Best bike rides around the world: On the trail of adventure

From Berlin to Bordeaux, Ireland to Oregon, readers share their tips for the world's best bike rides.

Photo / Blazej Lyjak
Photo / Blazej Lyjak

After last week's advice on New Zealand's great cycle trails, inspired by the launch of Lonely Planet's Epic Bike Rides of the World, this week we've got some great stories about international routes to add to your travel wishlist. Thanks to everyone who sent in their stories, and congratulations to Caroline Dennee and Sandra Knight, the lucky winners of Epic Bike Rides of the World.

In 2014 I completed a four and a half month, 12,500 km bike tour on the Silk Road from Shanghai to Istanbul. Riding across China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Turkey on a tour promoted as the hottest, coldest, highest, lowest tour in the world. I had only ridden 500kms before on a two week, fully escorted tour. I wanted to challenge myself and I certainly did that! The stunning scenery, cycling, cultures and languages encountered along the way, tested my courage and made for an epic adventure.
- Caroline Dennee

Forty years on and numerous cycle rides later, including cycle adventures around the East Cape and the Otago Rail Trail, my favourite cycle route is round southern Ireland pedalled over four weeks through July/August 1976. From Dublin, two novice riders set out down the south eastern main road to Dunloe — yummy Irish soda bread — then continuing on well-formed roads, which passed through small Irish villages, Cork, Waterford and the enriched country music centre of Innes. Accommodation — camped under bridges, cosy locals' barns. Gear — two panniers, a tent and two trusty Peugeot bicycles. Special - from this the cycle adventures were born.
- Sandra Knight

My favourite cycle route would have to be a loop of the local villages around Hoi An in central Vietnam. I was there in February and although I loved Hoi An, it is very touristy, so hiring bikes and getting out to the local villages, such as Cua Dai, gave me much more of an insight into the everyday life of the Vietnamese. The scenery was breath-taking and the roads practically empty compared to the jam-packed Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh that we also visited. Along the way we stopped for lunch at a roadside stall in Phuong Cam Chau where for about NZ$2 we had one of our tastiest meals in Vietnam. Cycling this route, as opposed to driving or being part of a tour, was what made it special and I cannot recommend it more highly.
- Louise Woolhouse, Rotorua

My favourite cycle route is hands down my trip from Marrakech, Morocco; cycling through the Atlas and Anti-Atlas mountains. Off road mountain biking through canyons, gorges, corn fields and remote villages right to the edge of the Sahara Desert to camp with nomadic Berbers. A cultural melting pot full of colour, tradition and incredible people. I did this trip in 2015 with my parents and sister. The scenery and entire experience was absolutely incredible! A week of tagines, beautiful scenery, tents, desert, street side stalls, fresh pomegranate, river biking and experiencing the chaotic and colourful Marrakech souks.
- Ella Zarifeh, Auckland

My favourite cycling route was the vineyard trails of St Emilion, which is a UNESCO world heritage site near Bordeaux region in France. It was especially memorable as it was an open weekend for the wineries and we were able to meet and chat to vineyard owners, some of which had been in the family for generations. Cycling along the quiet country lanes with vineyards as far as the eye could see and lush rolling hills was just spectacular. Oysters for breakfast, lunch at a chateau, backpack full of wine, and of course the amazing scenery - what's not to love?!
- Angela Edwards

The American Adventure Cycling Association's TransAmerica Bicycle Trail from Astoria, Oregon to Yorktown, Virginia is right up there on the scale of total epicness. The 7100km route goes through 10 states, has more than 60,000 metres of climbing, and avoids big cities and towns along the way. It showcases real America: rich and poor; lush and green, and dry and barren; incredibly exciting and oh so depressing. The association suggests a three month tour. Lael Wilcox, winner of this year's self supported TransAm Bike Race, knocked it out in 18 days. Now that's truly epic. I could only manage 27.
- Alistair Davidson

My favourite place to cycle is Pulau Ubin which is a small, easily accessible island east of Singapore. I discovered the island while I was on a school trip with my children. Full of wildlife, birds and butterflies, it is a true contrast to the Singapore mainland and is a reminder of what life was like in the kampungs (villages) of the past.
- Georgeina Hawkes, Tauranga

Outside of NZ, Grandfondo Banff 2014 was amazing. Who wouldn't enjoy seeing the crystal blue waters of Lake Louise, the outstanding peaks of the Banff mountains and of course the smooth tarmac of the Bow Valley — all this wrapped into a few weeks, whilst being a little apprehensive of the bears and coyotes. There is endless fun to be had on a bike.
- Carol Harwood, Rotorua

My favourite cycle route is from Darwin to Adelaide. The early morning starts when it is cool, are spectacular, as the animals are out and about before the traffic is on the roads. A lot of the areas areas are so remote, and the locals are so friendly. Camping spots are varied. Some of the spots are near an out of the way pub where local entertainment can be a didgereedoo, spoons, singing and all can join in. Be warned to study wind conditions so you do not have a day head on into them.
- Angela Dixon

Perhaps not so well known in Seattle is the 43km Burke Gilman Trail. It was once a railway track laid down in 1885 and abandoned in 1971. It has since been converted into a multi recreation sealed trail along which cyclists, roller bladers, runners, and walkers enjoy the out doors. Much of the trail runs beside lakes and rivers as it wends its way from the suburb of Ballard along the ship canal from Lake Washington past the campus of the Washington University campus then north to Kenmore where it turns inland to Bothell and Lake Sammarish.
- Bruce Connor

