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Exiting Reykjavik by Bicycle

Leaving Reykjavik by bicycle REYKJAVIK, Iceland — “The roads are not made for cyclists,” I was told by the motorcycle traveler Troy Rank, a fellow traveler from my home city of Rochester, New York who’d just rode a motorcycle around Iceland. “The wind is nuts. We were out there near Vik, and the wind was [...]

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Leaving Reykjavik by bicycle

REYKJAVIK, Iceland — “The roads are not made for cyclists,” I was told by the motorcycle traveler Troy Rank, a fellow traveler from my home city of Rochester, New York who’d just rode a motorcycle around Iceland. “The wind is nuts. We were out there near Vik, and the wind was blowing like crazy. We saw this cyclist and asked what way he was going, with or against the wind. He said he wasn’t, that he was taking the bus.”

Video of exiting Reykjavik by bicycle

Please watch the video before reading the rest of this entry.

Mountains and wild flowers of Iceland -- the beautiful side of this journey makes up for the hardships in full.

This sentiment that bicycle travel in Iceland is difficult was echoed by a pair of French bicyclists as they showed me photos of their trip around the country. There where shots of them pushing their bikes through inches of ash, over lava fields, up large hills — though I did also spy a picture of one of them posing nude by a hot spring. “The wind is really strong out there,” they repeated over and over. “One day we went for four hours and hardly made ten kilometers.” The pair was just laying out on the lawn of the campsite in Reykjavik, their bikes and gear strewn all around. They looked beat. “If you are lucky the wind will be at your back, if you are not lucky, oh man . . . you are going to be both lucky and not lucky,” they left me with some final words of warning.

As I looked over my two wheeled steed on departure day, something did not sit quite right with me: my gear hauling system was made by an idiot. Good thing I did not have to send this criticism too far for it to take root and be acted upon. I ripped off the front basket — which was a milk crate tied onto the handle bars with dozens of plastic ties, clothesline, and supported with the spine of a dismantled hack saw — and rode back to the outlet store district of Reykjavik to get a pair of proper panniers.

French bicycle travelers

A stoned Norwegian took a liken to me and found my final preparations before leaving amusing. He watched through half shut eyes as I set my backpack into the tub on the back of the bicycle and cinch it all tight with some packing belts.

“You have a lot of stuff,” he observed.

“Yes, I do,” I replied to his reaffirmation of the obvious.

“You look like you are moving your home to a new city.”

“Yes, it probably does.”

My big backpack was sticking up out of my gear rack (read: plastic tub), my panniers were overflowing with food, and I had various things and stuffs tied on to every tieable surface on the bike. To top this off, I had a messenger bag slung over my back. I was clearly not set up for bicycle travel — camping gear, digital nomad gear, and an excess of scavenged food left me overtly over-prepared: a great and ever present irony of world travel. But I was still getting annoyed by the stoned Norwegian. I knew that my mobility would be checked greatly by my excess of weight and bulk. But what could I do? All that I had I wanted, and though some of my gear would not be needed (the Hennessy Hammock), I had no place else to stash it. I also had an entire bag of my work gear — computers and other electronics — that constituted a good portion of my load that would not be needed if I did not have the work element in my travels.

Front basket for bicycle -- quickly removed

In point, I was going off into challenging bicycle riding territory with a rig fully stacked with an excess of camping gear, food, water, and clothes, and being reminded of my obvious over-preparation made me want to slug the shit out of the self induced idiot hovering over me as I battened down the final hatch on my load.


I went off to find Troy to take a parting video of me exiting Reykjavik on my beast of burden.

“It rides well considering,” he said to impart a final glimmer of hope.

NFW Ring Road a No Go

I quickly understood the reality of these rather ominous pre-departure advice as I began cycling out of Reykjavik. My planned route of travel had me doing a perfect ring around the country on Road 1, understandably called Ring Road. This plan lasted just long enough for me to take a look at this road: it was a raging highway going in and out of Reykjavik without a shoulder or much of any space at all between the semi-trucks, the RVs, and the little Euro cars and an embankment that dropped steeply off the side. To ride on this highway at this juncture meant — pretty much — riding in traffic. Not fun. I did not come to Iceland to give a great anti-climatic bow by being creamed by a truck 5 minutes into my bicycle journey. I took one look at Ring Road and said no f’cking way.

I looked for ways around the highway, I looked down into the nooks and graded valleys that skirted its sides. I traveled along side roads that were parallel to it as far as I could and then got stuck where the Ring Road met up with another highway. Shit. I asked a woman passing on a bike how I could get through the octopus of on and off ramps and onto route 1 going north once out of the city. She sent me into a ravine where there was a magnificent little hiking/ bike trail that lead through a little gully and into the suburbs farther down the road. I traveled on these little paths, through fields, and on utility access roads near the highway for as long as I could, but, eventually, I had to get on the Ring Road.

Heaven is above and Beijing is far away.

I push the bike up the embankment and onto the highway. It grew a shoulder on the outskirts of the city and the riding was smooth for around five kilometers. Cake.

[adsense]Nope. around 20 km outside of Reykjavik I rounded a bend, got on the other side of the bay, and met the dreaded Icelandic wind head on. I battled through it, got to the other side of an embankment, and enjoyed a stretch of smooth sailing. From the outset, the Icelandic wind proved to be a monstrous though inconsistent adversary. Depending on your position to mountains or the coast and direction of travel you can find yourself — almost at any time — in gale force wind or completely without any wind pressure at all. These two extremes often fluctuate rather rapidly: smooth riding turns hellish and then back again in almost rapid fire succession. I fought through the winds of the bay near Reykjavik and then found myself riding on a magnificent road a little farther inland with little wind and with a clear sky overhead. Cake, again.

A little farther on though the road contracted, and, to my dismay, threw me a major punch.

“On the Ring Road there is a lot of traffic, not good for bicycle riding. There are also, I don’t know how to say,” Arni at the Reykjavik mountain bike club warned me as we went over proposed routes of bicycling around Iceland. He fluttered his hand up and down in a wave motion and I inertly groaned as I knew that he was talking about nothing other than rumble strips — the bane of any bicycle traveler’s occupation.

“Rumble strips,” I completed Arnie’s sentence.

“Yes, rumbles. There are rumbles on the Ring Road along here.”

I had just found out where “here” was as I vibrated up and down, “rumbling” as I tried to stay out of traffic while remaining on the road as I ventured through the outskirts of Reykjavik. There was perhaps a two inch strip between the rumble strip and the road grading that I could ride on. Veering to either side either set me bouncing and vibrating or falling off the side of the highway. Trucks and cars roared passed mere inches from my left pannier.

Is this fun yet?

Is it suppose to be?


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Filed under: Bicycle Travel, Europe, Iceland, Travel Preparation, Western Europe

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3717 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

4 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

  • Bob L July 3, 2011, 8:56 pm

    Great story. Sounds like this could be a great book in itself. Almost makes me want to get a bicycle and start riding again. Almost………..

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    • Wade Shepard July 4, 2011, 4:39 am

      Man, I look at those motorcycles passing me as I struggle up hills and into the wind and I imagine them laughing and laughing at me, revving up their engines and flying by on the open highway. I think you have chosen the proper mode of transport!

      Link Reply
  • John July 4, 2011, 12:21 am

    hahahahaah.. ” You gotta say to yourself, what the f*** am I doing” Wade Shepard keep it real…

    Link Reply
    • Wade Shepard July 4, 2011, 4:40 am

      Haha, it gets better . . . and worse . . . way worse . . . haha.

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