When Adam first proposed the idea of taking our mountain bikes to Iceland, I knew it was an opportunity that couldn’t be missed. The prospect of riding somewhere so totally alien to anywhere that we had experienced before was a rich, inviting thought and given the images and videos floating around the internet we soon found ourselves bursting to begone, desperate to ride in this incredible environment.
Three and a half months and a couple of miles of Gaffer tape later we founds ourselves in the entrance to Glasgow airport surrounded by our bike boxes and bags, each of us wistfully dreaming of the flowing rock and loose ash we would soon be testing ourselves against. The plan went as such: we would arrive in Iceland and collect our pre arranged hire trucks, three Dodges, each equipped with a V8 5.7L engine, throw in the bike bags and be on our way to our rented cottage remotely nestled in the highlands a couple of hours outside of Reykjavik. From here we would spend four days riding and sampling some of the best riding we have ridden to date. Each prospect then, was as exciting as the others.
The first morning of the first day blew open every previous thought, idea and conception that we had carried with us to Iceland. It became obvious very quickly that this was a land designed to be rode by mountain bike. The trails had everything we had dreamed of and more. The first mornings riding was at Maradalur beneath the mountain of Hengill and as well as sounding like something from The Lord of the Rings it also looked as such.
This trail formed of extremely tacky rock constructed from the earth, stickier than spiderman’s fingers, screamed to be played with. Solidified Lava formed natural play grounds with bowls being formed with sides of perfectly sculpted berms. Every corner along the trail threw eye bulging vistas of flat plains banked steeply each side by sharp rock and rugged mountainsides. The tacky rock shelves which had you throwing shapes at any opportunity would quickly vanish in the depths of an ashen gravel surface, looser than a seventies disco, which demanded cutties and to be roosted.
As fun as these trails were it swiftly became clear that to reap the rewards you would have to invest time and energy. With no shortage of climbs and even more hike-a-biking each day was an exhausting effort, Hengill Mountain consisted of a couple of hours hike-a-biking to reach the summit. Although the effort was tough, you simply couldn’t complain, never has a more epic hike been undertaken and never has a view from the summit been more worth it. As if the sensation of standing on the edge of the world wasn’t enough, what followed was more wide open mountainside descending; spacious enough to fit 10 riders riding abreast and full pelt it felt like a different world of riding to anything any of us had ever experienced.
Iceland is a geothermal paradise, ninety-nine percent of the country runs on renewable energy produced by its own volcanic land. Fortunately, for tired mountain bikers this can also be utilised for the best of reasons-resting tired muscles. A monstrous climb from the town of Hveragerði on deep gravel jeep track had the legs screaming for a rest. There were promises at the top of long and distant single track known as the Reykjadalur trail, weaving itself into the vistas below. We weren’t to be disappointed by the descent, undulating, off camber, slick muddy hills with numerous lines to be taken we flew down the hillside, surrounded by tussocks of grass and hikers camping, all of whom are mesmerised by the sight of people riding mountain bikes. All of them cheering and many filming they bolstered our already growing confidence on this wild terrain.
Half way down we abruptly stop, whip out trunks and pasty British bodies andmake our way into the naturally occurring hot springs, resting in a never ending hot bath. We share thoughts on the trail before and expectations on the kilometers of descending promised after. We begin to understand just what type of place Iceland is, a land of action, with perfect trails put together by a growing outdoor hiking scene that we as mountain bikers are fortunate enough to feed off.
Rested and suitably sparred we return to the descent, muscles slightly less taught than before. The trail becomes a wide piece of dirt, with drops and rocks to hop and wide corners allowing you to carry sufficient speed into the following sections, all of which have there own character. Whether it be technical rocky, jarring descents or smooth fast, undulating muddy ground, this trail quickly became a favourite of the trip.
With Iceland being formed by volcanoes and ran by volcanoes we naturally jumped at the opportunity to ride our bikes on a volcano. Not just any volcano either, perhaps one of the most notable in the world, Eyjafjallajokull; best known for its eruptions in 2010 and people’s inability to pronounce its name. Nevertheless we decided on the highly irresponsible and amazingly long climb from Skogafoss up to the huts high up on the snow caps on the pass of Fimmvorouhals which sits between Eyjafjallajokull and Katla-another volcano. It is safe to say that this was a day out certainly not suited to the faint hearted, a climb of 4,921 feet was what it took to reach the top and the looks we received from the hikers high up in the snow certainly cemented that.
The descent from the furthest hut was on the ash freshly settled from the 2010 eruption, allowing us to carve our way back down to the snow caps, cutting between rocks and throwing out our rear ends. Once we had descended on ash, snow and loose rock we reached what we had come to ride. A beautiful, snaking piece of dirt running alongside the inspiring Skoga River. Long wide corners and natural berms allowed you to throw yourself at top speed into everything and anything, as well as containing multiple line options with plenty of pop. The ground seemed to have a magical ingredient which oozed grip, even the normal dirt had us playing around with it, having no fear of washing out or slipping it encouraged faster riding. It didn’t take long for all the riders to realise that we had reached nirvana; with the conclusion at the bottom of the trail unanimously being that this was the finest piece of natural riding we had ever done.
Iceland truly is a world of it’s own, a place where every day consists of opportunities to do something on two wheels that you simply have not ever done. Whether it be carving down a scree slope, cutting through ash, riding up the side of a volcano or resting mid trail in a hot spring it really is a land filled with the uncommon. A place of adventure that is completely overlooked by riders seeking a holiday destination, it cannot be recommended enough.
Photos: Adam Ramsay
Words: Rupert Radley