Is it is possible to travel around the whole of Iceland on a motorcycle, and if so, what are the best times of year to do so? What are the necessary safety precautions and which natural attractions should be on the top of your list to see? Read on to find out all there is to know about riding a motorbike around Iceland.
Motorbike riders are a rare breed, seeking solitude, adventure and self-reliance all in a single, exhilarating bundle. Those who indulge in motorcycle riding abroad are rarer still, given the risks and sheer amount of preparation necessary in order to make their adventures on the highway a reality. Adventure riding is becoming ever more popular, however, given today’s open access to international travel.
Despite countless warnings from mother, people choose to ride motorcycles for the feeling it gives them. It is one that switches from pure adrenaline to cruising relaxation, a physical and emotional joy that is peppered with moments of fear and self-realisation. Bikers thrive in that transient place between life and death; it provides them with a breathtaking satisfaction that is, quite simply, impossible to find elsewhere.
Motorcycles place their rider in a hyper-aware position where they can feel every bump in the road, smell each passing field, where the limitations of their machine and experience is forever at the forefront of the mind.
Photo by Eric Michael
Given Iceland’s excellent reputation for extreme sports—be it snowmobiling, skiing or snowboarding, ice caving, surfing or cold-water snorkelling—it should come as no surprise that adventuring biking is a growing field, with bikers making for a common sight on the island’s roads.
But okay, there are, after all, plenty of travel destinations around the world that are open to explore by motorcycle, and may boast more welcoming temperatures and weather conditions. However, for what Iceland lacks in the consistency of its climate, it more than makes up for in its scenery, and friendly local population. Let us look further into what a motorbike adventure in Iceland could have in store for you.
Let us, first things first, get one thing transparently clear. If you are reading this with dubious intentions—i.e. you consider an ‘adventure’ to be anything illegal—this article is likely not for you.
Over recent years, three biker gangs—Hells Angels, Outlaws and Bad Breed—have attempted to establish chapters in Iceland, though local police have strived to keep the country free of their criminal influence, even denying card-carrying members to leave Keflavík International Airport.
So let me go on record and state the Icelandic people are not overly interested in having you here. Sorry.
But on the contrary, Icelanders welcome legal riders with an enthusiasm to explore this beautiful country by rarely considered means. Riding in Iceland has, for decades now, been among the bucket list contenders for serious motorheads given its staggering landscapes, friendly population and the abundance of unique opportunities on offer.
One of the greatest benefits of motorcycling in Iceland is the lack of traffic, capturing that idyllic vision that so many have when they first consider taking to the road in a foreign land. Granted, the roads will not always be empty and popular tourist spots will likely have a crowd, given the time of year, but a motorcycle is easy enough to park up securely and safely, regardless of how full the parking lot may be.
An important aspect of planning your motorcycle trip around Iceland is to be secure in your choice for a ride. For instance, comfort is imperative given the long distances you will be riding, and modifications can go a long way in making your bike more agreeable.
If instead you are planning to rent your bike in Iceland—which, all told, is a far cheaper and convenient means of beginning your adventure—then take ample time weighing up the pros and cons that each bike brings to the table. Remember, choosing a ride is not only a matter of looking cool—frankly, that should be your lowest priority—but also comfort and, more importantly, your safety.
Another crucial point is understanding where petrol stations can be found en route. The same goes for mechanics, on the off chance that you are unable to fix mechanical problems with the bike itself. Iceland’s towns and villages are found at a staggering distance from one another and many of them may not hold the amenities one requires. Take this into consideration when planning your route, and always take the opportunity to fill up on gas whenever the chance should arise.
Finally, consider whether or not you want to undertake this journey alone, with a close friend or two, or in an organised tour group. Tour groups will most certainly make some of the aforementioned prep-work unnecessary, given the skills and experience your guides will provide. Besides, journey’s such as this are always more satisfying in the company of others, be they old friends or new.
One major point before taking to the road is to ensure you are attired correctly in protective gear. Though this can be cumbersome, protective gear can be the potential difference between life and death. Of course, you are required both by law and common sense to wear a motorcycle helmet, and you will also want to purchase goggles, earplugs, a reinforced jacket and pants and gloves.
Those planning on dirt biking off road will also need to wear neck protection, elbow and knee guards and even a chest guard.
It is also imperative that you have a thorough appreciation of the weather in Iceland, namely how quick it can be to change. One moment, you’re riding under blue skies and glowing sunshine, only to turn a corner to find yourself beneath dark storm clouds, hailstones pelting down on your leathers.
