Austrian traveler tells of cycling adventures in Iran

November 2, 2019

TEHRAN – A quick online search for memories and travelogues by foreign nationals so far visited Iran easily shows that it is one of the most misinterpreted countries on Earth. A strong reason is that almost every outsider who has the opportunity to visit Iran falls in love with the ancient land, its warm and generous people!

Many visitors to Iran have shared their experiences to make it clear for other potential travelers, including cyclists, how their perceptions have changed from those they assumed prior to their arrivals in the Islamic Republic. 

Alison Lovell is one of those. She is an Austrian writer, teacher, and artist who decided to move to Tehran after falling in love with the country during a 14 day holiday in 2016.

As a foreign cyclist, you will be of extreme interest to locals, especially in rural areas. Be prepared to embrace regular invitations of refreshments, dinner and even a place to stay for the night. For some tourists, this will be a culture shock.

In an article released in June by 1st Quest, she tells of adventures in Iran with an accentuation on cycling. Excerpts of the article are given below:

“In the age of carbon-neutral travel and the ever-continuing quest to traverse the path less traveled, cycle travel has become a worldwide trend. Therein begs the question, is it possible to cycle in Iran? Absolutely, yes! And it is more common than you think. But before you decide to bike across one of the world’s most misunderstood countries, there are some things you should know.”

Iranian hospitality

A quick Google search will show you story after story of cyclists who’ve traveled across Iran. These stories share one consistent theme: disbelief about the friendliness and generosity of the Iranian people. This is very true – Iranian people are extremely friendly. Persian hospitality is unrivaled and most travelers won’t have experienced anything like it before.

As a foreign cyclist, you will be of extreme interest to locals, especially in rural areas. Be prepared to embrace regular invitations of refreshments, dinner and even a place to stay for the night. For some tourists, this will be a culture shock.

I’m biking solo

 You might be wondering, is it okay to cycle across Iran alone? The answer is, yes, and many before you have done so.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to cycle alone through Iran. Unaccompanied women will receive unwanted attention, simply because Iranian’s will find your journey unusual. With that said, a couple of years ago Swedish woman Kristina Palten made headlines across the globe as she ran across Iran, completely solo. She made this journey to raise awareness about Iranian culture, and to quash anti-Islamic rhetoric in western countries.

Is it safe?

The official line of many governments is to exercise caution when traveling to Iran and to avoid border areas. Caution is usually advised due to potential civil unrest and the threat of terrorism, especially near the borders. As these warnings are subject to change, it is advisable to check with your own country’s guidelines before making your travel arrangements.

Unlike other countries in the region, thankfully Iran has sustained very few terrorist attacks in recent decades. Also, crime rates are the same, if not lower, than most European countries and violent crimes against foreigners are almost unheard of.

Overall, foreign governments and the Iranian government alike advise tourists to respect Iranian culture and Islamic traditions when traveling to Iran.  Iranians are highly educated and are not easily offended by foreign tourists, so don’t stress about the occasional faux pa.

File photo depicts international cyclists stopping for a break during their Iran adventures.

Female cyclists

There has been a lot in the media lately about the Iranian government banning women from cycling. I cannot say whether this is fake news or otherwise, all I know is that it is not enforced. Iranian people often say, “everything yet nothing is illegal in Iran”, and in my experience, this is very true.

The municipality of Tehran has recently installed bike share stations across the city. Both women and men ride these bikes daily. Further, my neighbor, a 60-year-old woman, goes cycling around our neighborhood in Tehran with her grandson every afternoon.

All women, foreigners and Iranians alike, are required by law to wear Islamic hijab in public. For cyclists, this means a headscarf, ankle-length pants (leggings are fine) and a loose shirt to the elbow or longer that covers your bum.

Traffic jam ahead

Tehran is notorious for its heavy traffic jams and crazy drivers however, outside the big cities, cyclists will practically have the roads to themselves.

Most roads across the country are sealed with bitumen or asphalt. As cyclists are not particularly common in Iran, it is recommended you use a light and have a rear-view mirror.

Buying a bike in Iran

Most travelers will bring their own bike but there are options to buy good quality bikes and gear once you arrive.

I would recommend buying your gear in Tehran (Iran’s capital). Gomrok is a neighborhood in downtown Tehran and is home to the bicycle bazaar. Once upon a time, Gomrok was home to Tehran’s red light district, but nowadays the brothels have been replaced with 100s of bicycle stores. Just a word of warning, if you are looking for a particular brand, beware of fakes.

Where to sleep

Iran offers tourists a range of accommodation options. From hostels, homestays to five-star hotels, travelers are sure to find something to suit their needs. Cyclists might be keen to camp, but beware that there aren’t many typical campsites with kitchen facilities or hot showers in Iran.

The lay of the land

Okay, so I’ll be brutally honest, Iran is really mountainous. Cyclists should be 100% prepared to be riding up and down hills, like, all the time!

Many people assume Iran is a big desert. Central Iran is quite dry and desert-like but also very mountainous and rich with agricultural lands. The northern crescent of Iran is covered with thick forests, rice and tea plantations whereas the south is quite tropical with palms and yes, more mountains.

How hot?!

Although Iran’s climate is quite varied, most of the country experiences hot, dry summers, short spring and autumn periods and cool winters.

If you are planning to cycle in central and southern Iran the best time is from November to April. Although possible all year round, summer days will be over 30 degrees and can even exceed 60 degrees in some parts of the country. Shady roads are scant.

Best destinations

Most tourists decide to take a route through central Iran from Tehran and head south to Kashan, Isfahan, Shiraz then loop back to Yazd. But there are plenty of other destinations a little off the beaten track. Lar National Park just a couple of hours northeast of Tehran is home to Mount Damavand and is a popular cycling spot for Tehranis.

AFM/MG

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