My Top 10 Places in the World to Ride a Bike (so far)

With some forced downtime from travel due to Covid-19, I have had some time to reflect. I have cycled in 21 countries covering approximately 37,000km around this beautiful planet. While I have only been to maybe 10% of all countries, here is a list of my 10 favourite places I have ridden my bike. The order of least to most favourite changes often!

Where have I been on my bike?: Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Australia, New Zealand, Mongolia, Pakistan, India, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Canada, USA, Chile, Argentina, Greece, Nepal

These are routes that I cycled from 2011-2019 so obviously some of the information will not be up to date, but I hope it gives a decent overview. 

 

1. Mongolia (2015)


Why?: In my mind, Mongolia just may be one of the last frontiers for adventure travel. Wide open, vast and fenceless – it was a journey that for me, defined freedom. The landscape ranged from wide open steppe, pine forests, desert and mountains in the west. Being a nomadic country, the people are also incredibly welcoming and accustomed to travellers, because it is ingrained in the culture. I was often invited to stay with families in their gers (yurts). They fed me homemade noodles and suutei tsai (a milky, salty tea).  The country also has one of the lowest population densities on the planet. So, if you like space and remoteness – a trip across this amazing country is probably for you. 

Routes: I loved the ride from Tsetserleg to the North side of Terkhiin Tsagaan Lake and from Ulaangom to Ulgii

Camping: Without a doubt, one of the best places for wild camping. With not a whole lot of private land, you can pretty much pitch a tent anywhere. Sometimes, I asked to pitch my tent next to a ger, but I was often invited inside to stay with families as a result.

What bike?: The majority of Mongolia (in 2015 at least) was made up dirt roads and horse tracks. I had my Thorn Nomad mk2 with panniers and 2.15 inch tires. It did the job well. A mountain bike or a touring bike with a minimum of 2” tires will work. 

Dangers and annoyances: Unfortunately I have heard of more than a few women who have faced sexual harassment crossing Mongolia. Alcoholism is a big problem in some of the towns, and I generally wouldn’t hang around very long for this reason. I was groped by a drunk man on the outskirts of one town, but this was luckily the only incident. The families living in gers were amazing and I always felt very safe. Harassment can a real issue, however, so solo women should take this seriously and take necessary precautions. 

When to go: I travelled in Mongolia from early May until late June and I really enjoyed this time of year. It is still chilly, and snowed a few times, but the weather was pleasant overall and there were no mosquitoes! Travelling East to West, I often had strong headwind, which is common in spring. To see the rich green of the steppe and grasslands, summer is a better time to go. There is also the Nadaam cultural festival in July. Travelling outside of May to October you will likely have very cold weather and snow. Some brave souls have done the crossing in winter!

My Stories HERE

 

2. Australia (2016)

Why?: In many ways, the Australian landscape was like an alien planet for me. There are many plants and animals there that can be found nowhere else. It always exciting to be in such a foreign environment when you were already fairly well-travelled. The red dirt roads of the outback are the places to head for, if you don’t mind remoteness, carrying a ton of water (20 plus litres) and hoards of bush flies (luckily not the biting kind). Outback sunsets are truly unforgettable as is the feeling of absolute solitude. The bizarre and interesting wildlife sightings are always a highlight, such as kangaroos, koalas, dingoes, echidnas, wombats and thorny devils – the desert dwelling lizard that can collect water simply by touching it with any parts of its body. Australia is also much more than just desert – there is also stunning coastline and mountainous gum tree forests. 

Routes: The Great Central Road (dirt) from Laverton to Yulara and Uluru.  Mereenie Loop from Alice Springs (dirt and paved). Grand Ridge Road in Gippsland (dirt and paved), Barry Way in New South Wales to Victorian border (dirt and paved).

Camping: Very easy in the outback. On classic paved routes like the Great Ocean Road, it is much more difficult due to fences and private land. Wild animals generally are not a problem, though I would often keep my shoes inside of the tent due to snakes and spiders. 

What bike?: If sticking to the dirt roads, a tourer with 2” tires or bigger is recommend. The roads in the outback can be quite sandy and washboarded.