Bordeaux is a gorgeous bike-infested city to begin. Cross the mighty Garonne and head east on the Roger Lapebie rail trail. It heads to the Canal du Midi with canal-side riding to the Med, but this trip, turn off and head to St Emillion, world heritage wine town of golden buildings. Head north through Libourne and the eastern bank of the Garonne. It is typical of France, a nuclear power station on an island, tiny villages, troglodyte housing and a hotel (or camping) within the riverside Blaye fortress. Sunset with live music recalling it being the Mississippi of France. Cross by ferry, where the Medoc awaits or speed on through 'flat-as' to see Atlantic beach surf at Lacanau.
- Jane Admore

I cycled the Atlantic coast route, going from Orlando, Florida. to West Caldwell, New Jersey. Amazing trip and especially loved going through Georgia and around the outer bank of North Carolina. Great way to travel, as most heavy traffic uses the freeway system! Also loved going through the Amish area in Pennsylvannia, before going via a summer camp I worked in, then to my friend's house in West Caldwell, New Jersey. I used the Adventure Cycling Association maps for most of the ride. I mainly camped out, including behind churchs, firestations and was invited to people's homes. I want to do the north of the USA now!
- Anthony Mason, Nelson

We did a bike-barge trip around North Holland. Our gentle seven speed Dutch bikes aided us over the various levels of flatness. From dairy country to ancient towns, we cycled. Kinderdijk, with its gaggle of windmills was our absolute favourite place. We had plenty of time to explore the mills and take photos. Incredible. We cycled to the coast, crowded with Brighton type, beach huts. Dog walkers abounded. Meeting the barge each night was so much easier than the daily moving of gear. Dutch motorists respect cyclists which makes life so much more enjoyable.
- Sally MacGregor, Auckland

My favourite cycle ride is the Dingle Coast in Ireland for its rugged coast, wild weather and isolation. We hired bikes from the local youth hostel and spent the day doing the circuit. Over the day we saw only a couple of people wandering around. I have to confess it was October in the middle of the week but still an awesome experience feeling like we owned the road and the coast.
- Chris Vernon

The ride from Hanoi north west up to the Chinese border through Sapa and beyond to the backwaters town of Bac Ha remains my most memorable cycling adventure. A day's ride from Hanoi we shared the road with friendly truck drivers but soon encountered little more than a few vans, motor cyclists, local Vietnamese on bikes and plentiful water buffalo and goats. Predominantly well surfaced roads, hills, superb scenery, and a vibrant colourful culture where elaborate indigenous costumes are still the norm for most women. Coffee breaks (potent local brews served with sweetened condensed milk) while seated on kiddie-sized plastic chairs ... I would go again in a heartbeat!
- Lisa Mead, Auckland

My favourite is the Navvies Road (Rallarvegan) in Norway - 57kms. mainly on gravel, dropping 1200m from Finse to Flam. Temperature 9˚ in August with cold rain like needles on your face. Five hours ride. Managed to ride the 21 downhill hairpins from Vatnahalsen despite the warnings to walk down them — they drop 600m in 3kms and no railings to stop you going over the side. Gave the final gentle 11kms heaps into Flam and flew down that bit round all the wide bends. Views were superb. All that makes it very special.
- Martin Thomson

Cycling 50km and dropping 3500m down Death Road near La Paz in Bolivia four weeks ago takes some beating. Leaving the chaos of La Paz the morning after their Independence day celebrations, travelling by bus to the start of the seal section at 4600masl. Kitting up with safety gear and off for the downhill bike familiriasation at ever increasing speeds. More instructions, don't pass the guide and onto the scary rocks and gravel 3m wide hairpin road with 1000m drop-offs. Waterfalls onto the road, punctures, concentrate on the uneven road surface and don't look at the view! Dangerous - as someone found out the day before. Twelve hours including travel, food and swim for $100NZ each. Special.
- Peter Boisen

My favourite cycle route around the world would have to be the Loire Valley from Angers to Blois. It has wonderful wineries, interesting history and beautiful chateaux. The people are friendly and New Zealanders are especially welcomed. I have done this ride five times, they always remember me and treat me like an old friend. The tracks are easily accessible, well marked and the terrain not too difficult. The scenery also makes this route most memorable.
- Anthea Moriarty

Imagine cycling 40 years ago in the old towns of Jarnac and Cognac in the Charente region of France. Cobbled streets just wide enough for a Deuxchevaux and me. The ancient stone buildings peppered with charcoal coloured lichen — the Angels Share/ Partage d'Ange — the result of distilling Cognac seeping out of the stone. Cycling between these towns beside the idling Charente river was easy and unhurried by traffic, passing through hamlets of solid buildings with timber gates left open once revealing an old couple in traditional clothes - sabots (clogs) and quichnot (headress). I would love to return.
- Beth Arrowsmith

Around 14 years ago my wife and I rode one of the memorable cycle routes on the planet, the famed 'Central Lakes Tour' of Northern Italy. This spectacular 6 day ride of some 500kms took us around the incredible cluster lakes of Maggiore, Como and Lugano which are laced into the northern mountains, just under the Swiss/Italian Alps. Our ride along the seemingly endless shores of all the big player lakes passed amazing olive plantations, many wonderful medieval villages and splendid chateaus and castles. With banquettes picnics at the lakeside, and perpetual stunning lake vistas. This was sublime riding.
- Rick Wood

Some years back now one of our sons and his family lived in Berlin for seven years and whilst staying with them we regularly borrowed their cycles and went off exploring Germany. We did many of the routes in northern Germany and a few further south as well. I think my favourite was the first one we did, the Elbe River route, starting in the west at Cuxhaven and going up from there to the border beyond Dresden. Some wonderful scenery but just so many picturesque and historic towns and cities and wonderful off-road cycling.
- Peter Wakeman

- NZ Herald

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