Enduro Riding in Iceland
The opportunity to join an enduro riding group in southern Iceland was always going to challenge sitting at my desk. So, one Thursday I climbed aboard an Icelandair flight from Heathrow and set forth on the 2 ½ hour fight to Iceland’s international airport, Keflavik. Located some 50km north of Keflavik, Iceland’s capital city is easily accessible using the Flybus shuttle which meets each international flight. In the baggage hall you soon experience the impact of Iceland’s popularity as a winter and summer destination as you jostle with your fellow travellers. Iceland’s population of 350,000 cater for some 4 million annual visitors with an impressive efficiency and calmness.
Our hosts for the week, Ride with Locals, was founded by three old school friends, Skúli, Ólafur and Gudjon each with a passion for dirt bike riding and enduro riding in Iceland. Ride with Locals offer a number of experiences from 3, 4 and 6 days on both Husqvarna 701s and KTM 690 Enduro Rs and come with a full stable of spares, first aid and good old fashioned banter.
After a 50 minute bus ride you’re in Reykjavik and heading to ‘’Laugavegur” the main street along which most of the bars and restaurants are located. Laugavegur which means ‘wash road’ and used to lead to the hot springs in Laugardalur where locals washed their clothes. All of Reykjavik’s heating and hot water is provided by geothermal although be prepared to accept that the hot water does have a sulphurous odour! It would also be worth mentioning that a bottle of gin at the Duty Free is cheaper than 4 beers despite the beer tasting absolutely gorgeous.
The next day we meet our fellow riders, change into full body armour, pack day kit into waterproof rucksacks and saddle bags and hand overnight bags to the support driver. A quick blast down the main road and we are quickly standing in the ‘pegs’ as we turn off into the ‘wilderness’. The pace is fast and not for beginners or the feint hearted. I had fortunately been on a couple of training days with Patsy Quick and her side kick ‘Zippy’ at Desert Rose Riding Academy in Kent. They had put me through my paces and taught me plenty about body position and how to manoeuvre motorbikes in what sometimes seemed impossible scenarios. Shifting my weight around the bike depending on the terrain and speed was an absolute life saver although I did overshoot a couple of corners!
The terrain changes all the time as you might expect on an island that has 9 active volcanoes and when riding between 180km-200km each day. One minute you can be riding slowly along twisty old sheep trails that snake along narrow valleys, flanked by small silver birch trees and black volcanic canyons. The next you’re ejected into wide open green pastures with 360 degree views for as far as the eye can see. Soon the greenery is replaced by open plains of black sand and volcanic pumice that offers no quarter to tyres, clothing and humans! Then we’re riding rough stones some smooth others jagged and vicious, especially if they catch you hard on the boot.
However, the bikes just take it all in their stride offering a great ride and a degree of forgiveness! You soon learn to trust them. On the last day we all agreed that the terrain had been the most spectacular. Absolutely flat black ‘beaches’ running for 30km in every direction interspersed with cone shaped hills covered in a bright lime green moss. The contrasts in colour were just spectacular especially when you add a couple of rainbows! This is why enduro riding in Iceland is such a thrill.
There are plenty of river crossings when enduro riding in Iceland. Some rivers are shallow and sedate, others fast and deep. The fear of dropping a bike in the water is enough of a deterrent to encourage the less experienced riders to walk their bikes across in first gear. Thumbs remain tentatively posed over the kill switch just in case you hit one of the many invisible boulders, lose your balance and drop the bike beneath the surface. The sacrifice of wet feet is just the price you pay for a bike that remains dry and able to carry you for the next hundred kilometres or so! It’s a long wait for the support vehicle which will be in a different corner of the wilderness!
Our accommodation during the trip ranged from modern refuges with heating and solar power hot showers to traditional shepherd’s huts with walls built from volcanic rock, corrugated roofs and earth piled onto the outside effectively burying the walls and perhaps adding strength and removing cold drafts! Washing involves a cold dip in a nearby stream! Top tip: if you’re a light sleeper take some ear plugs since most of the huts are bunk bed dormitories.
Each evening the support vehicle meets you at the designated overnight stop stocked with sleeping bags, dinner and breakfast provisions and spare parts and bikes. Each morning you are responsible for making and packing your lunch with additional snacks and sports drinks that are always appreciated throughout the day. The accommodation is not exclusive, but we shared with some super friendly, generous and articulate Icelanders who were only too happy to share provisions.
After a brutal but totally exhilarating 3 days we were all in in agreement that expectations had been completely exceeded and the riding way more enjoyable than experiences elsewhere in the world.
So, if you have experience of riding bikes off road and have never been to Iceland, then a 3 day enduro ride across Iceland should be on your list of adventures. The bikes are superb, the landscape mesmerising and the organisation and the company top drawer. The only downside, I don’t know how long I will have to wait before my next trip!