Searching for inspiration for a life changing bike ride? Or just fancy riding some of the most beautiful routes in the world? Then have a browse through the ten rides listed below, a mere sample of the selection on offer in the new book Epic Bike Rides of the World by Lonely Planet.
- 20 essentials for epic mountain bike rides
- 9 steps to your own life-changing adventure
- Best gravel and adventure bikes
From stunning singletrack to rides that take in the culture and atmosphere of the big city, and from Northern climes to high deserts, there's a destination (and terrain) to suit every rider. Which one will you head for first?
1. Dingle Peninsula, Ireland
Between the craggy range of mountains and rocky cliffs that plunge into the Atlantic, the Dingle Peninsula is a joy for cyclists, who can ride a demanding day-long loop that passes historic ruins, roaring coastline and amazing beaches.
The peninsula is something of an open-air museum, dotted with more than 2,000 Neolithic-Age monuments built between 4000BC and early Christian times. The village of Dunquin has many crumbling rock homes that were abandoned during the famine and you’ll also pass the Gallarus Oratory, one of Ireland’s most well preserved ancient Christian churches.
As you near the end of the loop, pull off for a quick stop at the 12th-century Irish Romanesque church with its ancient cemetery before returning to Dingle Town, where you’ll find plenty of pubs (many of which are hardware stores by day) to toast the adventure.
- Start/End: Dingle Town
- Distance: 25 miles (40km)
2. Tour D'Afrique
Tour d’Afrique lives up to its name: a ride across the entire continent of Africa. It’s tough on the bike and grueling on the body.
A long-distance race from Cairo to Cape Town, Africa’s traditional northern and southern extremities. This annual test of endurance covers around 7,500 miles (around 12,000km) divided into eight stages of 14 days, with four months to ride the continent end-to-end. And while some pedal the whole distance, those with less time can ride just a stage — which is no mean feat in itself.
- Start: Cairo, Egypt
- End: Cape Town, South Africa
- Distance: Approx 7,500 miles (approx. 12,000km). The route varies but usually goes via Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia. Riders can opt to do the race (with competitive sections most days) or the ‘expedition’ (which means just taking part)
- Duration: Covering the entire distance requires around 120 days, divided into 90 riding days and 30 rest/sightseeing days
- When to ride: The Tour d’Afrique is organised every year, usually mid-January to mid-May, by TDA Global Cycling
- More info: Support trucks carry supplies and camping gear. Some riders may also take advantage of a truck-ride to cut daily cycling distances
3. Heaphy Track, New Zealand
From May to September, over the Southern Hemisphere’s winter months, mountain bikers are permitted to ride one of New Zealand’s treasured Great Walks. The Heaphy Track through Kahurangi National Park in the northwest of the South Island was where the Department of Conservation trialed multi-use trails through a national park for the first time — many years after the gold rush of the west coast saw 19th-century prospectors tramping through these beech-forested hills.
Mountain bikers should expect to spend two nights on the trail, in order to experience this wild and wonderful place. In such a precious environment — the Heaphy passes through intensely varied habitats and landscapes — there are rules to follow: no groups larger than six, overnight accommodation only in huts (remove your saddle from the bike to stop kea parrots destroying it), and no night riding in order to protect the nocturnal kiwi and the giant (and carnivorous) land snail.
- Start: Collingwood
- End: Karma
- Distance: 50 miles (80km)
- More info: www.doct.gov.nz
4. Lofoten Islands, Norway
Not one for winter, when the islands are covered in snow and ice, but a dreamy summer trip, where families can enjoy cycling in the magical Arctic light, never-ending days, and even take a ride under the midnight sun.
This narrow chain of islands has more mountains than the rest of Norway put together, which makes for a dramatic panorama, yet, surprisingly, much of the cycling is on flat, easy terrain. Enjoy a landscape of jagged peaks, moorlands, lakes and fjords, while sea birds and eagles soar all around. You’ll find plenty of beaches to relax on and, if you’re feeling hardy, you can have an extremely refreshing dip in the icy sea.
- Start: Svolvær
- End: Henningsvær
- Distance: 16 miles (25.9km)
- More info: See www.lofoten.info/en/Bike
5. Ring Road, Iceland
There’s a reason why Iceland features on the to-do list of so many cycle tourers. Glaciers, geysers, lava fields, volcanoes, lunar landscapes and thunderous waterfalls are just a few of its geological delights, and reason enough for its nickname: the Island of Fire and Ice.
The paved Rte 1 — otherwise known as the Ring Road — is a popular undertaking, though head inland following its network of highland dirt roads to where the most remote and challenging terrain is to be found. A strong armory of waterproof clothing is de rigueur for cycling in Iceland, as inclement weather is rarely far away. Be sure to bring a sturdy tent too as incoming fronts roll in from the Atlantic, bringing stout winds in their wake.
Touring is best undertaken in the European summer, when the days are endlessly long and the temperatures milder.
- Start/End: Reykjavík
- Distance: 828 miles (1332km)
6. The covered bridges of Vermont
Drink in the flaming fall foliage, and gallons of gloopy maple syrup, on a cycling circuit between a handful of the US Northeast’s most winsome towns.
Riding through central Vermont in autumn is like cycling through a succession of mesmerising screensavers. Forested hillsides glow with traffic-light hues, red and amber and vibrant green. Red Dutch-gabled barns rise from cornfields, wooden covered bridges span serene waterways and pumpkins are piled at roadsides. It’s idealised New England turned up to 11 — and biking heaven.
