The Death Road, Bolivia
Widely considered to be the most dangerous road in the world, the forty-mile route connecting La Paz and Coroico has become the stuff of legend among downhill cyclists and thrill-seeking backpackers. The North Yungas Road (popularly referred to as the “Death Road”) runs alongside crumbling 600-metre-drops and around hairpin bends, but the sweeping views of the Bolivian Amazon rainforest are well worth the mortal fear.
Dangling from Norway’s northwestern coast is the delightful Lofoten Archipelago, which – thanks to the Gulf Stream – boasts an unusually warm climate for its location just within the Arctic Circle. Cyclists flock here in the summer when the days are long, allowing plenty of time to explore traditional fishing villages and to seek out puffins and seals. Those who brave the late autumn and winter months are rewarded with the rare opportunity to pedal beneath the northern lights.
The classic Route des Grandes Alpes tackles some of the most scenic mountain passes in Europe. Stretching for over four hundred miles from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean, the tour features a series of spectacular uphill tests along France’s highest roads, including a gruelling 30-mile climb at Col de l’Iseran. Needless to say this route is not for beginners, nor for those who suffer from acrophobia.
Tour de Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo
Inaugurated in 2013, the Tour de Congo is a 600-mile route winding through the country’s safer western regions. Beside the sixty pro cyclists who took part in the first tour, very few people have completed the route to date. However, with an ever-improving infrastructure and growing international attention on the project, the DRC’s stunning mountain terrain and dense stretches of untouched jungle are likely to lure in adventurous cyclists in years to come.
This is a cross-country cycle of biblical proportions. The route starts on Mount Nebo, with panoramic vistas across the Promised Land, before descending to the lowest point on Earth along the shores of the Dead Sea, 418m below sea level. En route to the Red Sea cyclists pass some of Jordan’s major historic sights, including Al Karak Castle and the ancient town of Petra.
The iconic coastal road connecting the southeastern Australian towns of Allansford and Torquay is the largest war memorial in the world, built by returned servicemen after World War I. Today the 150-mile route is a favourite among those looking for a manageable long weekend cycle, taking in breathtaking cliff edges and the majestic Twelve Apostles rock stacks. There are also plenty of on- and off-road detours available for those with a bit more time on their hands.
Highlands to the coast, Madagascar
This stunning, manageable route through the heart of Madagascar should be top of the list for pedalling wildlife enthusiasts. Starting in the capital city of Antananarivo and ending in the peaceful coastal town of Mahavelona, the mostly gravelled route passes through the Ranomafana National Park and Andringitra Massif, both of which offer great opportunities to spot rare tropical birds and the endemic lemur.
Starting in Vancouver and ending near the Mexican border, this 2000-mile route hugs the Pacific coastal highway through the states of Washington, Oregon and California. Along the way cyclists ride over misty mountain passes, cross the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and cruise past big waves on California’s iconic surfing beaches. This ride is best enjoyed on a relaxed schedule in order to fully embrace the laidback west coast way of life.
Tasmania’s east coast is friendly, temperate and lined with pristine beaches. The west coast is a different world. There are very few signs of civilization, brutal contours and an even more brutal climate. Starting in the sleepy capital of Hobart, this roundabout route to Launceston passes through ancient forests, alongside the Montezuma Waterfall (Tasmania’s highest) and beneath the jagged Cradle Mountain. Only recommended for fit, ambitious cyclists looking for a serious challenge.
This challenging mountain bike route starts and ends at two of Peru’s most famous sights. Setting off from the shores of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake at an altitude of 3812m, cyclists pass through colourful colonial towns on the way to the lost city of Machu Picchu. The route mostly keeps to remote dirt tracks through the Altiplano, with good odds of seeing Peru’s native llamas and alpacas along the way.
