10 great cycling destinations

27th May 2014

Keen for a cycling trip but not sure where to start your saddling ambitions? Take your pick from our top destinations to explore by bike

Hayley Lawrence

A cycling adventure can't be beaten if you are looking for the freedom of the open road and a chance to meet the locals.

1. Switzerland

The French Alps or, more specifically, Morzine, is often considered the most popular European destination for mountain bikers, but Switzerland’s Valais region is the Continent’s cycling secret. There you can follow the Rhône River as it cuts through the mountains to the shores of Lake Geneva, enjoying gobsmacking alpine scenery without too many calf-busting ascents. Instead, preserve your energy for tackling the local gastronomy and wines, as you trundle along smooth and uncrowded roads, past vineyards, castles and lowland villages all the way to the slick city of Geneva.

If Switzerland's peaks beckon, but you're too wobbly to explore by bike, how about combining your cycling trip with a trekking itinerary - and follow in the footsteps of the first 'package' holiday, in 1863?

2. New Zealand

Is there any department in which this country doesn’t excel? New Zealand is perfect for all types of cyclists – there’s very little traffic, wide open roads and beautiful, undulating scenery to pedal through, from rugged coast to glacier-clad mountains.

The Queen Charlotte Track squeezes an awful lot into its 71km, following skyline ridges over the Marlborough Sounds to subtropical forests brimming with native wildlife. Leave your luggage with porters who will deliver it to your next overnight stop, leaving you free to be enchanted by the beaches and forests all the way from Ships Cove to Anakiwa.

Up for a weeks-long cycling adventure? Check out the recently-opened  'Nga Haerenga' nationwide cycle trail, too: it's part of a drive make New Zealand's outdoor sports even more accessible for tourists. The route boasts almost 25,000km of tracks!

3. USA

If you’re prepared to load up your panniers for the full-on American cycling expedition, pedal a section of the Continental Divide Trail, which stretches almost 5,000km from Canada to Mexico. Alternatively, the Sierra Nevada wraps the magic of the USA into a bite-sized parcel of amazing mountain and coastal scenery.

The Tahoe Rim Trail is the day trippers’ choice – the winding track includes exhilarating descents through wild, ancient forests, plus views of mountain peaks and hidden beaches around Lake Tahoe. And, if your pedal power is up to it, there are other world-class runs in the region – try the Flume Trail and Mammoth Mountain.

Long-distance cyclist Vanessa Knight toured the USA by bike, travelling over 2,000km. She spoke to Wanderlust about the highs and lows of the journey. Her best bit? "The beauty of the incredible fauna and flora. From meteor craters, to high altitude semi-deserts, to vast ice-capped mountains and sweeping, arid valleys littered with tumbleweed and dust."

4. Cuba

Where bikes outnumber cars by 20 to one, travelling by two wheels is really the only polite way of getting around. Follow Fidel’s history from the streets of Havana to the deep forests of the Sierra Maestra – the roads might not be smooth, and don’t expect to keep up with the locals (even if your bike outshines their vintage numbers), but the culture, coastlines and jungle-covered mountains make free-wheeling from tip-to-toe of the island a pleasure.

The hills can be punishing (as Lizzie Matthews found out as she navigated the island by bike), so leave some spare time to recuperate on the picture-postcard beaches, and reserve some energy to dance to the rhythms of salsa, sounding through the cities of Havana and Santiago de Cuba.


5. Vietnam

It’s cheap as chips to rent a bike and join the race cycling from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, but variable road conditions and kamikaze traffic have taken away the romance of this classic route.

It's better to pedal in the north, among the mist-tipped highlands where the H’mong, Dao and other minority hill tribes reside. Ride beyond the west side of the Hoang Lien mountain range, past paddy fields, waterfalls and forest thickets, and then from Sapa up into even more remote villages and the cone-shaped peaks of Bac Ha. If you miss the chaos of the big cities, just join in the bustle of the Saturday markets as you pass through - and always keep an eye out for the crazy loads that local cyclists carry. You'll be glad you've just got panniers in tow!

6. Jordan

Jordan might not be on every cycling enthusiast’s wish-list just yet, but those in the know are ditching their camels for a smoother desert ride in the saddle of a bicycle.

