Okay, maybe quite a grandiose title but what the heck do you call an article on some of the top must-visit places across the Globe to visit on a bike .. oh, maybe that.
Making a Wish List
How many styles, makes and models of bikes are there? How many sorts of cycling venues – flat black-top, winding down-roads, tough uphill stretches – are there in the world? And, most importantly, how many different biker personalities are there? The numbers, while maybe not infinite, might range near it. That’s why lists aren’t too terribly important to any one cyclist, but they can offer a scope of attractions that any cyclist could easily overlook. So this is a list, not necessarily my list and most certainly not your list but it is a list. It’s there for you to pick and choose, to agree and disagree.
Lonely Planet Guide to the Top 10 Cycle Routes
The travel guide master, Lonely Planet, has compiled a wish-list of ten venues that it declares any sane and avid biker should not overlook.
- Otago Peninsula, New Zealand – Wonderful scenery, half a laid-back road, the other half a sweat breaker. Lure of the open road makes for the best one-day rides in the country.
- Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia – Gently rolling hills with some tough climbs and heart-thumping descents. Rocky coastlines, soaring ridges, and the inland sea make for a very satisfying run.
- Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy – This region is situated in the north-east of Italy and borders Slovenia and Austria. Mostly easy pedalling in the north-east corner of Italy. Termed a voluptuous region where you can treat yourself to a regional wine after a good day’s pedalling.
- Isle of Wight, England – Home to some of Britain’s most terrific terrain. Hills roll into the sea; cycle through narrow lanes lined by hedges. Music festivals have begun to draw the young and trendy.
- West Coast Tasmania, Australia – Huge swathes of untamed and untouched wilderness extend along a west coast described as fierce. The uphill cycling isn’t easy.
- Luberon and Mont Ventoux, France – Luberon is hilly but the paths are well-designed to make for an enjoyable trip. Ancient Roman ruins and medieval châteaux entice, as do wonderful wines after a day’s ride.
- San Juan Islands, Washington State, USA – The terrain is hilly but most routes can be done in a day. Feast your eyes on forested shores, secluded coves, along mostly quiet roads.
- County Clare, Ireland – The route goes past the dramatic Cliffs of Moher and the trail is punctuated with small towns wherein you’ll find great pubs that offer some of the cream of Irish music.
- La Farola, Cuba – Try the spectacular nine-kilometre descent along the Farola Highway. Drop-dread gorges and cliffs hung with tropical vegetation are interrupted by views of the wide open ocean.
- National Highway 1, Vietnam – The road runs the length of the country from north to south. Holding reasonable rises, the route climaxes with the Hai Van pass (496 metres), and offers a wild descent through pine-clad hills.
AskMen List of Best Cycle Cities
The website, AskMen, has come up with a list that purports to name the best cycle-friendly cities on the globe. Don’t be surprised if your favourite city isn’t listed, and don’t be surprised if it is.
- Amsterdam, The Netherlands – The top bicycle city where nearly 40% of commuting is done by bike.
- Copenhagen, Denmark – High cycling commute rates here, too. If you don’t have your bike, rent one for free.
- Bogota, Colombia – Only 13% of the folks own cars. Weekly, 70 miles of streets are closed to all but bikes.
- Curitiba, Brazil – The city pushes cycling as the best commute, bike lanes are everywhere.
- Montreal, Canada – The Bixi program, first urban bike-share plan in the Americas, uses 2,440 miles of trails.
- Portland, Oregon, United States – Low-cost rental bikes come complete with a helmet, lock, pump, maps, and rain gear.
- Basel, Switzerland – Features streets geared specifically for cyclists with unique left-hand turn lanes.
- Barcelona, Spain – A green beltway around the city offers 100 bike stations for a bike-sharing program.
- Beijing, China – The traffic is sluggish, making cycling the best way to get around.
- Trondheim, Norway – Be ready for hills in this fiord-ridged nation. Bike lifts exist for really hard climbs.
The Roads Less Travelled
Now that you’ve got a pretty good idea of the adventure that awaits you around the globe, let’s take a look at some routes that are not the most-chosen by many cyclists, but that may appeal to you, your bike, or your intrepid personality.
Thailand (Southeast Asia) – Aroma and Romance
You won’t need any camping gear. Just have your bike and a good-sized pannier – mostly for clothes, cameras, and computers. Inexpensive guest-houses cling to most any route through this skinny nation. Cooking is almost unnecessary. Street vendors offer all sorts of freshly cooked and healthy food. It’s sort of like biking through a really big Thai restaurant. Once you get to Bangkok, take a lengthy, leisurely ride around town. Imagine yourself in a busy-bee hive environment, or maybe an Asian movie set.
