International travel is stressful enough on its own and that logistical stress gets further compounded when adding a bike into the equation. Fortunately, on Josh‘s recent trip to Iceland to cover the 2023 Arna Westfjords Way Challenge, he had a much easier time than expected thanks to Icelandair and guidance from the wonderful folks at Cycling Westfjords. Read on below for a few insights and tips for traveling to Iceland and the Westfjords region with a bike.
Packing to Photograph an International Cycling Event
In response to my recap of this year’s Westfjords Way Challenge, I received some questions about a few of my photos that showed a complete bike being loaded into the cargo bay of an Icelandair DCH-8-200. And rightfully so: this was not special press treatment for me, and this is certainly not common practice for most airlines. At least not those I’ve traveled with (typically bikes need to be packed in cases or, at least, a cardboard bike box). But I think this hospitable transfer of my fully loaded bike serves as a metaphor for just how easy it was for me to travel around Iceland, despite my best efforts to be stressed out.
I’m a chronic over-thinker and often over-packer. Probably because I don’t do it much, I’ll plan out my gear selection for international travel weeks before departure. (And, traveling from balmy Phoenix in May to an anticipated humid and chilling Iceland had me more concerned than usual.) I’ll lay out my kit – adding to or subtracting from – a little each day until I feel like it’s dialed. This, of course, is further complicated when a bike and touring gear are on the list. I want to be sure that I can handle all of my luggage by myself once I arrive at my destination. And, like I said, I don’t do the international thing much so I can’t claim to be an expert, but I take a modular packing approach while being mindful of airline weight regulations.
My goal is to keep this piece short and sweet, so I’ll save a detailed packing list rundown for another time (or, fire away with specific questions in the comments!), but here is a general overview of my luggage situation for context. My bike flies in the Evoc Bike Travel Bag Pro I reviewed last year and because I was traveling with a gravel bike this trip (rather than a heavier mountain bike) I was able to successfully stay under the 50lb airline weight limit. Additionally, I had a Patagonia 55L Black Hole duffel for clothing and accessories along with my Mission Workshop Integer (which I also reviewed last year) packed with camera gear. Since the duffel and backpack both have shoulder straps, I typically wear the larger duffel on my back with the camera pack on my chest leaving both hands free to handle the bike bag. This is no doubt cumbersome (while also probably comical to my fellow travelers), and I’m a bit of an anomaly traveling with a full-frame camera body and multiple lenses, but it’s the best system I’ve found.
Domestic Icelandic Travel
Iceland is generally a very easy place to travel to, at least if you’re starting in North America, the UK, or Europe. In fact, it’s located about halfway between North America and Europe, making it a convenient stopover for longer transatlantic flights or a relatively short direct flight. My flight from New York to Iceland was actually shorter than my flight from Phoenix to New York. Once in the country, nearly everyone speaks English, signage is in multiple languages, and domestic transportation is straightforward.
Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital city, has two airports. The international airport is located about 30 miles away from the city center in suburban Keflavík, while the domestic airport is right in town. Initially, after purchasing my plane ticket and looking back at the reservation, I had a moment of panic thinking that I’d booked the wrong airport but soon realized Keflavík was just a DIA-esque location situation. However, since the international airport isn’t in the capital city where most travelers begin and end their journeys, some additional logistical planning is required to factor in getting out of Keflavík. I booked a Flybus airport transfer for around $40 and was able to have it drop me in the north side of Reykjavík at a bike shop where I unpacked and built up my bike. There is no Uber or Lyft in Iceland but taxis are a readily available alternative to buses, just a lot pricier. For Westfjords Way Challenge riders, the race organizes a bus directly from Keflavík to the Fjord Hub in Isafjörður if you want to skip the domestic travel logistics.
I met a few badass travelers who bike toured out to the Westfjords Way Challenge in Isafjörður after arriving in Keflavík. That’s right, they rode over 300 miles to the start line of a 600-mile stage race. Most folks, however, traveled by bus or plane. Since my time was somewhat limited, I flew from Reykjavík to Isafjörður. As if my international experience flying to Iceland wasn’t easy enough, domestic air travel was even more convenient and very different than in the US.
The Reykjavík airport is small, with only two terminals and two runways. It is very laid back and felt more like a bus station than an airport. Flight check-ins happen about twenty minutes before departure and security procedures are minimal, if any. And, yes, I was able to hand off a fully built bicycle strapped with bags to be loaded into the plane’s cargo bay. Icelandair handlers even let me stand close to the plane for a few photos! Regional travel is so easy and relatively inexpensive (a one-way bus ticket is around $100 USD and flights range from $125-200) that I heard stories of cyclists putting in big efforts, riding like 200ish miles from Reykjavík, rolling up to a small airport, and returning to the city without even removing wheels from their bikes.
For more extensive travel info, head over to Visit Westfjords.
Tyler and the Cycling Westfjords team were incredibly helpful to me and everyone else traveling to participate in the Westfjords Way Challenge. For months leading up to the race they promptly responded to emails, phone calls, texts, and ran an engaging Discord serve,r all while planning for a logistically complex event and running a bike shop, the Fjord Hub, in Ísafjörður. If you’re even contemplating travel to Iceland and/or the Westfjords, reach out to Cycling Westfjords who, in addition to the Westfjords Way Challenge, offer multiple group rides throughout the year in addition to tour planning assistance and five established Passport Routes.
- Generally, travel to Iceland from the US, UK, or Europe is simple and straightforward
- Domestic flights on Icelandair are relatively affordable and save travel time
- You can check a fully built bike on domestic Icelandair flights (just call ahead so they are sure to have space)
- Be sure to check out Cycling Westfjords and the Fjord Hub bike shop!