Few people and even fewer bikes against a jaw-dropping backdrop unspoiled by man, pierced by empty roads, lava and gravel tracks… if it’s adventure you seek, look north. The Land of Fire and Ice on the cusp of the Arctic Circle is a motorcycle playground framed by unique geological formations you can’t find together anywhere else on the planet.
It makes for difficulties in gathering momentum on your bike though, because around every bend await glaciers, volcanoes, tundra, geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, fjords that urge you to raid your pannier for a camera.
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Real adventureTackle Iceland on a Tiger
Motorcycle theme park
Iceland’s unique diversity creates the closest thing to a one-stop motorcycle theme park. It’s almost as if it has been crafted by a greater being solely for the wonderment of the world’s riders.
Only on Reykjavík’s streets can you ride your Tiger past tiny graffiti-covered bakeries giving off a warm cinnamon roll waft that cuts the cold in two. And only in this small but proudly Norse nation of 340,000 can you peek down alleyways between shops and see giant snow-covered mountains and ice-blue sea.
Marooned but increasingly accessible near the top of the globe, it’s unlike anywhere in mainland Europe. And (for Europeans) you won’t need visas, specialist insurance or vaccinations to get there.
The traffic, or lack of it, is the big plus for two-wheeled adventure seekers who can pick from the island’s 2,700km of paved roads or stunning cliff-side dirt tracks and gravel roads.
Best, most sensible bet is to start from one of Europe’s coolest capitals, Reykjavik. That’s if you can pull yourself away from its fascinating settler building architecture and vibrant downtown bars and restaurants.
Go ‘beyond the wall’
The island’s geothermal pipeline which supplies heat to 85 per cent of houses on the island is a natural route for riders and takes you east towards Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe and a familiar sight for Game of Thrones fans as a ‘Beyond the Wall’ setting.
You decide whether to take the smooth coastal road past the spectacular Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls, two of a handful of the world’s best found on the island. For the record the other two biggies, Gullfoss and Dettifoss, aren’t an off-putting distance away and both will tempt you to ‘see just one more’.
That’s the beauty of this place, there are always options. So the smooth track ride from the south’s Seljalandsfoss to Dettifoss in the north is around 650km or nearer 460km if you cut the island in two, like the Eurasian and North American Tectonic plates tearing the island in half at the rate of one centimetre per year.
A natural phenomenon that defies words
Then again, take the road from Seljalandsfoss east past the Vatnajökull National Park and you’ll stumble across a car park five minutes from the face of the Svínafellsjökull Glacier, a natural phenomenon that defies words.
Unless you’re doing the loop, another unforgettable day out from Reykjavic is to head north and west to some of the island’s most rugged and – even more – untouched scenery. The Westfjords Region is an area connected to the rest of Iceland by a 7km stretch of land in between Gilsfjörður and Bitrufjörður.
Fjords, plenty of them
As the name suggests there are fjords, plenty of them, and mountains and long detouring dirt and Tarmac coastal roads closed by ice and snow for several months of the year, leaving the 1996-built Vestfjarðagöng road tunnel the only option.
The cliffs at Látrabjarg are a bird watcher’s paradise, but if you do one thing visit the Witchcraft museum and explore the region’s medieval past at the Settlement Centre in Borgarnes or at the Snorrastofa Cultural Centre in Reykholt.
On the way back to the city across old lava fields you’ll find Bjarnarhöfn, home of the Shark Museum. If you’re still hankering after some off-road action after all that, try the small gravel road up to the Snæfellsjökull glacier.
Sorry, your search appears to be outside our current coverage area for driving
For the Grade A adventurer, Iceland has a treasure trove of secrets so amazing that a search on Google Maps produces a shrug of the shoulders in the form of Sorry, your search appears to be outside our current coverage area for driving. Music to the ears of any Tiger or Scrambler 1200 rider with crash protection and the right waterproof clothing.
The island’s Arctic Desert – up the east and then inland – is where it gets really interesting as you hit a section of gravel road heading to Egilsstaðir. Iceland’s F-roads are famous among travellers and you need to be prepared for river crossings, but the rewards are worth it. Sights include the Ásbyrgi Cliffs and Lake Mývatn.
“Words and even pictures don’t really do this miraculous place justice. You have to go and experience it for yourself,” insists Julia Sanders, one half of the GlobeBusters team that run organised tours to the Land of Fire and Ice and will do again in August next year.
- July and August are best for riding. Expect average temperatures in the mid teens to mid twenties with minimal rainfall. Take layered clothing and waterproof riding gear and you’ll be fine.
- Despite being near the Arctic, the Gulf Stream gives Iceland refreshing summers and fairly mild winters, but the East Greenland polar current can cause sudden weather changes.
- The Icelandic people have a saying “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes”.
Pretty European really, but if you want to immerse yourself in local culture, try fermented shark or smoked puffin washed down with a shot of Brennivín, an Icelandic Schnapps.
… a dip in a geothermally heated pool to unwind after a day in the saddle.
Stay on the right side of the road, the speed limit is 90km/h on asphalt rural roads and 80km/h (50mph) on gravel.
Fly from all major airports and hire a motorcycle there (choice is limited) or have your bike delivered by a shipping company such as Moto Freight, who specialise in bikes and handle all the paperwork.
If you have time, ride from mainland Europe or the UK to Denmark and catch the ferry to Iceland, which takes three nights.
Allow a fortnight including travel (unless you’re taking the ferry, in which case you’ll need an extra week).
Paved road tour info at https://www.globebusters.com/motorcycle-tours/iceland-paved-road-motorcycle-tour/#!2