Dangers and Annoyances: The main issue will be traffic on the busier paved routes. I was warned about the road trains in the outback, but they were not as frequent as I expected on the Great Central Road. It is best to pull off and stop to let them pass and they will usually give you plenty of room anyways. Carrying a mirror is not a bad idea. There are obviously more than a few poisonous snakes, but they are often timid and with slither away. It never a good idea to wander through tall grass. because you may not see them!

When to go: Australian summer runs from November to March and can get crazy hot. Crossing the outback at this time is not recommended and is potentially dangerous, especially due to the lack of water. Tasmania would be fine this time of year. If crossing the outback, May to September would be ideal. I cycled in September, October and November when things were just starting to heat up. 

My stories HERE

3. Karakoram Highway, Pakistan (2015)

Why?: Pakistan, unfortunately is one of those countries that suffers from an image problem. Before 9/11, tourists flocked to the mountain paradise in the north that is the Karakoram Highway, a true marvel of engineering. As a solo woman, I was treated with non-stop kindness and respect. Locals were constantly trying to assure me that they were good people and would offer any help that I could possibly need. The Hunza Valley that the road passes through is absolutely spectacular and is rumoured to be an inspiration for “Shangri-La” in James Hilton’s “Lost Paradise” novel.  This road is unique because instead of climbing up and over high mountain passes, it sits low in the valley while giant mountains tower on all sides. On the way, you can hike to Mt. Rakaposhi Base Camp and see a spectacular glacial field. 

Route: The Karakoram Highway actually begins in the town of Tashkurgan in China. In 2015, no cycling was permitted from Tashkurgan in China to Sost in Pakistan via the Khunjerab Pass. The only way was by bus. From Sost, the Karakoram Highway officially ends in Islamabad, but I only cycled to Gilgit and took a bus to the city from there. 

Camping: I camped in some hostel backyards for a small fee, but never wild camped. It is generally not advised to wild camp, especially for a solo woman. 

What bike?: The Karakoram Highway is a paved road, so any bike will do. In 2015, I had heard that the road conditions worsened south of Gilgit, but I would say that a lot has changed since then.

Dangers and Annoyances: From Sost to Gilgit, I felt very safe and welcomed, even as a solo woman. I always covered my hair and wore long sleeves and pants. I was told by some in that part of the country that it wasn’t even necessary to cover my hair. I always did so out of respect. South of Gilgit, it is much more conservative and it is not recommended that women travel solo. Also, there were some security concerns at the time. I would strongly recommend taking a bus for the Gilgit-Islamabad section. 

When to go: May to October. I think spring or fall would be ideal. I was there in July and it was very hot in Gilgit and further south. 

My stories HERE

 

4. American West (2019)

Why?: As a teenager, I always dreamed of visiting the American West – especially the Southwestern desert with its spectacular red rocks and canyons. In 2019, I ended up following the newly created Wild West Bikepacking Route with some further detours into Utah. I passed through very interesting small towns and saw spectacular scenery. Even though the USA has a decently high population density, I cycled through large tracts of wilderness. Utah was an absolute highlight of my journey and is now one of my favourite places in the world. The American people were always friendly and kind. I didn’t pass through any town without someone coming to chat to me to give me their support or offer help if needed. 

Route: I followed the Wild West Route through Montana, Idaho, Utah and Arizona to the Mexican border. I also did some detours in Utah via Bears Ears Loop and Plateau Passage. 

Camping: Wild camping was very easy along the Wild West Route, as a lot of it is on public lands. It was notably more difficult in southern Idaho and northern Utah due to all the private land. Montana and Idaho in particular had a ton of free and well maintained state campgrounds.

What bike?: I used my trusty Thorn Nomad Mk2 with Schwalbe Marathon Extreme 2.25” tires (now discontinued). It worked well. I would recommend a fully rigid bike or hardtail with 2.2-2.5” tires. The ride is not technical, but there are plenty of very rough and rocky roads and ATV trails. I have not ridden a plus bike before, but the route creators mention  tires larger than 2.5” are not necessary for the route. Tubeless tires are also recommended for Arizona, but I used sealant in my tubes (added in Moab, Utah) and had no flats for the whole trip. 

Dangers and Annoyances: Montana and parts of Idaho are in grizzly bear country, so it is recommended to carry bear spray. There are also black bears in Utah and parts of Arizona. Never keep food in your tent and hang it high in a tree, especially in Montana and northern Idaho. There is very little traffic on the Wild West route. 

