Round-the-world rider Nathan Millward has spent three weeks in Iceland, exclusively for BikeSocial. While out there, he’s given us the low-down on what he considers essential for any big biking journey…
With hotel accommodation upwards of £100, and even hostel beds not much less than £40 per night, the only way for Iceland to be viable on the budget I had was to camp. Campsites are plentiful and range from between £8 to £14 per night per person. Camping also allows you to be flexible as generally you don’t need to book ahead.
For this trip I went with a three-man tunnel tent; the Vango Omega 350. I wanted the extra size for the five days my wife was joining me on the trip, plus the porch area was handy for cooking and storage. I had thought I’d need a free-standing tent – one that doesn’t need pegs to erect – given the hard ground in Iceland, but all the campsites are grass with no problems knocking pegs in. The wind hasn’t been too bad either.
With a tent, the compromise is always cost, weight and size. The Omega 350 is small enough to go in the dry bag on the back, and only weighs around 4.5kgs, so it’s not too heavy. I purposefully went for a tent with aluminium poles to cope with the stresses of the wind. I also carry spare pegs and an extra tarp, to serve as a groundsheet on stoney ground, though on this trip I’ve not had to use it.
It seems a grey area about wild camping in Iceland – cyclists and hikers can, motorhome and car users cannot. Whether a motorised two-wheel vehicle is allowed is questionable. Regardless, it’s proven harder to find convenient, out of sight camping spots near the roadside, though no doubt it would be possible with more conviction. The relative affordability of designated campsites has steered me towards those instead.
This a multi fuel stove that comes in a pouch containing bowl, pan and burner, so it’s compact and easy to keep together. I’ve tried running it off petrol but I find it easier just using the gas bungs that you can buy at most petrol stations in Iceland. One big canister should last the three week trip.
On an entirely solo trip I might be tempted to take a smaller attachment for a gas canister and a single, smaller cooking pan, especially if I had less luggage space. Ultimately I find one-pan cooking to be the simplest way of eating on the road.
If you’re on the road for an extended period of time, it’s important you have some creature comforts, or some way of cheering you up if you’ve had a windy night and rain in the morning. I brought a cheap compact percolator from a supermarket for £5, and a bag of fresh coffee so that in the morning I had something to get me going.
Ideally I’d carry milk, but that’d get messy if it spilled in the pannier, so I just have some sugar sachets picked up from service stations and rest stops. I also brought some tea bags – regular and camomile – and made up a flask each day. As a non-smoker, I find a flask to be a great alternative to a cigarette in giving you an excuse to stop for a while.
When travelling by bike and camping it’s not always easy or cost-effective to find somewhere to eat in the evening. I generally find it’s easier to pick up lunch on the road and then in the evening have a means of getting fed. On this trip I brought a mixture of instant pasta, rice and noodles from the UK as they were cheap. Looking around the supermarkets here in Iceland, you can pick up most of the same goods, though for at least three times the price! I generally complement this with bread picked up along the way, which will last me the day and prove a handy snack.
I went for nstant packet food rather than raw rice or pasta simply because it’s quicker to cook and means that your gas canisters last longer. Obviously there are varying degrees of preparation and effort. For breakfast, porridge oats are the easiest and most filling option, with a jar of jam to sweeten.
Packing for two people on a trip isn’t that different to packing for one. I just brought one extra plate, cup and cutlery set. We raided knives, forks and spoons from the kitchen drawer back home, and grabbed cheap mugs on offer in Mountain Warehouse. A handful of zip-lock bags are handy for storing lose items in, and be sure to pack a lighter or matches. If there’s room, takeaway cartons can be a great way of segregating and stacking dry goods separately.
Carrying fresh water is pretty much essential, not just for drinking but also for cooking. I have a three-litre bladder from a Kriega backpack that I bring with me on trips like this. The benefit is that it’s malleable and can be crammed into awkward spaces. It’s also easy to drink from with the attached tube, and it’s something I’ll just lay on the top of the other things in a pannier.
I’ve brought a selection of basic tools that I know will fit vital parts of the bike. I can tighten or access most bolt heads, remove wheels, change brake pads, top up oil, brake fluid and any other basic maintenance issues I might have. You can’t bring a comprehensive tool kit and nor do you need to; just pack the stuff that you know might come in handy.
A multitool is useful to have in your pocket too, whether you need a sharp knife or pliers.
You can’t bring spares for everything, and it’s best to rely on your own experience with the bike as to what you’re likely to need. I know that with the BMW R1200GS, the linked-braking can prematurely wear the rear pads, so I’ve brought a set of those, and because I use the bike off road a fair bit – and with river crossings on this trip – I brought along a set of front wheel bearings just in case they fail, as they have done in the past. Other than that it’s just spare oil, cable ties and some duct tape.
Spare bungee cords are also handy to keep, as is a tube of chemical metal for fixing broken parts, and some superglue, as has already come in handy for patching up my sleeping mat.
The worst thing you would want to happen is to lose your key on a trip and have the hassle of trying to source a replacement, especially if the new one needs to be programmed in. A spare key tucked in your wallet or even somewhere safe and out of sight on the bike is useful. It can save you a lot of time and money if you happen to lose the original.
Iceland, as in most places, has plenty of cash machines dotted around, allowing you to draw from your current account. It’s always handy though to have a few hundred pounds, Euros or dollars tucked away somewhere, just in case your card gets declined. Also, if you lose your wallet, it can be handy to have some cash stashed on the bike somewhere. On this trip I haven’t, but were I going somewhere a little less developed then I definitely would.
To note, most fuel stations in Iceland are pay at pump, meaning that the cash I drew out to travel on is going further than I’d anticipated. On a daily basis I’m spending around £25 on camping and food, plus the £20 or so pounds per day on fuel that’s coming straight out of my account.
