Published June 1, 2011
It is no doubt that Iceland’s natural beauty and landscapes invite many different types of nature lovers that travel the country road to take it all in. This should be encouraged. But what should be actively discouraged is the practice of bicycling the ring road. It increases danger to the bicyclers and the vehicles and costs much more fuel and carbon than if they simply took an existing seat on a bus going to the same destination anyway.
I will spell it out for those that are not familiar with some unique aspects of Route One, the “ring road” that connects most major towns and encircles the island. Route One carries the vast majority of vehicular traffic: cars, campers, motorcycles, long haul trucks and those that are bicycling between towns.
Don’t get me wrong, by all means enjoy your bicycle in Iceland—but it would be wise to restrict it to the townships and areas that you wish to explore… namely, anywhere other than the long parts of Route One connecting the towns and across the highlands. This is for your own best interests (and mine). Most towns and tourist areas have places that rent bicycles (check with the tourist office) and these areas expect to see bikers on the local roads. But when it comes time to head to the next destination you should: rent a car, hitchhike or take a seat on a tourbus. The latter two options are much more environmentally friendly than biking long distances, and now I shall explain why.
Route One is a difficult and potentially dangerous road for any vehicle. It has few “shoulders” so there is rarely room to swerve off the road if needed or by accident. This is an existing danger that contributes to accidents every year as it is. Add to that the fact that many parts of Route One are sharp, curvy, hilly and downright ridiculous. You often cannot see oncoming traffic until it is coming around a corner and zooming past you. Additionally, there is only one lane for each direction and even in the best of weather (not common) driving in Iceland requires constant alertness and a bit of luck.
Enter the cyclist: sometimes riding, often walking their bicycle up a long and steep incline. It is common to see them with little time to react—often you have to slow down to nearly a complete halt (note the fuel consumption of each driver affected each time you must be passed) and now the driver is creeping behind you and must try and make a pass because you take up the majority of the lane with your giant hikers pack arranged horizontally across the back of the bike like a dead deer. This is dangerous for everyone involved. Now more fuel must be spent by the vehicle to go from zero to passing speed (often on a hill) to get around you and hope some trucker (or cyclist) is not coming around a blind corner in the opposite direction!
I have sympathy for those bikers and I often think they might rather enjoy their time exploring specific locations instead of nearly killing themselves (and possibly me and my cat) getting there. Perhaps this can be the motivation: it is NOT green. You are hurting the environment with this behaviour. No matter how much you love nature, your decision to come to Iceland is a selfish one unless you sailed here. Jet fuel is expensive and costly to the environment. We are glad you are here, but let’s not pretend you are saving the world—the money and resources it takes to visit and return could have been put to more charitable use if that is your primary concern.
As stated earlier, Route One serves the major towns all around Iceland. There are a variety of bus companies serving any area you wish to see and often with multiple day passes and packages to accommodate any flavour of traveller. Iceland is popular. The buses are nearly full and being used anyway. Some may even let you bring your bike along. It takes marginally more fuel to carry your butt (and human-sized backpack) than it does for these same vehicles to have to suddenly react to bikers on a steep, blind road with no shoulder room.
Think green… ride a bus.