Amy Marwick and Emily-Jane Cave round up the ‘who’s doing what where’ of the motorcycle touring world
The least densely populated country in the whole of Europe sits astride the Mid-Atlantic Ridge making it a hotspot for geothermal and volcanic activity; with spurting geysers, thunderous waterfalls and turquoise hot springs, Iceland’s magical landscape is an ABR’s wonderland.
In winter, Iceland is a mountainous, snowy place above which the northern lights dance their colourful show. Ten percent of the country is iced under sprawling glaciers, but despite this and the frosty name, Iceland boasts surprisingly green, warm summers.
Biking Viking (BV) runs several motorcycle tours of the country, taking in the top sights, roads and trails. The company’s Westfjord Viking tour is available as a guided or self-guided tour, exploring the large peninsula in the northwest part of the country and taking riders to the westernmost point of Europe. BV’s To Hell and Back tour travels a circular loop of the southern half of Iceland and is designed for the more advanced rider.
The West Fjords are known for their rugged landscape and isolation, which makes for an uninhabited wilderness of waterfalls, birdlife, steep cliffs and tranquillity. On the latter part of the tour ABRs will venture into the highlands and finish off by visiting Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions; Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir and Thingvellir National Park.
Difficult roads, potentially harsh weather and challenging river crossings make the To Hell and Back tour more suited to the tougher ABR with good off-road experience. This seven-day trip travels the beautiful south coast, across the Myrdalssandur Black Desert and Eldhraun Lavafield, taking rides over the biggest dam in Iceland standing 93m tall and 730m long, before arriving literally in Hell. But it’s not all flames and fury – ‘Hell’ translates to Viti in Icelandic, the name of an opaque blue crater lake that maintains a balmy swimming temperature. Brilliant riding is to be had on the Sprengisandur path and on the 120-mile Black Desert trail where advanced riding skills are a must.
The West Fjord tour is set to depart on 6 June 2013. It takes seven days to complete the 830-mile route of which around 300 miles are on gravel trails and mountain roads. To Hell and Back tour leaves on 26 August, covering just over 850 miles, again with 300 miles of unpaved road riding. Rental bikes are included in the price of the tour with a range of BMWs and Triumph Tigers to choose from. For more information see www.bikingviking.is.
Three ways to ride…
The Royal treatment
For many ABRs the idea of riding India is synonymous with making the trip on a Royal Enfield. The company has enjoyed strong links with the east since 1956 when Enfield of India started assembling Bullets under licence from UK components. Fast forward to 1995 and Enfield of India had bought the rights to use the Royal Enfield name; its bikes are still manufactured at the company’s Chennai factory, Tamil Nadu, and it’s now recognised as the oldest motorcycle brand in the world still in production. They must be doing something right, that’s for sure.
Pure Bike Tours’ 23-day 1,550-mile Trans Himalaya ride is described as a ‘mind-blowing, multi-cultural Classic Royal Enfield motorbike odyssey’. The tour kicks off in Parwanoo, in the foothills of mountainous Himachal Pradesh where riders will have a chance to get to grips with their 500cc Bullet and meet their guides. Ascending the twisting mountain roads to Manali, this first stretch of the tour takes in deep gorges and sleepy villages.
From here, riders cross the challenging Rohtang Pass into the Himalaya before riding on to Ladakh, home of the elusive Snow Leopard, and climbing to a dizzying 5,350m. The route into Kashmir takes in one of the most dangerous roads in the world, the Zojila, before arriving at Dal Lake where riders can enjoy a relaxing stay on an exotic houseboat. There’s also opportunity to take a trip on the highest ski lift in the world with views of the Karakorum mountain range across the border in Pakistan. Returning to India, the tour takes in Himachal Pradesh en route to Mcleodganj, the exile home of the Dalia Lama of Tibet.
The tour is set to depart 6-28 September 2013 and is rated as moderate to difficult riding. For prices and booking information, see www.purebiketours.com
Above and beyond
Nilgiris is part of the Western Ghats. Located at the tri-junction of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, it’s considered to be one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world – in fact the name ‘Nilgiris’, meaning ‘Blue Hills’, has been found in the Silappadikaram, an epic Tamil poem dating back to the fifth and sixth centuries. The region is thought to have been so called by the people living in its foothills because the purple-coloured kurinji flowers, which periodically cover the hillsides, give them a blue hue. The area is so well respected for its various flora and fauna that it has been declared Indian’s first Biosphere and a UNESCO Heritage Site. What better place to explore by bike?
Moto N’Dege’s Beyond Nilgiris tour has been designed to help riders get under the skin of the place. The five-day ride takes in some of the little-known nooks and crannies of the mountains and especially focuses on the experience of getting to know the indigenous tribes who call Nilgiris home. Highlights of the tour include meeting the the Irula tribesmen, traditionally snake and rat catchers, and staying at a forest observation post in a private forest on the edge of the steep face of the Nilgiris towards Tamil Nadu.
Off the bike, ABRs will have the opportunity to explore this exotic region in the footsteps of an Irula guide, discovering prehistoric cave paintings and hidden vistas, while on two wheels, Upper Bhawani, Parson’s Valley, Upper Catchment, Porthimund, Bison Valley, Avalanche and Mukurthi await intrepid riders, with the chance to spot elephant, tigers and leopards.
The tour is 650 miles of challenging riding. For dates, prices and bookings, see www.motondege.com
Up on the roof
Traversing the three highest motorable roads in the world, LiveIndia’s Roof of the World tour spans five of the highest mountain passes in the remote regions of Spiti, Lahaul and Ladakh, climbing through the Rohtang pass at an altitude of 3,962m to the Khardung La at 5,600m.
The circular route begins and ends in Delhi in the lush foothills of the Kullu Valley. En route, riders will experience the warmth and welcome of Tibetan monks and Himalayan tribes, taste exquisite freshly cooked local cuisine, visit temples, the stunning hill station of Manali, the royal ruins of Leh and countless hidden villages and stunning vistas along the way.
The 17-night tour is aboard 500cc Royal Enfield Bullets – what else!? – and is suitable for riders who are confident on unfinished road surfaces and unpredictable passes. Roads can be steep, hugging the mountainside with sheer drops and sharp turns, so needless to say a head for heights is a must, but the rewards of seeing this awe-inspiring landscape by bike are endless. For dates, prices and bookings, see www.liveindia.co.uk