Mountain Biking and Cycle Touring in Mongolia
When people think of cycle touring or mountain biking, Mongolia isn't the first place that springs to mind. It would be easy to assume the country is too remote, vast, empty, rugged, cold, hot or just too difficult. But for some, that is precisely the appeal. It's one of the last frontiers, only for the brave, foolhardy and adventurous. And that's one reason why people do it.
The other reason is that it is undeniably beautiful. Wide open rolling grasslands, mountains, nomadic people, yurts, deserts and an interesting and mysterious history. In the North there are river and more traditional mountain bike trails, the West has the Altai mountains and the South the Gobi desert.
Surprisingly, mountain biking is starting to become an established activity in Mongolia. Every August there is the Mongolia Bike Challenge, a six day event which covers about 850km and claims to be one of the toughest in the world. Below is a nicely put together documentary on the event. This ride doesn't look for the faint hearted or inexperienced.
Aside from this competitive event, there are a number of companies that offer bike tours and/or mountain bike hire. Although we can't vouch for their quality, they include Bike Mongolia, Travel Gobi Mongolia and Spice Roads.
THREE VIDEOS ON CYCLE TOURING IN MONGOLIA
The Mongolian Altai are a range of mountains in the remote western end of the country, sparsely populated only by Kazakh nomads, plus the golden eagles they still use to hunt. In the first video Joey Schusler and two friends head off to this region on mountain bikes and river rafts, traversing what looks like some pretty cold, harsh and rugged conditions. The video doesn't have a huge amount of narrative or information, but similar to his other videos, it is beautifully filmed and gives you a sense of what it must be like to travel through this part of the world.
For a good and detailed overview of what is involved in cycle touring through Mongolia check out this interview by Travelling Two of Tom Allen - who also writes the cycle blog Tom's Bike Trip. In 2006 Tom spent six weeks cycling around 1000km through the country, particularly focussing on remote and off the beaten track locations. The interview highlights both the rewards and challenges, including navigating wide open roadless spaces, sparsely populated regions, irregular food supplies and the kind of gear you need. Despite all this, Tom says of Mongolia; "overall the country is safer, more inhabited, and more practical for the biker than I think many people believe. Out of 30 or so countries in which I’ve cycled, it’s been the cream of the crop for a challenging, varied and accessible adventure." Read the full interview here.
In addition this interview, Tom and his travelling companion Andy made a four part movie about the trip. Here you get a sense of vast country, the difficulties as well as some entertaining anecdotes. Look out for wolves, hills, mud, advice on wallpaper and lots of camping. Below is Part One.