When to go?: I started in the Canadian Rockies in mid August and arrived at the Mexican border in early November. I found this to be perfect timing and had very little rain. It is a good idea to be out of Southern Idaho by late September before the snow comes. I had some very cold nights in Northern Utah in early October, one night at -10C in Soldier Summit. By this time of year, snow can return to the higher elevations in Utah. Starting the Southern Arizona section is unwise between May-early September and temperatures can exceed 100F.

My stories HERE

 

5. Indian Himalaya (2015)

Why?: Like the Karakoram Highway, the Manali to Leh highway is one of the most famous cycle touring routes in the world and rightfully so. It is epic and colourful mountain scenery at almost every turn. The Indian Himalayan region is also one of the strongholds for authentic Tibetan Buddhist culture. During China’s Cultural Revolution in the 60s and 70s, this part of Tibet was spared. While centuries old monasteries were destroyed in China’s Tibet during this time, many on the Indian side were spared. Another highlight (and massive challenge) for a cyclist is the crossing of the Taglang La pass at 5328m, the highest I have ever ridden on a bike.

I biked these routes with British round-the-world tandem team Marcus and Kirsty of shesnotpedallingontheback.com. I met them on the road in Amritsar.

Routes: Manali to Leh, Spiti Valley. Srinagar to Leh – taking the high road above Lamayuru is highly recommended. Check out Laura Stone’s Himalaya by Bike for route inspiration. 

Camping: On the Manali to Leh highway I did a combination of camping and stays in parachute tents. These tents are set up temporarily in the summer months. Here, you could order meals and snacks and sometimes sleep. I was travelling with a British couple whom I had met in Amritsar. I am not sure if it would be best for solo women to sleep in these tents because of the truckers passing through. In the Spiti Valley I mostly stayed in guesthouses which were plentiful and cheap. The same goes for the Kinnaur Valley region. On the Srinagar to Leh road in Kashmir,  camping is not recommended due to security concerns and military presence. 

What bike?: It is an ever-changing mix of smooth paved road, very rough “paved”  road and rough dirt. I think a sturdy touring bike is fine, with 1.75” tires or larger. Again, I had my Thorn Nomad with 2.15” Schwalbe Marathon Mondial tires. 

Dangers and annoyances: 

Traffic: There is a fair bit of truck traffic on the Manali to Leh road. Think cliffhangers and hairpin turns. When a truck is coming, it is best to get out of the way. In India, “big is boss” – no one is yielding to pedestrians or cyclists, but it is the other way around. This can take some getting used. The Spiti Valley had very little traffic. 

Altitude: You will cross several passes over 5000m and acclimatization needs to be taken seriously. Know the symptoms of altitude sickness and do not ascend higher if you are not feeling well. 

Stomach sickness- India is unfortunately know to give travellers many stomach bugs – dysentry is a common one. I recommend carrying an electrolyte solution like ORS (oral rehydration sachets). Hard one to avoid.

When to go: Late June to late September for all routes. After this, the passes will be blocked with snow and the roads will close. 

My stories HERE

 

6. Carretera Austral, Chile (2013)

Why?: I have heard that in recent years, the experience of cycling this road has changed considerably. More and more of it is being paved and some have complained of “heavy” traffic. This is hard for me to imagine, because in 2013  I maybe saw a few cars per hour on most of the route.  I guess with its increasing popularity, it may be losing its charm. But in 2013, it was paradise. Lush forests, mountains, glaciers, waterfalls  and the odd estancia (ranch), the Carretera Austral was an amazing dirt road ride. It was rugged, lonely and remote. Built in the 1970s, it connected a number of remote communities in Chilean Patagonia that were previously only accessible by boat. I biked this route with my dear friends and world cyclists Marianne and Heidi of Danish World Ventures.

Route: The road runs 1240km from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. There are several ferry crossings along the way. 

Camping: Lots of wild camping opportunities and some paid campgrounds. My friends are I were invited in by locals on a few occasions . 

What bike?: Although the route is steadily being paved, there are still some significant dirt sections. In 2013, under 200km of the route was paved. I would recommend a sturdy touring bike or mountain bike with 1.75” tires minimum. I had my Thorn Nomad with 2.15” Schwalbe Marathon Mondial tires. 