Your nose will be pleasantly perked from the stands of fresh flowers, the produce stalls, and the ever-present street-side food vendors. Many tropical lands don’t offer much in the way of cold libation, but ice and icy drinks, a boon to bikers, are ubiquitous. The roads are flat around the city except for small bridges that cross the multitude of romantic canals. You’ll share the roads with other bikers, sputtering tuk-tuks, and little scooters zooming around you. Everywhere you look, you’ll see old fishermen mending their nets, women sewing; stop often to watch the traffic moving through the canals.
Switzerland (Europe) – Land of Rising Roads
If you’re coming from France, you will notice the roads start to steadily rise. A route to Col de la Givrine is a good climb with the Col as its highest point. After all the leg-aching climbs, you will enjoy the coast down amongst rocky pastures and quaint Swiss villages. As you proceed further, you will come upon a shady park, home to huge sycamore trees and panoramas of the Alps to the south. Near the town of Rolle there is a nice camp site, so nice it becomes a carpet of tents most every night during the summer. Many European cyclists adore this route.
Try to plan your cycle tour to coincide with Swiss National Day. The rock song by Deep Purple, Smoke on the Water pertains to the evening fireworks from Montereax on the lake of Geneva shoreline. Bet you never knew that. If you’re at Montroux, take the south easterly direction into the Rhone valley toward Martigny. You’ll have almost flat valley roads nestled among the beautiful mountains. Vineyards hang from the steep hills and you’re bound to see one of the zany, Rube Goldberg-esque chair-lifts that get workers up into the steep vineyards and probably get skiers up into the hills in winter.
Ecuador (Central America) – Small Yet Diverse
This Latin American country is one of the smallest on the continent. If your cycling from the Peruvian border in the south of Ecuador, it will take a few days to get to Guayaquil, the country’s largest city. You will feel the climate change from the dry western coast to the tropical upland forests. You will want to visit the neighbourhood of Las Penas, the oldest part of the old city. Perched on a hill, you won’t be able to bike up the 456 stairs into the neighbourhood. The Galapagos islands are one of the outstanding attractions of Ecuador, but it is a stretch off the coast, hardly bikable.
Instead, go to Isla de la Plata. Whales gather there to breed. You will also see lots of turtles, and a colony of blue-footed boobie birds – a comedic treat to watch. Getting to the capital, Quito, you will be travelling uphill through some very lush and green valleys. From Quito to Cayambe you will cross the equator. From there north, you can choose a 25 km downhill roll on a cobblestone street. It’s a beautiful ride but hard on the cones and bearings, so take it easy.
California (North America) – Descent to San Francisco
Working your way south to San Francisco, you’ll find many roads with bike route markings. One of them is very nice but too short. Much of California’s Highway 1 is not the easiest route; it’s hilly and often too narrow. If you prefer to camp, you’ll want to figure the state parks on your route. They offer great night rates for hikers and bikers. The roads aren’t so good; you will encounter a lot of SUVs roaring by. Once you hit Bodega Bay, the roadsides improve and you’ll find alternate routes. Of course, the highlight is cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge.
The bike route near North Beach intersects, more or less, with Montgomery Street. Then eventually you’ll be in the thick of downtown congestion. Lodging in the heart of San Francisco is pretty expensive. Head to the Sunset District for more reasonable rates. Take public transport back into town if you want to do some sight-seeing. The Muni Trains run often enough and don’t stop until late, but be sure and check. If you’re into it, check out a few dance clubs in the Castro.
African Routes – Real Danger or Not
No doubt about it, Africa is a cycle adventurer’s dream, but street protests, coups, border fighting, civil wars, and other sorts of breaking news could make one think twice, or thrice, about biking there. According to many biking sources, cycling through Africa is probably a bit safer than South America, yet it’s probably not as safe as most Asian routes. Common sense will help you avoid most trouble.
Cities are the most dangerous, give them a wide go-round. At least don’t go through slums and flash cash. Avoid lonely stretches of road chosen by bandits. If you are accosted, hand over your cash and your camera, and you’ll probably be okay. Of course, don’t bike through an area known for unrest or in the throes of a civil war. Nigeria, DRC-Congo, and South Africa are probably the most dangerous countries.
Some harrowing tales can be found on the web about bicycle tours in Africa. One describes a trip from South Africa to Ethiopia. Slogging through sand or being chased by herd boys are typical for some routes. Some closely dangerous situations are recounted in some of these diaries, but they are usually overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers that the bikers experience and the beauty of the African landscape through which they ride.
Get Out Your Maps, Open Your Tour Guides, Start Dreaming
This article is not a comprehensive list of the cycling adventures you can encounter on our big blue planet, and it certainly cannot point out the absolute must-see routes for all bikers, but it should give you a point to start planning. Or push you to find out about the more gruelling routes, or the more beautiful routes, available to an avid and experienced cyclist. Of course, you already know that the best way to see our wonderful globe, and meeting its wonderful inhabitants, human and animal, is by sliding slowly through it all on two singing wheels.