Pack a sense of adventure and your own repair kit, and spend a week freewheeling the scenic route between the archaeological wonders of Amman and Aqaba. Veer off the highway at Madaba, cycle on past Mount Nebo and you can see the Dead Sea and avoid the steep Wadi Mujib valley.

Then, with Petra, the Dana Nature Reserve and Wadi Rum each less than a day’s ride apart, there’s more than enough to keep you entertained all the way to Aqaba.

If you're lacking self-confidence, it's easy enough to plan a self-drive trip around Jordan and stick a bike in the boot of the car. A nifty idea if you'd like to venture off-road a little, or just fancy a few hours' cycling here and there.

7. Japan

It might not be as sleek as the bullet train, but cycling is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in Japan. The cities are mostly cyclist-friendly (Tokyo is easy to navigate, and if you're keen to combine pedal power with sightseeing there are guided tours available too), but this mode of transport really comes into its own in the countryside - as Doug McKinlay found out on Shikoku Island.

You'll probably find that your mode of transport breaks down the social barriers in rural areas - and while ascents can be tough (especially when cycling the bridge-heavy Setonai Shimanami Kaido), bike hire is cheap and the landscape is invigorating.

8. Bolivia

Bolivia’s Cordillera Real boasts a staggering combination of mountain tundra, plummeting descents, Inca trails and cloud forests. Base yourself in Sorata and explore the maze of tracks that riddle the area, or tackle ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Road’, which drops from the snow plains of La Paz to the steaming jungle at Coroico in just 64km.

Hire a local guide in La Paz and you may also experience the secret grandaddy of all downhills – ten hours of the wildest descent imaginable. But don’t let vertigo bar you from Bolivia – the perfect white flats of the Salar de Uyuni make for an out-of-this-world biking experience if you’re prepared to undertake this four-day challenge.

9. Iceland

Skirting icecaps and volcanoes while cycling across the primordial landscape of Iceland is arguably one of the wildest and most remote two-wheeled experiences in the world. From the lava fields and black sand (ash) deserts, cycle into the Icelandic Highlands and back down into the valleys, stopping to explore waterfalls, mossy craters and glacial rivers.

The dramatic terrain makes for a demanding adventure, but the effort is more than worth it when you soothe your aching muscles in natural hot pools under the midnight sun. This is prime country for horse trekkers, too, so consider a multi-activity itinerary if you're feeling adventurous.

10. Kazakhstan

Some of the most extreme mountain-biking terrain in the world beckons in the foothills of Kazakhstan’s Tien Shan mountains. The term ‘foothills’ applies only loosely here – these peaks and ridges soar to 5,000m.

High plateaus, jaw-dropping scenery, encounters with nomadic tribes and adrenalin-fuelled descents are some of the main drawcards of the region, as is the scarcity of other crazy bikers. But it’s the opportunity for heli-biking that makes this area the tops – you can be dropped so high up in the clouds that the ride back down to the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul is nothing short of death-defying. Just make sure you know your 'Stans first...

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 Your Comments (3)

  • 30th May by equatorkid

    Cycling on New Zealand roads!  Huh!!  Yes, the cycle tracks are wonderful, including the Queen Charlotte track.

    BUT - having lived in NZ for 13 years, leaving 7 years ago .... let me warn any one who wants to cycle on the roads.  You take your life in your hands.

    New Zealand drivers are dreadful.  The concept of slowing down to pass a cyclist, of giving a cyclist a wider berth is unheard of. 

    New Zealand has one of the highest road toll rates per capita.

    Be warned ... yes, the scenery is beautiful but the drivers are crap and cycling on NZ roads is hazardous and not relaxing. 

    Take Care.

    Report as inappropriate
  • 16th September by Vietnam Bikers

    The traffic's quite busy somewhere and road condition in Vietnam is not so good but the scenery and the interest you'll get along the cycling/motorbiking roads is wonderful. Please check out our blog for motorcycle touring in Vietnam: http://hanoimotorcycletour.com/

    Report as inappropriate
  • 24th December by jhonerben

    howdy, your websites are really good. I appreciate your work. funny snapchats

    Report as inappropriate



Key Facts

  • Kazakhstan

    Kazakhstan travel guide, including map of Kazakhstan, top Kazakhstan travel experiences, and tips for travel in Kazakhstan

  • Vietnam

    Vietnam travel guide, including map of Vietnam, top Vietnam travel experiences, tips for travel in Vietnam, plus where go and what to do in Vietnam

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