Dangerous and annoyances: I can’t really think of any.

When to go: Patagonian summer from November to March. I went in March, which seemed like an ideal time of year, because fall colours started to come out and there were fewer tourists. Be prepared for rain.

More photos HERE

 

7.  Friendship Highway, Tibet and Nepal (2011)

Why?: This was my first bike tour overseas, so it will always have strong sentimental value. This was a supported trip as it is not legal for foreigners to travel this road without a guide and driver. I remember seeing a photo of the piercing blue Yamdrok Lake in Tibet (shown in photo) in the Adventure Cycle Touring Handbook. I then knew that I had to go to Tibet. I got to see the iconic Potala Palace where the Dalai Lama once lived, many beautiful monasteries and magnificent vistas of the Himalayas. There was also an exciting side trip to Everest Base Camp on the Tibetan side (this may be closed off now). Sadly, the TAR (Tibetan Autonomous Region) is heavily controlled, with several police checkpoints and locals living under constant surveillance. Encounters with the Tibetan people were very special and this is probably one of the most spectacular roads I have ever cycled. There is also a famous 4000m decent from the Tibetan plateau to the lowlands of Nepal, supposedly the world’s longest. 

I also met two of my dearest friends and world tourers Marianne and Heidi from Denmark on this trip. We met over Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum, where I was in search of a group to ride this route to lower the cost of the mandatory support.  

Route: 1100km from Lhasa to Kathmandu. At the time, it wasn’t possible to cycle the route unsupported. 

Camping: A combination of wild camping and inexpensive guesthouses

What bike?: The road is paved, except for the side trip to Everest Base Camp, so you don’t need anything too rugged. I had a Trek 520 with 700X35C tires, which worked fine, except when it snowed after leaving Everest Base Camp!

Dangers and annoyances: High altitude. There are five passes over 5000m on this route. 

When to go: September to early November is a good time to avoid Monsoon season in Nepal. 

More photos HERE

 

8.  Pamirs, Tajikistan (2015)

Why?: A definite classic in the bike touring world. Spectacular mountains, remoteness and the wonderful hospitality of the Tajik people. These people eke out a harsh existence in an extreme environment. You get an an insight into a unique culture where mass tourism has not yet hit. In the summer months there will be many cyclists.

Routes: Dushanbe to Khorog and through the Wahkan corridor, which follows the border with Afghanistan, just across the Panj river. You traces the curves of the river through the narrow and deep valley, with views of the mountains. Travelling in the fall is especially colourful with the trees that dot the roadside. The remote Upper Wakhan Valley was a highlight. I also really wanted to ride the Zorkul route, but had to turn back due to sickness. I have heard this section was a highlight for some cyclists in the area. For an easier, paved option take the paved Pamir Highway from Khorog to Osh.

Camping: Wild camping is possible in this areas, with many options for local homestays along the way. I used this option when the weather turned colder in fall. Meals are often included in the price – in 2015, room and board was around $10 or less.

What bike?: A sturdy mountain or touring bike is recommended with at least 2” tires due to the rough roads that are a mix of dirt and paved.

Dangers and annoyances: In 2018, there was a brutal attack on four foreign cyclists in this area by the Islamic State. When I cycled there in 2015, I had heard about the risk of possible civil conflicts, but that it was generally a safe area for foreigners. The 2018, story was truly horrible to hear. The area had a somewhat heavy military presence when I was there, but I never felt unsafe. I was stopped at military checkpoints, but mainly for selfies with soldiers. I was asked the usual questions of the whereabouts of my husband and children (Tajikistan is a Muslim country) but I never felt threatened. I almost got bribed at one checkpoint, but I acted confident and nothing happened. 

High altitude is also a concern, as a large chunk of the route is over 4000m. Proper acclimatization is very important.

I had stomach issues on a few occasions. Like in India, this can be a tough one to avoid with the local food, which is normally of low quality.

When to go: This is definitely a summer route. Late June to early October is best. I got caught in a heavy snowstorm in late October tying to cross the Kyzyl-Art Pass into Kyrgyzstan and had to hitch a ride across the border. 

