New Years Day Ride in Iceland

Temperature 3 C (37F)
Light winds (12 kts from the east)
25 mile (40 km) loop of the tip of the Reykjanes Peninsula. 64N, 22W.
Bike: MTB (no way would I ride my skinny tire road bike on these roads)

Since the weather was outstanding by Iceland winter standards, that is, light winds and clear, I managed 25 road miles on New Years Day on the tip of the Reykjanes Peninsula.

This tip is called Miðnes (the funny d character is pronounced soft "th" as in "them", and may show up as one-half) and juts northward into the North Atlantic so the basic route was north, south, then east into the wind to complete the trip. Of course the last leg had to be into the wind. With sunrise after 11 AM, and sunset before 4 PM, timing a bike ride can be a problem. I ended up leaving about 1:30 after making sure the roads were clear. Fortunately the Iceland road department has a website giving road conditions (from OK, to krap (means slushy, but the english phonetic is true too), to icy, to closed. All my desired road were green. Starting at Njarðvík I proceeded north on route 41 and bypassed the city of Keflavík to the traffic circle heading to the International Terminal (Leifur Erikson). I then took route 45 to Garður. The road was totally clear of any ice, and traffic, as usual in Iceland, was light. Passing the golf course I saw the parking lot was filling up - but no one was playing - and cars were turning into the lot - guess there was a party at the clubhouse. This area is relatively flat, and the road gently undulated up and down as it crossed the black lava fields. The crosswind wasn't much fun though. The road was totally black, not a bit of ice. Shoulders were packed gravel, passable if I'd needed them. The air was very clear, and in the far distance I could see the Snæfellnes Peninsula 100 km (60 miles) across the ocean. I even saw the glint coming off Snæfellsjökull (a glacier), one of the middle ages "gates of hell."

As soon as I got the town of Garður (pop 1100) the road became covered with frost, as it was for the rest of the trip. It seemed that half the town was out walking about, but I was the only bike rider I saw. This being taciturn Iceland, the most you do is nod your head as you pass. Seemed every firth house had the Icelandic flag flying; how often they have to be replaced I have no idea. At the lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula there were 5 vehicles, and folks were walking along the beach and watching the sea birds. After walking to the old lighthouse, I got back on the bike (feet starting to get cold) and headed SW to Sandgerði (pop 1300). Nice tailwind. This being New Years Day, everything was closed, even the pizza parlor. Lots of fishing boats in the harbor. The road paralleling the coast was covered with frost, and I listened to the sheep dogs bark at the farms I passed. The land along the route is mostly volcanic, lots of rocks, and a few areas here hay can be grown. I saw quite a few fish racks - that is, wooden tripods for drying fish, but the smell of the sea was prevalent. I was glad there were no fish drying this time of year as the smell can be a bit overwhelming.

The final leg was SE across the peninsula and into the wind. This road was totally frost clear, so I figure the frost clear roads either have a different pavement type, or are heated by having the town's geothermal pipes routed under them (both towns get their heating water from the Blue Lagoon, 20 kms away). Not much to see other than the black volcanic terrain and the afternoon flight arriving at the airport. Overall 25 miles, not bad for a winter ride on a mountain bike. As I finished I saw the full moon rising as the sun was setting.

Bad points: wind, cold (after 5 minutes in the shower my feeling in my toes returned).

Good points: wind (not much by Iceland standards), warmth (above freezing), clear sky, great vistas, ice and snow-free roads, low traffic density, I was able to get in a ride at this time of the year.

What a great New Years Day for a new biking resident of Island.

Richard Gardner

(Posted on usenet 2 januari 1999)

He also posted this on 6 may 1999 as reply on a Cycling in Iceland question :

Iceland. I recently moved here and have no plans for bike touring since I have a four-wheel drive vehicle; my rides are all day rides (drive somewhere on a nice day then ride). Too many places I want to visit are not reachable by bike, and there aren't too many bike tourers here either. The web pages listed by other will give you much useful information which I will not repeat. Make sure you look through all the links on Michiel Erens pages. The only link I'd add is Daily News from Iceland, which also has a link to the road conditions in Iceland.

