Iceland 101: What to know before hiking the stunning Westfjords

If there was one country that consistently topped bikers’ wish lists – and will likely continue to top the list of most popular motorcycling destinations for years to come – it’s Iceland. The mysterious Land of Fire and Ice offers out-of-this-world scenery, rugged terrain, and virtually limitless off-road driving. But what is it really like to ride there, what kind of terrain can you expect and what gear works for this unpredictable weather?

Last August I toured Iceland’s Westfjords region as part of a six-day tour on a Husqvarna 701. Westfjords is one of Iceland’s most rugged and isolated peninsulas, covering over 14 000 square miles of sparsely populated mountains and fjords. Located around 200 miles north of the capital Reykjavik, the Westfjords region offers a motorcycling paradise for both on-road and off-road adventures, as it boasts stunning coastal bends as well as countless gravel trails criss-crossing the area. . Compared to other parts of Iceland, the Westfjords are the least populated – and arguably the most scenic.

Icelandic land

While the weather made me think I’d rather return to Iceland in an expedition truck than on a bike, the terrain here is simply breathtaking. The roads are as scenic and twisty as you’d expect – miles and miles of twists around fjords and fast turns over mountains – but it’s the off-road trails that really make Iceland stand out.

From black lava fields to shale, sand, gravel and rock tracks, you’ll find all types of terrain and all levels of difficulty here. For cyclists looking to enjoy the scenery and really twist the throttle, there are plenty of wide, hard-packed dirt roads hugging the shoreline and crossing the highlands. Plus, there are countless trails offering more technical riding: pebble beaches, narrow fjord tracks, river crossings, and sand abounds in Iceland, and the only rule for off-roading is that you’re not allowed off the trails (i.e. no cross country, off-trail, but any trail or track you find is fair game).

Whether you stick to the larger gravel trails or seek singletrack in the sticks, there are two things to watch out for: expedition vehicles and…sheep. Iceland is incredibly popular with the 4×4 crowd, so even in its more remote areas you’ll likely encounter off-road capable expedition trucks on a daily basis. The sheep mostly roam free and have their own traffic rules, so watch your speed around the blind corners – you never know when an animal might be wandering in the middle of the trail.

Overlay

After covering around 1,300 miles on the trip, I experienced the full spectrum of Icelandic weather, from sunny days to torrential rains and gusty winds in the span of a week. Being somewhat optimistic that temperatures might still be mild in late summer, I expected my full adventure gear to be a bit of a stretch: I brought GoreTex socks, a thin base layer in merino wool, a windproof thermal layer, and my Klim Artemis waterproof suit combined with GoreTex gloves. Since the ride was 50/50 on-road/off-road, I thought I might have overdone it a bit with all the layers.



But the reality is that Iceland is, well, freezing. Even on sunny days with blue skies on the horizon and the thermostat showing a happy 53° Fahrenheit, the ride was chilly. Iceland sits just below the Arctic Circle, and the icy winds blowing off its western shores from Greenland mean a lot of brr during the braap. To stay warm, I wore my one-piece rainsuit over the gear every day – not so much for the possibility of rain, but as additional wind protection.

On the off-road sections, the rain suit retreated as we had to weave our way through varied terrain at a brisk pace. On the road, however, this setup worked well; I may be too sensitive to the cold after experiencing a severe case of hypothermia a few years ago, but if you’re planning on riding in Iceland be prepared. It’s always easier to peel off layers than to realize you haven’t packed enough, and even if you’re aiming to ride purely off-road, the weather in Iceland is something to contend with. In addition to cold days, the rain can be incessant, so waterproof gear is a must. Finally, there is the gale: one day, our guides chose to change the route because the winds were so violent that the runners were literally ripped off the trail at the top of the fjords. I lamented my choice of a simple neck warmer over a full winter neck warmer pretty much every day.

In summary, the best riding gear for Iceland is fully waterproof and well-insulated adventure pants and jacket, waterproof boots (or socks), a neck warmer, a good thermal layer and waterproof gloves hot. Icelanders themselves might wear light enduro gear, but remember, they are Icelanders – I saw locals walking around outside in T-shirts when it was barely 40° Fahrenheit.

Fuel and accommodation

It’s also important to keep your fuel range around 130-150 miles, as gas stations in more remote areas can be few and far between. Food and accommodation (hotels and guesthouses) are not hard to come by due to Iceland’s well-developed travel infrastructure aimed at tourists, and there are many designated camping areas throughout the country (wild camping is no longer allowed).

Best time to ride

Iceland has a somewhat limited window of time to ride (May to September) due to weather conditions. July and August are the hottest months, but keep in mind that in summer, daylight lasts twenty hours. Sleeping on a Nordic ‘sleepless night’ can be tricky if you’re not used to it, so bring an eye mask! Finally, if you ride in Iceland in September, you might be able to see the Northern Lights. We were lucky enough to witness the spectacular Northern Lights in the Westfjords on the 31stst of August.

Summer temperatures in Iceland are around 50-55°F, but remember those freezing winds and the high chance of rain.

Bike rental and shipping options

Renting dirt bikes in Iceland can be tricky (although that’s pretty much the case all over the world). I drove in Iceland with the Ride with the locals tour operator on a Husqvarna 701, and I recommend you check them out as they offer a truly local experience. Serious off-road enthusiasts, the team at Ride with Locals know Iceland so intimately that you’re guaranteed to explore the country’s most scenic trails and roads, and if things go wrong, there’s a chase truck. nearby with all the spare parts and tools you might need. The company offers dual-sport and pure enduro tours in Iceland ranging from a few days to a week, and it seemed like the Husqvarna 701 was just about the perfect bike for Iceland: you wouldn’t want anything smaller because the distances are long. , and you wouldn’t want a 1200cc beast either, as some off-road riding can get quite technical.

viking bike in Reykjavik also offers motorcycle rentals, but the choice is limited to BMW GS adventure bikes rather than dual-sport or off-road motorcycles. Finally, there is an option to ship your own motorbike to Iceland with European companies like Motobirds or you can take a ferry from Denmark. Shipping to Iceland isn’t exactly cheap (again, neither is Iceland as a whole), but if you’re planning on spending more than two weeks exploring and want the freedom to having your own bike is a great option.

Iceland is by far one of the most stunning, scenic and rugged places I’ve ever been to, but don’t take the weather and terrain lightly: good gear and off-road experience are a must.

Photos by Egle Gerulaityte.

Author: Egle Gerulaityte

Rolling around the world very slowly and without taking it too seriously, Egle is always on the lookout for interesting stories. Editor-in-chief of Women ADV Riders magazine, she focuses on everyday people doing extraordinary things and hopes to bring travel inspiration to all two-wheeler fanatics.

Wiley C. Thompson