For Iceland I’ve brought a four-season Vango sleeping bag and a Static-V air mattress, as well as an inflatable pillow. If you’re camping for an extended period of time then you need to be comfortable – it’s no good if you’re cold and restless in the night. Thankfully nights in Iceland aren’t much colder than the days, but an extra blanket would still have come in handy. Instead I’ve been wearing thermals to bed and that’s done the trick. I store all of my camping gear in a dry bag on the back of the bike.
The common thing that’s going to bring a trip to an abrupt stop is a puncture. The tyres are tubeless on the GS, so I’ve just brought a repair kit with the bung inserts, then a pump that connects to the battery to re-inflate. If your wheels are tubed then bring patches and maybe a spare tube, or consider using something like Slime to prevent deflation. If a tyre is so badly torn that it needs replacement, then for Iceland it’d be a case of taking out the wheel and trying to get a lift to the capital where a new one can be sourced.
On a trip like this a modern smart phone is increasingly useful. Photos, mapping, WiFi, telephone calls, alarm clocks… With the relaxation of data roaming rules in Europe you can now use your UK SIM in Iceland at no extra cost. Alternatively, you can buy a local pay-as-you-go SIM on arrival, if your phone is unlocked. A charge point on the bike is useful, especially if camping. I’ve also brought a laptop, mainly to back photos up, but it’s something I find best managed without if possible – it takes up too much space and is another thing to break along the way. I’ve also brought along a Nikon SLR camera, plus all necessary chargers, and a power pack to charge items away from the mains source, but I’ve usually been charging batteries via the bike’s 12V socket.
What to ride in on a trip is a completely personal choice. It’s that age-old compromise between price, comfort and protection. For the last two years I’ve been wearing a pair of Resurgence Voyager fully-lined motorcycle jeans. They have knee protection but otherwise look and feel like a pair of regular jeans (albeit heavy). They’ve been warm enough for Iceland, and if it rains I simply slip over a pair of waterproof trousers. As a jacket I’ve been using a Rev’IT! Sand 3, which I like. It’s comfortable, less over the top than most adventure-style jackets, and is three layered, with a quilted inner, waterproof liner and a vented outer. Like all three-layer designs with the waterproof layer in the middle, the outer wets out and becomes heavy in sustained rain. That makes them hard to dry, especially when camping, so a proper waterproof outer is much more preferable, leaving the bike jacket to offer the protection and warmth. A decent pair of trousers to go with it is a must…
So, given the wind and rain, I also brought a second-hand Royal Navy jacket that I picked up at an army surplus store near Worcester. I wear this over the top of the motorcycle jacket and find it practical, versatile and, importantly, waterproof. Winter gloves by RST have been fine, as has an Arai TourX 4 helmet , though it’s necessary to wear ear protection, especially on the long motorway stretches through Europe. For footwear I’ve worn the Gaerne All Terrain boots that I’ve had the past few years. Originally waterproof, they do now leak a little but they’re exceptionally comfortable, and while trials boots by origin, they offer enough support for the rough gravel road riding. Again, it’s a compromise.
Riding up through mainland Europe in summer, I was always going to bring a couple of gloves on the trip; summer gloves for that initial run, and winter gloves for Iceland. Regardless of the destination, I find it always best to have a spare set, just in case of rain or if you lose one.
With limited space and over three weeks on the road it’s important to pack sparingly. For this trip I kept it down to five tee-shirts, five pairs of underwear, three thick pairs of socks and a thermal top and bottom. I also brought casual trousers and trainers, plus a jumper, for when not on the bike. I expect to do laundry a few times but generally on a trip like this I tend to stretch the clothes out a bit. Good deodorant is a must.
Essential items such as toothpaste, toothbrush, small shower gel and for this trip a good assortment of paracetamol and ibuprofen. Like many, I get a fair amount of back pain on a long trip, and find it’s always easiest – and cheapest – to stock up on the own-brand packs back in the UK. Obviously bring whatever medication you might need for the duration of your trip. Equally, supermarkets are very well stocked in Iceland, with most things available that you might need. In some parts of the island, things are more scarce, but even the petrol stations carry a decent selection of food and toiletries, though obviously at a higher price.
For the ride through mainland Europe I carried a cheap Garmin sat-nav, and for Iceland packed a Rough Guide book and Michelin map. The island is easy to navigate and best done with a map as it allows you to spot alternative routes and attractions along the way. The free cycle maps, available at tourist information centres, are also extremely good as they show the F-roads in more detail, such as river crossings and how severe they are.
Just like any holiday, a trip on a motorcycle – be it in the UK, Europe or beyond – can be ruined by delays, lost documents, illness and more. There are plenty of travel insurance options, but you need to make sure you get a policy that includes riding motorcycles, and if it does, that it's for bikes of the engine size you'll be riding (many only cover up to 250cc). At its most basic, you should look for insurance that provides cover for the following:
In addition though, if you’re taking a motorcycle (or you're renting one while you’re away) be sure that your insurer will cover you for any medical expenses, should you have an accident. You must also think about where you’re riding – some policies won’t cover you if you’re trail or enduro riding, or if you’re on a race track. Remember – this isn’t about your bike being covered, it’s about your medical expenses, should the worst happen.
If you're only going away once, a single-trip policy will likely be all you need, but also consider an annual policy, which could extend to cover your family holidays too (a good insurer should also be able to offer cover for your whole family).
BikeSocial’s parent company, Bennetts, has a motorcycle-specific travel insurance policy – find out if it suits your needs by clicking here.
Think Nathan’s missed something? Let us know in the comments below…