Nine of the best countries to cycle in

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Nine countries you have to cycle in before you die (and a few of them might surprise you)

Where will your next ride take you?

Riding a bike abroad can be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have on two wheels, whether that’s renting a clapped out cruiser to explore a new city, touring around the country, or going from town to town with all your worldly possessions strapped to the back of your rig.

And there are some countries you simply have to ride in – either because of the amazing scenery, the challenging riding, the history and heritage of pro-cycling, or the faultless hospitality of the people who live there.

In this list you’ll find some classic destinations that would probably make everyone’s bucket list, but there’s a few in there to surprise you, too! Of course, we couldn’t hope to hit every essential cycling country in one article – so let us know what must-ride destinations we’ve missed in the comments section below.

Where will you ride next? (Pic: Media24)

Italy

Ah, Bella Italia (no, not the restaurant chain). Is there anywhere with as much of a romantic connection to the sport of cycling? From the all-conquering, hunched figure of campionissimo Faust Coppi, to the divisive, talented and ultimately tragic Marco Pantani, to the modern day magic of Vincenzo Nibali and Pippo Pozzato’s Instagram account – Italy is a cycling nation that is truly blessed.

The Passo dello Stelvio may be Italy’s most iconic climb but the whole country is a cyclist’s paradise (Pic: Jussarian / Creative Commons)

The awe-inspiring Stelvio pass alone would put any country on the cycling map, but when you consider an abundance of mountain ranges, from the Dolomites and Alps in the north, to the Apennines in Tuscany and Mount Etna in Sicily, alongside unbeatable post-ride refreshments (red wine, pizza, pasta and gelato, anyone?) and the huge range of gran fondos and other cycling events, there are so many more reasons to go ride bikes in Italy.

Did we mention L’Eroica in Gaiole? It’s the original (and most agree, the best) of the vintage Eroica events, taking place in the Chianti region near to Florence and Siena. You can read our full account of what it’s like to ride L’Eroica here.

Belgium

Belgium – home of beer, frites and Kenny Van Vlaminck. What’s not to like? Much like Italy, Belgium is blessed with a wonderfully rich cycling heritage – it’s the heartland of the Classics. Specifically the really horrible Classics that take place in spring, complete with cobblestones, mud, rain and howling headwinds.

Belgium – home to beer, frites and cobbles (Pic: Sirotti)

It takes a special kind of oddness to watch a Belgian bike race on TV and think, ‘I want to do that’, but that’s exactly what people do. A surprisingly large number of people in fact.

Heading to Belgium on a cycling holiday is pretty much guaranteed to result in you being very muddy, very wet and, for mud of the year, very cold for a significant portion of the experience, but on the plus side, you stand a good chance of watching at least one of the Classics, as well as taking on the infamous Hellingen climbs. That’s got to be worth it, right? And remember, there’s always beer and frites after.

Vietnam

It’s not one that’d leap out at you at first, but Vietnam is actually a really magnificent country to cycle in. There are jungles, mountains, beaches and rice paddies to navigate all over the country and the hospitality (outside the main cities) is on another level. Expect to be fed heartily wherever you go and questioned more than once on the purpose of your trip. Don’t be surprised if the locals remain baffled.

Vietnam has it all, from jungles to mountains, beaches to rice paddies (Pic: Luke Humphreys)

The long route from the north to south (or vice-versa), known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, is a well-trodden backpacker path – although they mostly tend to do the journey by motorbike or coach. If you plan on doing the whole thing by pedal power it’d likely take you well in excess of a month, but you can also spend a couple of weeks and hit all the best sights (with a few transfers in between).

Another nice, but unexpected, feature of cycling in Vietnam is that virtually everybody here knows how to fix a bicycle. We’re not sure why exactly, but if you pull over at the side of the road, it won’t be very long before an amateur mechanic turns up to help get you moving again.

Spain

Recent editions of the Vuelta a Espana have done a fabulous job of showing off what the country has to offer to cyclists; namely, really gruelling and horrible mountains. Just ask Tom Dumoulin.

Spain’s mountainous terrain finally put paid to Tom Dumoulin’s courageous attempt to win the 2015 Vuelta a Espana (Pic: Sirotti)

Alongside the fantastic terrain, what Spain also has in abundance is hospitality – from friendly pensions (budget guest houses), to superb coastal campsites, to alarmingly cheap food and vino. It really is one of the most welcoming countries in Europe.

If there is anything better than an ice-cold glass of cerveza and a steaming mound of patatas bravas after a long ride, we honestly don’t think we could handle it.

Add that to the fact Spain is one of the cheapest places you can fly to from the UK (cheers, Ryanair) and it’s ‘Vamos chicos!’