My stories HERE

 

9. Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, Canada Section (2019)

Why?: I have always travelled far and wide for my bike tours, never really taking the time to explore my own country. In 2019 I cycled from Canmore to the USA border via the Great Divide Route, where I connected with the newly formed Wild West Bikepacking Route. This section passes through a spectacular part of the rockies, with very low traffic. The Elk Lakes FSR and Flathead Valley road were two of the most spectacular and exciting roads I have ridden in North America. 

Route: The Canadian section of  route nows starts in Jasper and runs all the way to the USA border. In 2018, I biked the section from Hinton to Banff before I had to quit my planned Great Divide ride due to an injury. The majority of the route is off-road, following forestry roads and some non-technical single track. 

Camping: Lots of opportunities to wild camp, but this is bear country, so it is very important to take the necessary precautions. Around the Spray Lakes and Kananaskis area there are lots of paid campgrounds that are very busy in summer. I avoided these and chose to stealth camp instead near some MTB trails. There are a few free cabins to stay in in the Flathead Valley section. Due to the high concentration of grizzly bears in the area, I think this option is best.

What bike?: Touring bike or mountain bike with at least 2” tires. I had a hybrid bikepacking/touring set up and this worked well for me. I think packing light is the most important. 

Dangers and annoyances: Bears! Many of them. It is very important to not leave food in your tent. Hang your food at least 100m from your campsite and in a tree high off of the ground. It is highly recommended to carry bear spray. When riding occasional yell or make some kind of noise so that the bears are aware of your presence and you are less likely to surprise them, which could trigger a defence attack. I came across a grizzly bear with 2 cubs on a powerline trail. I got off my bike, backed away slowly and found another route around the bears. 

When to Go: In summer/early fall from late June to early October. Before and after these months the route can be covered in snow. 

My stories HERE

10. Myanmar (2016)

Why?: For years, this country was largely closed off to foreigners under the  rule of a military dictatorship. Biking through this country was an absolute joy, mainly due to its incredible people. I have never encountered so many smiles and so much enthusiasm from locals. Almost everyone seemed to be super excited to see me, all the time. There are some incredible sights to see, such as the temples of Bagan, but for more the highlights were getting off the beaten track and into the smaller villages. 

Routes: To be honest, a lot of the scenery in the country wasn’t particularly exciting except for the ride through mountainous Chin State. This was a particularly exciting ride because it was technically off limits to foreigners without a special permit and guide. I ended up sneaking my way in before eventually being politely escorted out (after an invitation to spend the night and have dinner with a local politician and his family). Story here.

 Chin state was definitely was of the most off the beaten track places I have ever travelled, where few foreigners have gone. 

Camping: Wild camping is illegal in Myanmar, but I ended up stealth camping a few times. Foreigners (in 2015) were only supposed to stay in hotels. I ended up in the home of a local once, where the police seemed to turn a blind eye. Some cyclists stayed at monasteries. This is trickier for solo women, who are not permitted to stay with the monks. I did hear reports of some finding nunneries to stay at. 

What bike?: Most bikes will be fine, other than a road bike. The roads in Chin State were very rough, so 2” tires are recommended. There are quite a few paved roads in the country. 

Dangers and annoyances: Landslides in Chin State during the rainy season. Other than that, I can’t think of any!

When to go: December to February is the dry season and the cooler time of year. I was there in March and found it to be pleasant in the mountains, but unbearably hot in the lowlands. 

My stories  HERE

 

Where I want to go next…

-Peru’s Great Divide 

-Puna of Argentina and Chile

-Namibia (I haven’t been anywhere in Africa before)

-Georgia (country, not the US state)

-Great Divide USA (I loved cycling across the USA so much that I would probably do it a second time!)

-Baja Divide, Mexico

-Japan

-Iceland

6 thoughts on “My Top 10 Places in the World to Ride a Bike (so far)

  1. Great read T. I hadn’t settled in to read anything, but wandered right through the world when I got started. I’ll be back to look at the pictures, and wander through your friends’ sites.

    Don’t stop riding or writing. Much love. UB.

    Like

  2. Love your blog. Can definitely find the journalist in you in your blog posts. Hope you will be able to get out on your bike again soon – after all this Covid-19 is under control.
    You have given me lots to think about for my own upcoming (in about 2 maybe 3 years from now), solo, indefinite world travels.

    Stay safe, healthy and keep these wheels rolling 😉

    Kind regards,
    Inge (NL)

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