Lance Armstrong’s illustrious cycling career may have come to an inglorious end but it does not take away the fact that he has been one of the most talented, spirited and energetic bikers the world has known. While he particularly enjoyed biking in the mountains, a large number of his fans are now setting up cycling clubs and associations in all kinds of locations, including in crowded Indian cities. Indeed, cycling as a sport is becoming popular among all age groups and while amateurs look for open, free roads to zip through on their bikes, many are actually contemplating embarking on some of the world’s best known bike trails.
Listed below is a collection of ten trails that have been handpicked from various travel advisory websites, magazines and blogs of adventure enthusiasts. This is just an indication of some of the picturesque and challenging trails that exist in the world. The criteria for putting a particular trail on top of the heap could ofcourse vary, depending on what the cyclist is really seeking. For some it could be just a non-fuss trail that runs alongside a clear ocean front. For another it would have to be physically challenging and therefore the choice would be for a mountain route. For another it could be a trail that runs alongside a historical ruin whereas for yet another, it might be navigating people and shops through a busy local bazaar. All the same, go through our list, to get an idea of what you can do where:
1. Grand Teton National Park in the US
This bike ride is not for the amateur or the faint hearted. You will need a fair amount of stamina to climb over Togowotee Pass. There are some interesting places you can stop by en route for a healthy sandwich or even a gigantic glass of beer. Once you have reached the peak, you can begin your descent into Teton which is worth all the huffing and puffing you may have had to do to get to the top in the first place. The feeling of being part of a wild countryside is quite euphoric. So, what are you waiting for? Plan on getting to Dubois in Wyoming and get set to ride to the Grand Teton National Park.
2. Isle of Wight in England
This ride allows you to soak in some very fascinating terrains as you zip past lush velvet hills that seamlessly merge into the sea, narrow lanes that take you through neat hedgerows, deep and mysterious green gullies, and the ridge of cliffs that stretch across the entire area. The place is well frequented by bikers and weekenders who drop in from London . There are Wightlink passenger ferries that sail from Portsmouth to Ryde pier throughout the day. While fares vary for the 18-minute crossing, bikers do not have to pay a dime. It is a free passage for them!
3. West Coast, Tasmania in Australia
Wide stretches of untouched and untamed lands stretch along the massive west coast. Cycling is not a cakewalk here but it still has some awe inspiring hill climbs that can be navigated by a seasoned biker. Getting to the famous Cradle Mountain will most certainly be the prize for this challenging feat. There are some other tourist sights too, such as the Montezuma Falls and the most beautiful St Clair Lake.
4. Luberon and Mont Ventoux, Provence in France
Bikers can have crazy ambitions. And if you are one of those, then you should definitely set your sights on traversing the hundred odd kilometres of well-signed bike paths in this sun-drenched corner of Provence. As you ride, encountering magnificent vineyards and ancient villages dotting the rocky slopes will be an added bonus. Your biking destination will have to be none other than the legendary Mont Ventoux. This beautiful sight has been captured in several movies, Tour de France dramas and massive theatrical presentations. Little wonder then, it is viewed quite literally as a cyclist’s pilgrimage. But do make note that Mont Ventoux is usually snow-covered above 1300m from December until May. The summit road is therefore accessible only during the summer months.
5. San Juan Islands, Washington in USA
As you lug yourself and your bike on a ferry before you get to the islands, take in the coastline that you will soon be riding on. You will go through forested shorelines, secluded coves, flower lined avenues and quiet roads. You will need a day to cover each of the main islands. Mostly ‘cycle tourists’ like to do the Lopez, Orcas and San Juan islands. The day can be spent biking, visiting art galleries and digging into an array of delicious sea food and ofcourse, seeing from up close, families of seals, otters, sea lions, black-tailed deer and eagles. Washington State Ferries provide the main transport link between Anacortes and the islands and you also have the Victoria Clipper that runs from Seattle to Friday Harbour.
6. County Clare in Ireland
A biker would most definitely have difficulty focusing on the road ahead, since he would be constantly diverted by the golden-sand beaches that line up like in a magical sweep taking him/her up to the dramatic Cliffs of Moher facing the Atlantic. Irish music and the famed Irish ale can be sampled aplenty in the towns of Milltown Malbay and Doolin which you can choose to ride through. Yeats’ country is pretty in May and June when wild flowers are in bloom. You will be advised to do your bookings in advance since tourists do flock in the summer months.
7. Langkawi in Malaysia
This is an enigmatic route that allows you ample opportunity to cycle as you explore every nook and cranny of the island. White sandy beaches will stretch before you and lush jungles will beckon ever so tantalisingly. There is a timeless quality to the place and the good thing is you can set your pace while riding. As veteran bikers will tell you, Langkawi makes for pretty laid-back riding. You can add a zing by hauling yourself up Gunung Raya, which at 881m is the tallest point on the island. The 2007 Tour de Langkawi is an occasion most bikers look forward to. Clearly, the place is all set to become a popular cycling destination.
8. La Farola in Cuba
This is one destination that bikers love coming back to. With the awe inspiring 9km descent along the La Farola highway, it runs from the crest of the Baracoa Mountains down to the south coast. The highway sights include cliffs that hang precariously at some places, loaded with tropical vegetation and guard rails that seem secure and protective. From vintage points you get a grand view of the wild open ocean. Built by the Revolutionary government, this fantastic mountain highway holds an alluring and tempting appeal for cyclists of all shapes and sizes. Traditionally, the first stage of the Vuelta Ciclista Cuba (Cuba’s answer to the Tour de France) is run over this route. All through, history is evident with snatches of the revolution being fed to you in good measure. For those of you who have seen Motorcycle Diaries, you will know what it must have meant for the duo in the film to embark on this exploratory exercise that included Cuba in good measure. Good to carry a generous helping of food, bike equipment and first-aid supplies since for long stretches you may see no one, barring an odd shephard who may not even be too familiar with the English language.
9. National Highway 1 in Vietnam
This majestic road runs the length of the narrow country from north to south. It is the most popular cycling route in Vietnam, a long but immensely rewarding trip along the best parts of Vietnam’s coastline. The route has a liberal sprinkling of hills which kind of go up and merge with the mighty Hai Van Pass at 496m. It gives you a breathtaking descent as pine-clad mountains loom to the west and the South China Sea gazes into the east. As you cycle along, you will find rich rice fields on one side and abundant water life in deep waters of the coast. The Indochina Trekking Company, based in Hanoi, offers a variety of cycling adventures in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.
10. London to Hever Castle, in the UK
This is a most scenic drive, best planned along with a picnic hamper. As you cycle, you will get a panoramic view of the Weald of Kent with all its majestic rolling hills that will exhaust you a bit but also allow you to catch your breath as you go down gentle slopes. Interestingly, Kent is one place which is just as charming in the summer as in the rains. Avid bikers can be seen hugging their raincoats and headgear as they breeze through the rain, biking furiously along to get off at the Hever Castle, stopping by for a drink at the Swan pub in West Peckham and contemplating climbing yet again one of the smaller hills. This ride offers you the perfectly quaint old English feel. You can almost visualise Audrey Hepburn singing ‘Doe a Deer’ from the Sound of Music.