Indonesia

How many people can say they’ve ridden a road bike up to the top of a volcano? Not many we’re guessing. But in Bali, the blissfully beautiful island in Indonesia, that’s exactly what you can do. Bali is by far Indonesia’s most popular destination for tourists and as such it benefits from vastly superior road surfaces, cheaper (it’s all relative) airfares and more accommodation options than the rest of the country. As well as plenty of the aforementioned volcanoes.

Mount Batur in Bali rises to 1,717m (Pic: Wikipedia Creative Commons)

The summit of Mount Agung, Bali’s highest peak, is unreachable by bike (or even by car), but it’s little brother Mount Batur, still offers plenty of ascent to get your teeth into at 1,717m. There are a few different ways up, but coming from the south is the most common path. At the top you’re blessed with views of the volcanic crater, now a humongous lake, and the prospect of a scintillating descent.

Give it a couple of years and we reckon there’ll be training camps springing up all around the island and the place will be overflowing with Aussie roadies looking to put in some miles before the season kicks off. So get there now!

One note on Bali for fans of tight hairpins and demon descents – the roads from the south up to the top of Mt. Batur are all pretty much dead straight, so they don’t offer much in the way of a technical challenge. Still, if you’re in need of inspiration just imagine you’re being pursued by a wave of molten lava.

Iceland

Crossing Iceland by bike is a grueling, unfriendly and ultimately super-rewarding option for cyclists looking for a unique challenge.

British framebuilder Tom Donhou used Iceland to test his latest frame, the DSS2 adventure bike (Pic: George Marshall)

In fact, as you forge deeper and deeper into the interior, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d ridden straight into the underworld, so barren and lifeless is the landscape. But that is Iceland’s beauty.

An island created by volcanic eruptions and battered by harsh elements, the landscape of Iceland is rugged, rocky and mountainous. You’d be hard-pushed to traverse it on anything other than an adventure bike, so don’t turn up at Reykjavik airport with your new carbon steed and expect to get very far.

France

You knew this one was coming, right? It’s the home of the world’s biggest, most famous bike race. We couldn’t not include it. Whether you’ve always dreamed of conquering Mont Ventoux, gallivanting up the Col de Galibier, or attacking on Alpe d’Huez, we’ve all got a French fantasy ride we’d like to complete.

Ride in the tyre tracks of your heroes in France (Pic: Media24)

Cycle tourism is well-established in France, alongside the strong national interest in the sport. That means great infrastructure and plenty of different regions and resorts vying for your attention – not just those that feature in the Tour, but lesser known destinations in a country which offers an incredible variety of landscapes for cyclists. It’s also conveniently close by for UK riders and is one of only a few destinations you could conceivably visit without having to invest in a bikebox/bag for air travel.

The opportunity to ride the same roads as Tour de France legends like Merckx, Coppi, Anquetil and the-Texan-who-must-not-be-named is too much of a draw for any cycling fan to resist.

Bolivia

Bolivia makes it onto this list for a couple of very good reasons – the first being that it is home to some of the most remarkable landscapes anywhere in the world, with otherworldly salt-plains that stretch for miles and miles, to martian red mountains, to dense Amazonian jungle. Much of this terrain is, somewhat unbelievably, accessible by bicycle – we’ve heard of people riding bikes across the Salar de Uyuni (the world’s largest salt flat) and even into the Amazon through Bolivia.

Bolivia is home to some of the most remarkable landscapes anywhere in the world (Pic: Revolution Ferg via Flickr Creative Commons)

The second reason is that Bolivia’s position in the middle of the continent makes it one of the countries most frequently visited by cyclists on long-distance expeditions. Most routes heading along the pan-American highway will cross Bolivia, either from Argentina to the south-east, Chile in the south-west, or Brazil and Peru to the north.

Be warned though, pretty much all of Bolivia is at high-altitude, anywhere from 2,700m above sea-level, up to about 4,600m. With that in mind, if you do manage to get here for a cycling holiday you may need to take a few days to acclimatise before setting off up the nearest Andean climb.

Did we mention Bolivia is really cheap? Incredibly cheap. So cheap. Like 50p for a plate of food and a beer. Yes, that cheap.

United Kingdom

Woah! We’re blowing your mind right now, huh? Believe it, the UK is one of the best countries in the world to ride in – with incredible beauty and challenging riding within a couple of hours of virtually everyone in the country’s doorstep.

The 2014 Tour de France showcased Yorkshire’s beauty to the world (Pic: Shaun Flannery/SWPix.com)

From the rolling (but viciously steep) hills of Devon and Cornwall, to the visceral, lung-busting peaks of the Highlands of Scotland and the English Lake District, if there’s one thing we do well here in Albion it’s hills for cycling up. This is to say nothing of Wales, Northern Ireland and the south east, which all have beautiful routes and great riding of their.

Yorkshire’s Grand Depart in 2014 might have showcased the country to the world as a cycling ‘must visit’, but remember, we all knew about Blighty’s brilliance way before it was cool.

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