- Start/End: Brandon, Vermont
- Distance: About 99 miles (160km) Brandon–Middlebury–(Vergennes)–Shoreham–Brandon
- Getting there: Rutland Airport is 22 miles (35km) south of Brandon. Cape Air flies from Boston Logan airport
- Tour:Inn to Inn offers a four-night package, including half-board accommodation, maps, route notes, bike hire and baggage transfers
- Bike hire:Green Mountain Bikes rents bikes from $30 per day and bikes can be delivered to inns
- When to ride: April to October. Foliage season is mid-September to mid-October, when rates rise and accommodation gets booked out
7. Ride with the Whitehorse Trails, Yukon Territory, Canada
Just under the curve of the Arctic Circle, in Canada’s ultra-remote Yukon Territory, Whitehorse offers magical mountain-bike trails beneath the midnight sun.
Studying a guide to Whitehorse’s mountain-bike tracks is a like eyeballing a plate of spaghetti dished up by an excessively flamboyant and generous chef. Some 435 miles (700km) of rideable trails have been mapped within the city limits of the Yukon Territory’s capital — 186 miles (300km) of sensational singletrack and 248.5 miles (400km) of delicious doubletrack and dirt roads.
Whitehorse occupies a position on the globe so far north that the sun barely sets for several weeks around the summer solstice, and the sky never gets properly dark. There’s even a 24-hour mountain-bike race here where using lights is against the rules. As Robert W Service, the bard of the Yukon, once observed: "There are strange things done in the midnight sun."
- Start/End: Whitehorse
- Distance: 31 miles (50km)
- Tour: You can ride independently (free) or with a local operator such as Boréale Explorers, which provides good-quality bikes, expert guidance and yurt-based accommodation in the midst of the trails
- What to take: A decent dual-suspension mountain bike, along with a helmet, some armour and all the usual spares and tools. Carry bear spray (seriously) and insect repellent
- When to ride: Unless you have a fat bike (a mountain bike with supersized tyres) tracks are only rideable May to October. Check out June’s 24 Hours of Light MTB festival
- More info: See www.yukonbiking.ca. Printed waterproof maps can be purchased in Whitehorse’s two local bike shops, Cadence Cycle and Icycle Sport
8. Buenos Aires' bike paths
The chaos, colour and character of the Argentinian capital’s barrios is best viewed from two wheels, as you ride through its past to its present.
From Jorge Luis Borges’ short stories of knife fighters and tango dancers who owned the street corners of the old city, to the elegant tree-lined avenues that hark back to the city’s golden age, street life is central to the Buenos Aires’ lore and legend.
It’s no different today, sidewalk cafes where the city’s handsome citizens while away hours, vendors selling everything from feather dusters to hammocks, and the city’s famous dog walkers wrangling hounds of every shapes and size: it all happens on the street. You don’t even need to go inside a museum to see some of the city’s best art — a thriving street art scene means you can enjoy contemporary masterpieces without ever dismounting your bike.
- Start: La Boca
- End: Parque de la Memoria
- Distance: 5½ miles (9km), but detours recommended
- Getting there: International travellers arrive at Ministro Pistarini Airport at Ezeiza. Flights from nearby countries land at Palermo’s convenient Jorge Newbery Airport
- Bike hire: Some hotels have free bikes for guests: try Casasur Bellini in Palermo or Biking Buenos Aires rents bikes by the hour and day
- Bike share: See www.turismo.buenosaires for a downloadable map
- Tours:Biking Buenos Aires has a good selection, including one dedicated to street art
- When to ride: Spring and from mid-October to December
- Bike purchases/repairs: Try Canaglia Bicicletas
9. Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Scenic variety suffuses one of the world’s classic trekking — and now biking — trails. Gawp at verdant rice terraces and the peaks of the Annapurna massif, dominated by the triple peak of Annapurna I (8,091m); the stark expanses of Mustang; the plunging gorge of the Kali Gandaki river; and bustling Hindu temples, including Muktinath, one of Nepal’s holiest sites.
Few tackle the circuit on two wheels, yet it’s a spectacular challenge, with 5,000m-plus passes, soothing hot springs at Tatopani and a friendly welcome (often accompanied with a side-order of cake or apple pie) at villages and teahouses en route.
- Start/End: Besisahar
- Distance: 186 miles (300km)
- Tour: KE Adventure is a respected international operator offering supported trips around the circuit
10. Corsican challenge
A sublime cycling journey through the heart of Corsica, the Mediterranean’s ‘L’île de Beauté’, riding part of the route of the 100th Tour de France.
Corsica is a mighty lump of rock, a chain of mountains protruding proudly from the Mediterranean Sea. With 21 peaks above 2,000m and over 150 cols, it is something of a nirvana for cyclists. There are glorious roads winding down through remote hamlets to turquoise coves; medieval villages untouched by the 20th century; chestnut groves, pine forests and canyons; challenging climbs and sweeping descents on well-paved tarmac with few cars; excellent local wines and sensational seafood as well as limestone hills and golden, sandy beaches, all set within a staggeringly lovely coastline. It is hard to think of another place that packs so much into such a small, beautiful space.
- Start/End: Bastia
- Distance: 281 miles (452km)
- Getting there: There’s an airport and ferry port in Bastia. Flights to European destinations are more frequent from June to late September. Day and overnight ferries run from several destinations in mainland France and Italy year-round
- Bike hire: In Bastia, try Europe Active
- When to ride: April, May, June, September and October: in July and August it’s hot and peak holiday season
- What to eat: If you’re pedalling round Cap Corse and feel like lunch, try L’Auberge du Chat qui Pêche in Canari
- What to drink: Local wines (especially from the Patrimonio area)
- More info: See www.corsicacyclist.com
Reproduced with permission from Epic Bike Rides of the World © 2016 Lonely Planet