Make sure to always check the weather forecast prior to setting out, and simply reschedule your journey should conditions look unsuitable. Speed limits vary depending on what type of road surface you are riding. It is 90 kilometers/56 miles per hour maximum on tarmacked roads and much less on gravel, otherwise known as F-Roads.
People drive on the right hand side of the road in Iceland and, quite naturally, authorities have no tolerance whatsoever for those driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This is no place to recreate the iconic scenes from Easy Rider, so don’t even think about it.
The ultimate motorbike adventure in Iceland would require you to circle the country, undertaking the famed Route 1 to experience all of the country’s majestic regions. Though we will not be able to go over everything that Route 1 has to offer, below is a brief overview of each of Iceland’s regions.
Whilst this is the perfect place to begin your tour, especially with an added stop at the Blue Lagoon Spa, there is so much of Iceland to explore that we’ll choose to focus on Iceland’s other regions and the many attractions they hold.
One of the first routes that most hear of when researching Iceland is the famed Golden Circle, comprised of three of the country’s most beloved natural attractions. These are Þingvellir National Park—a UNESCO site and home of Silfra Fissure, Iceland’s premier snorkelling and diving spot—geysir geothermal area and the mighty waterfall, Gullfoss.
Whilst there are other points of interest enroute, these three are, by far, the most popular visitors’ attractions for those with only a short time to explore Iceland. Soon enough, you will want to head out a little further. The next logical step is to get that motor running and to head off down the picturesque South Coast.
Throughout your ride, you will be privy to the rolling waves of the Atlantic Ocean on your left, and to your ride, towering ancient sea cliffs and the glistening waterfalls that decorate them. Crucial stops along the South Coast include Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls, the black sand beach Reynisfjara and the nearby village of Vík í Mýrdal.
A little further along the South Coast, you will cross the black sand desert of Sólheimasandur where it is possible to make a stop at the DC Plane Wreck. Following this, you will travel through the unmatched beauty of Vatnajökull National Park. Here, one can find what is arguably Iceland’s most astonishing attraction, the glacier lagoon Jökulsárlón, complete with its peaceful floating icebergs, resident seals and magnificent surrounding scenery.
The Eastfjords are Iceland’s least visited region. This is due only to their distance from the country’s only international airport and has absolutely nothing to do with the calibre of its attractions.
In fact, the east withholds sights and experiences that can be found nowhere else in Iceland, including herds of wild reindeer, the mountain Vestrahorn, Lake Lagarfljót and Iceland’s largest national forest, Hallormsstaðaskógur.
The north is the next area you will be exploring, the major stops being Lake Mývatn and its many attractions, and the unofficial capital of the region, Akureyri. Mývatn is known as much for its dark, surrounding volcanic landscapes—such as Dimmuborgir rock formations—as it is its geothermal valleys, the most famous of which is the martian-like landscapes of Námaskarð Pass.
Akureyri is a cultural hotspot, home to countless museums, quaint cafes and restaurants and vibrant bars. Aside from the best known landmarks of the botanical gardens and Akureyrarkirkja, Akureyri is one of the best spots in the country to take part in a whale watching tour—not to be missed!
Which leaves us only with the west of Iceland. This can be split into West Iceland, which is best known for the waterfalls Hraunfossar and Barnafoss, the 15-metre high basalt stack Hvítserkur and Europe’s most powerful hot spring, Deildartunguhver, and the amazing Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is known as “Iceland in Miniature” due to the sheer number of eclectic natural attractions that can be found there, as if the entire island has been compressed into this one, relatively diminutive region. The mighty, glacier topped stratovolcano, Snæfellsjökull, is but one of these. Other attractions include Kirkjufell, Iceland’s most photographed mountain, Ytri-Tunga seal beach, Vatnshellir cave and the black pebble coastline, Djúpalón.
Photo by Zane Lee
In conclusion, Iceland makes for a fantastic travel destination, be you a biker or not. There can be no denying, however, just how thrilling undertaking your own motorcycle adventure in Iceland could be, given the experience and prep work beforehand.
Remember, only undertake such a journey by two wheels if you have the know-how and confidence to make it work. Aside from that, Iceland is waiting, so go full throttle and get riding.
Did you enjoy our article Motorbike Adventures in Iceland? Are you planning on your motorcycle road trip around Iceland in the future? Make sure to leave your thoughts and queries in the Facebook comments box below.