Iceland has some of the best Adventure riding in the world. In one day, you can visit areas that are green with vegetation, travel over a lunar-like landscape, ride past glaciers, traverse a mountain road, and go for a swim in the ocean. It has become one of my favorite adventure riding places on the planet. Ready for a visit?
Iceland is very much worth the time and effort to research and plan. Once you get there, you will find little traffic, great riding, and amazing scenery. However, if time isn’t a factor, get off the paved Ring Road and onto the dirt and gravel roads. Most are very well maintained. There will be some potholes and occasional loose surfaces, but you will not need advanced off-road skills for the regular dirt roads. But before you get off the pavement, there are a few things you should know. The first thing to know is to be prepared. Do your research before you go.
- Most people tour the country by traveling Route 1, which is also called the Ring Road. It circumnavigates most of the island nation and is paved. The Ring Road will let you find most of the common Icelandic attractions. If you don’t have much time, the Ring Road will be your best bet. You can get a feel for the country and its natural resources by making a lap.
- Looking for a little more adventure? Get off the paved Ring Road and onto the dirt and gravel roads. Most are very well maintained. There will be some potholes and occasional loose surfaces, but you will not need advanced off-road skills for the regular (non-“F”) dirt roads (more later on Iceland’s “F” roads). However, Iceland is really about enjoying nature and the environment. So if you are ready to ride on dirt/gravel roads, there are far better roads to ride.
- Don’t miss the Northwestern Highlands (Fjords). The roads are largely dirt but they are generally very well maintained. Take the time to ride to the Latrabjarg bird cliffs even if you hate birds. The ride there is worth it. You’ll take narrow dirt roads on the side, over and around several mountains. The view from these roads is spectacular.
- Iceland’s “F” roads are authorized for 4 wheel drive vehicles, motorcycles and ATVs only. Road intersections are generally well marked throughout Iceland. When you see an “F” road, chances are that it will be a great ride. Look for them and you won’t be disappointed. The “F” roads are generally hard packed dirt. There are some potholes and occasionally there were be sandy or rocky sections. You may also find water-crossings on “F” roads.
- If you like water crossings, do not miss riding in one of their national parks; Landmannalaugar. It runs through the center of the nation, has almost no traffic and amazing scenery. Generally, it’s best to ride at the sides of the crossings as 4 wheeled vehicles often use the middle and dig down deeper than on the sides.
- Don’t forget to visit some of Iceland’s impressive glaciers. You can get close to them and actually walk them. You may even get lucky and see some icebergs calving.
- Roads can be narrow and guardrails few and far between. Pay attention to changing road surfaces. Don’t end up like this guy (no one was hurt).
- If you want a little pavement adventure, try riding one of the subterranean single lane tunnels. There are several in Iceland. Throughout the length of these tunnels, there are small “pull-offs” marked with “M”s to let opposing traffic pass.
- Make it a priority to see some of Iceland’s major waterfalls. Falls like the Dynjandi (Northwestern Fjords), Sellfoss and Dettifoss (North), Gullfoss and Seljalandsfoss (South) are highlights. You can even take a short somewhat steep walking trail to a shelf behind the Seljalandsfoss and watch the water as it pours down in front of you.
Now for some of the things that you need to know.
- Cell reception is spotty. Bringing a satellite messenger/phone is a good idea.
- Shipping your bike to Iceland from the USA can be difficult. If you are going for less than 3 weeks, it’s probably best to rent when you get there. Note that if you rent, you will likely have to hire a guide if you want to take the “F” roads. If you do want to take your own bike, Air Canada has a summer program that can fly you to England from Montreal and Toronto. Once in Europe, you’ll need to ride and take ferries. Finding ferries in Europe is not difficult and there are websites to help you plan your sailings. As you can imagine, getting your bike to Iceland can be time consuming and expensive.
- The best weather can be found during the months of June, July, and August with June and July being the driest.
- During these times temperatures usually average 50-60 F (10 – 15 C). But temperatures can and do change quickly and drastically.
- Be mindful of the wind. What appears to be a nice breeze can turn into extreme gale force winds on the windward side of mountains and mountain passes. Riders have been blown off their bikes.
- Make sure to bring warm clothing that can be layered. Some days you will need little, others will require you to bundle up.
- Iceland and Icelanders are very mindful of the environment. Their country is beautiful and they want to keep it that way. Many roads are closed in fall and remain that way until well into the Spring/Summer. There is no set date, they are only opened after the weather has warmed and the earth dried. Do not ride on closed roads, it is dealt with very harshly with large fines.
- You can find road closures and conditions by checking Iceland’s official road page. You can also call for information by dialing +354 522 1100 or 1777 (when you are there). If you suffer an emergency, the number to call is 112.
- If you plan to camp, there are several places in fairly isolated areas. Plan ahead and know where they are and if they are open. Bring your own food and water. Take your trash with you.
Iceland is indeed a place where ADV riders can truly experience adventure. Just make sure you do your research and plan thoroughly. It will make your riding experience all the more pleasurable and safe.
If you would like to see more of Iceland, check out our two Icelandic threads in the forum. Kim and Mike’s Most Excellent 2009 Icelandic Adventure and Kim and Mike’s Most Excellent 2010 Ride To Lava & Ice.