Iceland’s Ring Road Cycling Guide
Here is my version of an Iceland’s Ring Road Cycling Guide. In it, I describe my experience while doing a 14-day circumnavigation of Iceland’s Ring Road. In this post, I will focus on the things I wish I knew before starting. It’s not meant to be a complete guide, but hopefully, it will help others plan a similar trip.
How Difficult is it to Cycle the Ring Road?
In June of 2019, a long-time friend (@duffyworsham), and I (@bufferboesch) set out to Cycle Iceland’s Ring Road in its entirety. We had planned the trip for months. We diligently researched and prepared for our journey. Despite all our preparation, we were still surprised to find how difficult a Ring Road bicycle tour can be.
For context, I am 49 years old and would consider myself in above average condition. I have a background in ultrarunning with numerous 100-kilometer, 50 mile, and 50-kilometer races under my belt. I even have a 100 mile finish from a few years ago.
I was new to bicycle touring and had only traveled by bicycle once before, and that was in January of the same year. I had completed a 1,400 mile, unsupported solo ride from Hanoi, Vietnam to Bangkok, Thailand without much difficulty.
Because I don’t like riding in Florida, my bicycle tour training for Iceland consisted of daily 9-mile runs with longer runs on the weekend for the two months leading up to the trip.
With all that said in regards to my fitness level, cycling Iceland’s Ring Road was extremely tough physically and mentally. Every day was an absolute soul-sucking struggle until the end. It took everything I had to finish in 14 days.
Despite the difficulty, it is an amazing and absolutely stunning ride.
How is the Weather on the Ring Road?
While planning, we repeatedly read warnings about the Iceland weather. Mainly the wind, but also it’s unpredictability. All of this turned out to be accurate. Our bicycle tour from day one was a relentless battle against the elements — a razor-thin line between success and failure.
For June, our research indicated an average temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit. For at least ten of the fourteen days we cycled the Ring Road, temperatures were in the mid 30’s the entire day and night.
I believe the reason for the discrepancy is due to the location of the cities used to calculate the average. In Iceland, the towns are not at the higher altitudes such as mountain passes and highland plateaus. While cycling, this is where you will spend most of your days. And on our ride, it was not just cold but freezing at the higher elevations. So plan accordingly.
If I had it to do over, I would bring better gloves and foot protection
We also found that most wind forecasts were very inaccurate. Again, this was due to the higher altitudes. Each mountain and mountain range made its own wind. Not only did we find the wind speeds significantly higher than predicted, but the forecasted wind direction was never correct either. On most days, the direction would change multiple times depending on the geography. At some point during each day, we found our forward progress considerably slowed by a strong headwind.
Cycling the Ring Road Clockwise or Counter-Clockwise?
We chose to do a clockwise tour of the Ring Road. The decision came about by checking the long-range wind forecast by using the Ventusky application. It showed we would be fighting a headwind the first couple days, but after that, we would enjoy a tailwind for most of the trip.
In hindsight, despite the difficulties, and the inaccuracy of the forecast, I feel we made the right decision. I can’t say for sure, but the climbs on a counter-clockwise circumnavigation of the Ring Road seemed much steeper. Also, in my opinion, a clockwise bicycle tour leaves the most stunning scenery for the second half of your ride — something to look forward to.
What are the Iceland Ring Road Hazards?
The only other concern in regards to cycling the Ring Road, beside the weather, would be traffic and the lack of a shoulder.
For me, I did not find either of these to be a problem. The majority of the Ring Road traffic was very light, and in the more substantially traveled parts, drivers gave a lot of leeways when passing. Most passed entirely in the opposite lane. I always felt safe.
With that said, I was traveling the Ring Road right before the tourist season really kicked in. So, my experience could be different from someone cycling in July or August.
What is the Cost of Cycling the Ring Road?
The price of everything on the bicycle tour came as a huge surprise. I knew it would be expensive, but the cost of everything in Iceland is insanely high (cabs, hotels, campsites, and especially food).
I thought that by camping and shopping in grocery stores I would save money. I did, but it was still expensive.
There were parts of the Ring Road where the only food options were gas stations. Also, after a few hours of riding in the freezing rain, passing by a hot meal from a restaurant along the route was not an option. On average, I spent about $60 a day on food.
Camping along the Ring Road averaged between $15 and $20 a night. Commando camping was an option, but the lure of a hot shower and indoor kitchen always won us over. Something every campground offered.
Every few days we would opt for a guesthouse or hostel. We always had private rooms and we would spend between $80 – $120 for both of us. In the Southeast of Iceland, accommodation cost more, usually between $125 – $160.
On our bicycle tour, we used a Trawire mobile hotspot that we rented from the airport for $10 a day. It was well worth it. I can’t think of a moment we ever lost coverage. It was great for staying in touch with family, posting to social media, and reserving hotels.
WoW. It’s all really helpful, I’m really curious as to which way to go, clockwise or counter. Me and my friend are planning to go next year since this year is compromised, and we need more info. Do you reckon you can find every other day a hot tub/pool/spring?
Food options only gas stations? Do you reckon a supermarket could be found every 2 or max three days?
Thanks for the comment.
I went clockwise. I think it was the better choice. There’s tons of streams, lakes, etc on the Ring Road, but very few hot springs. I would estimate the longest we went without passing a supermarket was three days. Good luck! It’s the trip of a lifetime.
Hi, nice and practical info. regarding the trip.
Would it be cheaper if 4 or 5 people group together and do this trip?
Also is there any KML showing the route and pit stops along the route?
If I remember correctly, every hotel and campground we stayed at charged per person, so there wouldn’t be any savings by having a larger group. I do name each days stop in my blog posts, but that’s all I put together. However, there are numerous maps available online that detail the route. Good luck. It’s a tough trip, but we’ll worth the effort.
Hi, thanks for the info. I’m planning on doing half of the ring road next summer. I’m flying into Reykjavík and then leaving via the ferry from Seyðisfjörður. I can’t decide if I want to go to the north or south. Which half of the route did you like more?
The entire route is breathtaking, but if I had to choose I would say the South. It has glaciers along with more dramatic waterfalls and coastline.