Why don't I tour here? The weather. Days without strong winds are infrequent. Also the roads have little or no shoulder. I may go touring on the Continent this year though. I doubt I'll do my usual 800km / 500 mi trip this summer. This place is great for short mountain biking trips, but touring is problematic.

Already this year I've seen a few cycling tourists, but today's weather in Reykjavik is 10C, light rains and 25-35 kt winds (12-17 m/s) - so marginally ridable. On Sunday we saw a lone cyclist out past Gullfoss; hope he is out of the weather today. It was reported in the papers last week (check Daily News for a reference last week) that there are heavy bookings in June and August for hotels, and that flights are already heavily booked. I know that the car rental/hire situation is also getting tight.

Despite common perception, I don't think Iceland is really all that expensive. Alcohol, meat, imported goods and hotels are expensive; fish, guesthouses and coffee are reasonable. Note however, I did NOT say cheap. Almost nothing is cheap here, and the stuff the tourist is steered to is usually at the higher end, but you can get a Pyulsa (lamb-dog) and Coke for $3 (99 kr at IKEA). To an American, gasoline at $1 US/litre may be high, but it is 30% less than the UK. I stayed in a guesthouse this past Saturday (off-season) for 1000 kr per person ($14 US), bring your own bedding. It was also snowing in the interior. And yes, I did have my Mtn bike with me just in case a ride was possible.

The best book I've seen on the people is Xenophobe's guide to the Icelanders (ISBN 1-902825-32-2, available at larger bookstores, I've seen it in Borders). This book discusses the national psyche in a way you won't find in the guidebooks (The Lonely Planet is the best one in English). Maps are available at Mal og Menning on "The Walking Mall" Laugavegur (or at Landmaelingar Islands 178 Laugaverur). Don't waste money on a language book as there are no good ones available outside Iceland (OK, books are expensive here too). And you won't be pronouncing it correctly in any case.

If you decide just to do the classic 3-day stopover then try to do so with a Friday or Saturday stopover to see the Reykjavik nightlife. Amazing what happens in a country of less than 300.000 (warning: extremely heavy drinking involved).

(Posted on usenet 6 may 1999)

I also found this one at

Author: Richard Gardner
Date: 11-17-01 09:54

Having lived in Iceland, the MOST MODERN COUNTRY IN THE WORLD (one of the few Icelandic claims that I actually agree with), I must refute your claim of few paved roads. I will agree that there are few roads however, but most of these few roads are paved. In the civilized world, Iceland has to be one of the most challenging places to ride a bicycle. Most of the bike tourists are "crazy Germans" (direct translation from Icelandic) and every bike touring book I know of is in German. The best English language guidebook is from Lonely Planet. Your decision on bike type depends on your route. Tom Gibb has some good info on his page.

The biggest problem from a cyclist's perspective with Iceland is the weather. It is usually windy (or rainy). My rule of thumb (having a car) was that I would not ride it the winds were over 10 m/s (20 kts). Often I would pass "crazy German" bike tourists trying to go into a 30 mph headwind. I would then agree with the Icelandic description "crazy German." (not necessarily German, but that is the phrase)

If you go into the interior, a MTB is a necessity. A good touring bike could handle the Kjolur route however. Thorsmork rivers are impassable to all bikes - take the bus or risk your life. Landmannalauger depends on the winter snowfall; some years 4WD vehicles can't make it.

As for Hot Springs, there really aren't that many. Lots of Geothermal energy, but few hot springs you can jump into. But see swimming pools below. And you really must go to the Blaa Loni­ (Blue Lagoon) near the airport at least once. Flying West it is a good stop before going to the USA or Canada.

Icelandic food. Pizza, Hamburger? (Pizza, hamborgari). Pizza 69 and Dominos are pretty good, but I don't like Pizza Hut. Actually, food is very expensive and not much different than Denmark. Har­fiskur (Fish jerky) is a fantastic protein food; I think the best is Steinbitur (Ocean Catfish/Wolffish). The cheeses are outstanding. But any red meet is incredibly expensive. I do recommend the vacuum packed marinated sheep shoulders cutlets (lambakjot). Also, make sure you max out on you duty-free booze allowance when you enter the country; even if you don't drink you can make friends that way. The Bonus chain is probably the cheapest supermarket.

Plusses to Icelandic cycling: