Friday, March 21, 2014

Reykjavík By Bike

My trusty steed photographed in Grótta, Seltjarnarnes, Iceland, October 2012


Possibly the best way to see Reykjavík and its surrounding area is by bicycle (Reiðhjól), and is certainly the best way to go if you are an experienced urban cyclist. Most of the city, except for the multi-lane highways, is bike friendly. The bike rental places have practical maps. If you do go outside the city maps are a must—trails meander between hills and it is very easy to get lost. Weekly rentals are not too expensive in the shoulder seasons, but daily rentals in the summer are pretty pricey. Before my last trip I looked online for used bikes, but they were quite expensive and the ads are in Icelandic. Even if you are experienced with bike maintenance you probably won't want to spend your precious time there tinkering with a second-hand bike. The bikes I've rented in the past have all been high quality and perfectly maintained. They were mountain bikes; the wide tires aren't really needed but do add an extra margin of stability.

Things to be aware of: cobblestones and painted street lines, when wet, can be treacherous. If you are riding in the morning in the spring or fall there will often be ice under bridges and in low areas; you may hear a warning of "Ís" (pronounced  'eese'), from oncoming cyclists. Traffic in Reykjavik can be dodgy, especially with cars coming around corners in narrow, curving streets. Some blind corners do have mirrors—good luck with that. Watch out for young idiots on racing bikes (the ones who haven't had their first crash yet) they can be very fast in the hilly parts of town and these fools think nothing of zooming in and out of pedestrians at 30 mph. There are a lot more cyclists on the road in Iceland in the last six or seven years than there used to be. Another thing to be aware of are the little motorized scooters, which are allowed on the bike paths.  Check the weather before you go out, any wind stronger than 10m/s should be avoided.  You should always wear some kind of glasses to protect your eyes from the wind gusts which can carry grit. Riding in town gives you the option of shelter in a shop or under an awning. There are often little squalls of rain throughout the day but they usually they blow over in a few minutes—unless they don't!


If you are riding at night, lights are a must. The rental shops have them, I brought my own as well, you can't have enough. If you have an extra large head (like me) bring your own helmet. Rental bikes have racks, I brought my own rack bag fitted for my camera gear as well as a smaller bag for the handle bars. I didn't bring a water bottle, I just bought a Coke and refilled it with tap water as needed. You should wear layers, and a water resistant windbreaker along for the top. The weather is very changeable, it can be quite cool in the summer and relatively warm (in the sun) in the Spring and Fall, you may need to change your layering several times in a day. Panniers‎ are a good idea, they really don't take up too much room in your luggage if you fill them with your bike clothes. Unless you are doing major trekking, I would advise against bike shoes with clip-less pedal systems, that would require bringing another pair of regular shoes along if you are going exploring at all. You'll need all your storage space for your layers—and another set of shoes would take up a lot of room, although your priorities may be different than mine.

This post isn't meant as the last word in cycling in Iceland, it's just offering a way to see this great ‘little’ city in a more intimate way than driving and with a wider range of vistas than walking.


By Professor Batty


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