The Pamir Highway, Tajikistan
Ascending to an altitude of 4500m, the Pamir Highway offers some of the finest views of any bike ride on the planet. There are very few shops or towns in this remote part of central Asia, so cyclists must haul their supplies with them as they pedal past turquoise lakes and through muscular mountain valleys in Tajikistan’s High Pamirs. Prepare to be plied with countless cups of home-brewed tea from locals along the way.
Land’s End to John O’Groats, the UK
Now something of a national institution, this thousand-mile journey spanning the length of the UK is undertaken by thousands of cyclists, walkers and motorists every year. Starting in Cornwall – widely considered to be the most challenging leg of the cycle – the route passes over the Clifton Suspension Bridge, cuts through isolated Lake District villages and traverses the mammoth Scottish Highlands.
High-altitude cycling doesn’t get much better than the 500-mile-long China–Nepal Highway, commonly known as the Friendship Highway or, perhaps more fittingly, the Roof of the World. The road cuts through the highest mountain range on the planet – the Himalayas – so it should come as no surprise that cyclists face some monumentally tough uphill climbs. The hard work is rewarded with some of the longest, most exhilarating downhills around, plus the opportunity to take a detour to Everest Base Camp.
The Way of St James, Spain
Running from the foothills of the Pyrenees to Spain’s Atlantic coast, the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (or The Way of St James) has been walked by millions of devoted Christian pilgrims since the eleventh century. The 500-mile journey is now also popular among cyclists, whether in search of spiritual enlightenment or simply to visit the rolling vineyards and medieval villages that punctuate the route.
La Route Verte, Canada
More a network than an A to B journey, La Route Verte opened in 2007 to become the most extensive biking trail in the Americas, comprising over 3000 miles of excellently signposted paths. Cyclists have their pick from a number of excellent routes around Québec province, whether they take on the paved circuit around Lac Saint-Jean, dot through seldom-visited townships on the Véloroute des Cantons or follow the old abandoned railway along the easy going Le P’tit Train du Nord cycleway.
The route from Bariloche to Ushuaia is adventure cycling at its finest, and a fine way to explore this remote part of the world. The Argentine sections of the 1,800-mile route promise long, desolate roads cutting through arid Patagonian Steppe, with queues of mountain peaks and glaciers dominating the horizon. The greener Chilean sections of the route are equally scenic but generally considered to be far tougher, with fierce Pacific weather fronts often bringing wind and rain.
The Atlas Traverse, Morocco
A stone’s throw from Marrakesh is the High Atlas mountain range, whose untamed, dusty terrain offers a fantasy setting for mountain biking enthusiasts. Highlights of this epic range include a passage through the dramatic Dades Valley, views of the snow-dusted summit of Mount Toubkal (North Africa’s highest peak at 4167 m) and a visit to the legendary town of Imilchil, a charming Berber settlement named after the two locally-revered lakes.
Route 1, Iceland
The 850-mile road, which lines the perimeter of Iceland, is a memorable – if at times eerie – experience, taking in the very best of the island’s ecological and geological wonders. This remote, well-paved route boasts moderate contours, allowing cyclists to focus on the vast lava fields, towering waterfalls, fjords, geysers, icebergs and coughing volcanoes that have collectively earned Iceland the moniker “The Land of Ice and Fire”.
Victoria Falls to Cape Town, southern Africa
Few people can claim to have cycled alongside elephants or to have free-wheeled down desert sand dunes; these are just a couple of the thrills on offer when cycling through southern Africa. Starting at Victoria Falls in Zambia, this route takes in the bright white Makgadikgadi Saltpans in Botswana and crosses the Tropic of Capricorn in the Namib Desert, before triumphantly reaching South Africa’s second city.
There is no better way of exploring Cuba than on two wheels, whether you ship your bike from home or ask a local to build one from scratch. Cyclists embarking on this 550-mile adventure from the Caribbean Sea to the Gulf of Mexico will pass through forgotten villages, ride alongside spluttering 1950s cars and stay overnight at homely casa particulars. Be sure to cycle from west to east to avoid the colossal headwind.
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