Cycling Iceland’s Ring Road – Part 1 of 3

On June 7th, 2019, I and my longtime friend Duffy, set out to Cycle Iceland’s Ring Road. Here is part one of the day-to-day breakdown of our Iceland bicycle touring experience.

Cycling the Ring Road – Day One (36 Miles)

Due to the airline losing our bicycles on the previous day, we ended up getting a late start. They did arrive early as expected, but traveling back and forth from the airport took most of the morning. Once we had our bikes, we had to unbox and assemble them. We put our bicycles together at the Bike Cave, a great little cafe/bike shop near the domestic airport, we stored our bike boxes in their shipping container, and we were off.

We left Reykjavik around 2:30 on a Friday afternoon and headed North on Iceland’s Ring Road. Using the Ventusky application to check the wind forecast, we decided on a clockwise cycling tour of the Ring Road.

Person and Bicycle Iceland

Cold morning near our campground in Meðalfell, Iceland

Traffic was busy. It seemed everyone else had the same “get out of town” mentality as us. Luckily, the first half of the ride was along Reykjavik’s well-maintained bike paths.

After a few hours of cycling, we had a decision to make. Just before the town of Akranes, there is a tunnel under the fjord that does not allow bicycles. The options are, catch a bus, hitch a ride, or go around. We chose the later.

The route around the tunnel would add about 40 miles to our ride. However, the scenery was stunning, and there was no traffic. I highly recommend the detour if you have the time.

We did get our first taste of an Iceland headwind when we made our turn. With adrenaline pumping on our first day out, we didn’t care. We rode on and found a campsite a few miles off the route near the town of Meðalfell.

We finished the day with a total of 36 miles and 1,781ft of elevation gain. Not bad for a late start.

Cycling the Ring Road – Day Two (52 Miles)

We hit the road around 6:00 am. The skies were clear, and the wind was light. We encountered some steep climbs, but our legs were still fresh, and we tackled them without a second thought.

While eating a late breakfast of “Viking bread” and smoked lamb at the Bjarteyjarsandur campground, some locals told us of a mountain pass using Iceland’s Route 520 as a way to return to the Ring Road. They spoke of a hill but said the scenery was phenomenal and worth the extra effort.

On our trip, we found the locals would consistently give lousy advice when it came to climbs on the route. The “hill” was a leg burner, and the second climb that was never mentioned was incredibly hard. For the first time ever, I had to push my bike. Partially due to the grade, but more so from the brutal headwind.

We finished the day with 2,766ft of elevation gain and 52 miles. However, due to having to make a downwind retreat to the town of Borgarnes for food and accommodations, we only made 40 miles of forward progress.

Two days in and we were already falling behind schedule. The wind and climbs were much more difficult than I expected and I began to feel concern for our ability to finish cycling the Ring Road in only fourteen days.

Cycling the Ring Road – Day Three (60 Miles)

Today was a new day. Winds were predicted to subside later in the evening, so we set a goal of 64 miles in hopes of getting us back on schedule.

We did have a headwind from the start. It slowed us slightly, but it was tolerable. As we started the first significant climb of the trip around 2:00 pm, our pace slowed to a crawl.

Around 5:00 pm, still working on our climb, we decided to nap along a river on the side of the road. We were exhausted. At 7:00 pm, Duffy woke me. The wind was now blowing at a steady 30 mph. We had to get moving or risk spending the night on the pass.

Pushing Bicycle Ring Road

Duffy pushing is bicycle due to a 30 MPH headwing

The headwind was relentless. Again we had to push the bikes. I had a profound feeling of hopelessness; completing the Ring Road was starting to seem like an impossible challenge. All I could do was grind forward by putting one foot in front of the other, pushing my bike.

We finally traversed the summit and started a 9 mile downhill run. The wind was hitting us in the face, and even though we were heading down a significant grade, we still had to pedal hard to make forward progress. It suckec.

Exhausted, at 10:30 pm took refuge at an N1 gas station. We were too worn to continue the last 4 miles to the campsite. With the headwind, this would have taken over an hour. We slept outside in the gas stations smoking area.

Again we finished the day short of our goal. With 14 hours of riding, we only covered 60 miles with 2,041ft of elevation.

Cycling the Ring Road – Day Four (53 Miles)

Eating Lunch Ring Road

A cold lunch on the side of the road

The morning was freezing. The temperature without the windchill was 37 degrees. Not at all what we had expected this time of year. We made coffee in the N1 parking lot and were on our way. We would have liked to have waited for the gas station to open, but like everywhere else in Iceland, they kept very short operating hours and wouldn’t open until 9:00 am.

We were now on the North side of the island. Under sunny skies, we turned to the East and spent the day riding towards the touristy town of Blönduós.

We finished the day late in the afternoon and set-up up camp. Across from the campground was another N1 gas station. We ate there, as we would many times on our Ring Road tour.

N1’s are one of the few consistent spots to get a hot meal outside of Reykjavik. We took advantage of this every chance we got.

In total, we covered 53 miles with a minimal elevation gain.

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