I had to try mountain biking in Iceland. How often can I pedal on a volcano and soak in a hot springs in the middle of a ride?
(Want to see live action? Here’s the video, or click the ridiculous photo above!)
With only two days between our camper van trip and our trek in the highlands, I opted for two MTB day trips out of Reykyavik. I chose Icebike Adventures because their reviews were good, they were the first company to start running mountain bike tours in Iceland, and their website was slick. Chelsea opted to rest up in Reykyavik and hang with her folks, so it was just me and other mountain bikers from Italy, Belgium, and Virginia.
My cheery guide, Magne (badass Viking name!), picked me up in a lifted Land Rover Defender with big tires and an even bigger sense of style. Many of the Super Jeeps in Iceland cost $100k-$250k and live on pavement. Not so with the Defender.
We roared out of town, past a huge geothermal plant that provides all of Reykyavik’s hot water. Soon we were in the volcanic hills east of town.
Skipping the road, Magne blasted through 30 river crossings in the Defender, blowing walls of water into the air. The little boy in me giggled; the adult hooted in appreciation.
I rode with Icebike for two separate trips, the Steamer trail and the Edge trail. These can be combined into one day if you’re feeling up for it. I’d recommend the Edge first so you can relax in the hot pools later in the day.
My take: If you don’t have much time in Iceland and want a cool experience with bubbling mud pools and a soak in a hot springs, go for the Steamer. If you want to ride XC singletrack through lava fields and log more distance, go for the Edge trail.
Ride #1: Steamer Trail
This 14k (8 mile) ride starts across a crushed lava field, then climbs up to a viewpoint. There are bubbling mud pots (a cameraman boiled his foot there a couple years back) and a few curious sheep might say hi.
Then there’s some fun, mildly-rowdy singletrack down to the halfway point in Reykyadalur, the “foggy valley.” A bubbling hot stream sprouts from the hills; don’t jump in the top or you’ll be a boiled tourist. Halfway down, the water cools enough to enjoy. You’ll have to share with other tourists, but hey, aren’t hot pools and mountain biking enough?
From there, traverse through a steamy section of trail, then blast downhill on double and single track. You’ll have the option to finish with 15 minutes zipping through grassland singletrack at the bottom.
Crack a beer, say skál (cheers!) to your fellow riders, and head for town.
Ride #2: Edge Trail
Looking for more riding and less soaking? Hit the Edge trail. It’s 23k (14 miles) of rip-roaring fun through a quintessential Icelandic landscape.
According to Magne, there are only about 100 serious mountain bikers in Iceland. This means trails are empty and running into another car at a trailhead is a weird occurrence. Given how fun the terrain is, I expect that to increase dramatically in the coming years, though apparently trail maintenance is a pain with the harsh winters. I wouldn’t be out there doing trail work in freezing spring sleet, that’s for sure.
Edge Trail starts at a trailhead on the shoulder of an extinct volcano. You’ll pedal past moss-covered lava or down rough, chunky trails that will test your technical skills. Finish up through grassy plains and fields of flowers, over rough bridges, and right into the eastern edge of Reykyavik. Edge was my favorite ride of the two that I did.
I ride a nice mountain bike back home and have higher expectations than most. Rental bikes, as a rule, tend to SUCK. Tourists destroy them and many times it seems they are maintained with a rusty hacksaw by a hiker who hates mountain bikes.
Icebike impressed me with their well-maintained, quality Scott full-suspension bikes. The bikes easily handled any of the terrain we encountered (or was that my wannabe-pro skills?). Size-wise, get a large bike if you’re my height (5’10”). A medium is for someone shorter than 5’9”.
Both trails were great and I’d recommend either. Steamer is fairly short, but the hot pools halfway are a cool experience. It’s a better trip for a beginner. Edge is rowdier (and more fun) and you’ll work harder, but hey, that’s all part of the fun!
If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t get to experience the heli-biking that Icebike also offers. After all, what’s cooler than landing in a heli on top of a volcano and biking straight off the side? I’ll just have to come back for that, and also for some multi-day trips in the Iceland highlands. SO MUCH TO DO.
Thanks for showing me around, Icebike!