Just Released – A Brand New Edition Of The Best Adventure Cycle Tour Planning Guide On The Planet

The very first edition of Trailblazer’s Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook, compiled by veteran bicycle traveller Stephen Lord, didn’t just help me plan my first big journey; it actually inspired that ride’s very conception.

ACTH Front CoverI can barely believe that that guide has just seen the publication of its third edition. Have I really been doing this for that many years?!

Now with Neil and Harriet Pike (of Pikes On Bikes fame) at the helm, the new edition has been totally revised and updated in light of the changing nature of what’s possible on a bicycle, given a map of the world and a limitless imagination.

It’s still packed full of pre-trip planning advice, as well as the guide’s great strength, which has always been the comprehensive worldwide route planning guide.

They’ve very kindly allowed me to reproduce here my own contribution to the third edition of the guide – a new section dedicated to cycle touring in the little-visited nation of Armenia:

Armenia is sometimes perceived as an unnecessarily mountainous alternative to Azerbaijan when it comes to getting from Georgia to Iran, but it’s actually a worthy cycling destination in its own right. Visas on arrival for most nationalities, stunning mountain landscapes, numerous scenic detours, a rich and tumultuous national heritage, and some of the best-preserved Soviet architecture around are all reasons you might choose to pay this little Caucasian republic a visit.

Routes through the country are more varied in the north, with multiple crossing points from Georgia and several options from there onwards. Maps indicate that stunning road via Noyemberian crosses Azeri territory; with the border conflict a stalemate for decades it’s rarely a problem to travel this route, though you’d be well advised not to venture into no-mans-land. The land borders between Armenia and both Azerbaijan and Turkey remain firmly shut, so overland routes are only possible between Georgian and Iran, whatever your maps may suggest.

Up-and-coming Yerevan is worth a visit; the Genocide Museum sheds lights on the country’s historical woes. As well as possessing a small handful of bike shops and mechanics, it’s also a reliable pick-up point for Iranian visas. If you don’t want to lose an entire kilometre in altitude, however, you can bypass the city on a scenic route via the eastern shore of Lake Sevan, and maybe spot an old Silk Road caravanserai or two on the way over from Martuni to Yeghegnadzor.

The route south to the Iranian border is fairly non-negotiable; only one through route crosses this formidable territory. It’s shared with the trickle of goods traffic to and from Iran, as well as bus services between Yerevan and Tabriz/Tehran, so there are hitching opportunities if the climbs get too much. Expect to tackle five extremely long and challenging mountain passes, the biggest of which is a non-stop ascent from 700m to over 2,500m in altitude.

Detours are usually worth taking; the minor roads are often in a state of disrepair, but they’re much quieter, and as usual it’s here that the memorable and unexpected of Armenia is to be found: lush mountainside forests, naturally-carbonated mineral water springs and thermal baths, ancient monasteries perched on the most unlikely of precipices, and a rural welcome as warm as any you’ll find in the Middle East.

If you’ve time, a side trip to the Mountainous Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (or Artsakh in the local language) will unearth an isolated, time-warped version of Armenia proper; a de facto independent nation unacknowledged on any maps other than Armenia’s own. Decades of fruitless territorial bickering have resulted in a stunning mountain landscape left to flourish with little in the way of modern development, and people even warmer and more receptive to tourists than those in Armenia itself. Watch where you camp; minefields do still exist and are marked as such.

Visas for Karabakh are easily procured at the country’s sole embassy on Nairi Zaryan Street in Yerevan. Having any evidence of a visit to Karabakh in your passport will exclude you entirely from entry to Azerbaijan. Don’t be tempted to try any route in or out of Karabakh other than the prescribed one between Goris and Stepanakert; at least not unless you fancy looking down the barrel of an Azeri-wielded Kalashnikov.

In terms of national and international transport, Yerevan is now well-served by budget airlines from Europe, Dubai and various Russian airports. Minibus services – mashrutkas – can usually be persuaded to carry bicycles, running all over the nation from a variety of bus depots in Yerevan, as well as to neighbouring capital cities. The sleeper train between Tbilisi and Yerevan is an experience all of its own, and relatively easy to wangle a bicycle onto too.

Get your copy of the 3rd edition of the Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook from Amazon.co.uk*.

6 Responses to “Just Released – A Brand New Edition Of The Best Adventure Cycle Tour Planning Guide On The Planet”

  1. Leon

    There are actually two options when heading south into Iran – there is a second road heading directly south from Kapan, it’s also on Google Maps. When I was there last year I was told by the locals that it was only recently (re-?)built, and indeed the asphalt was perfect and there is almost no traffic (and no trucks at all). I really recommend this route!

    Google Maps also shows a road from Tatev to Kapan, our map ) however was less optimistic, showing only an unpaved road. I saw a gravel road leading into the mountains when I visited Tatev, I would be interested to hear if anybody has successfully taken that route to Kapan.

    Reply
  2. Andrew

    Any plans for an ebook or PDF version?

    Reply
    • Neil

      Hi Andrew,
      A kindle/PDF version is a definite possibility in the future; at the moment we’re taking a bit of a rest to recover from getting the paper version completed!
      We’ll provide any ebook updates on social media!
      cheers
      Neil

      Reply
  3. Bruce Logan

    I rode for over a month in Armenia in 2007. At the time Yerevan was engaged in massive re-development. I’ve never seen so many cranes. Went to a wonderful concert in the Opera House complex, performed by the Armenian Symphony Orchestra with Misha Miski (sp?) playing the Dvorak cello concerto. Armenian culture being what it is, the concert billed to start at 7.00 pm didn’t get underway for another half hour. The orchestra didn’t even saunter in until 7.20. Mobile phones, chatting and the rustle of sweetie papers went on throughout. The two of us rode north and east towards Aserbaijan where we were advised not to ride south along the border, but did so anyway. I hung back from my friend as he was wearing a bright yellow jersey. The Azeri guns were clearly visible on the ridge to our left. We were told that it was reasonably safe as the Azeri snipers only shot at the lights of cars on the Armenian side at night, as target practice. Having ridden over into Nagorno Karabagh (with passports stamped with the prettiest handwritten visas) we duly called at the Foreign Office in Stepanakert where only Russian and Armenian was spoken, neither being within my competence. They refused to permit us to ride on the roads of our choice and issued a permit for approved roads only. My friend was sick and laid low in bed for a few days, so I ventured east on a road leading to the Azeri border. This was not a permitted route, but what the hell… After some kms I was aware of heavy rumbling behind me and turned round to see that a line of tanks, APVs and lorries was fast approaching. As they passed I saw that the soldiers were in full battle gear. I rode on after that, getting nearer to the border. I came to a fork which was manned by a couple of Kalashnikov-toting soldiers. When I indicated that I planned to turn right they just shook their heads and indicated that I should turn back. Discretion being the better part of valour, I did just that. There were a lot of minefields in the area. You could tell which had been cleared and which not. If they were being cultivated they were OK. Later, near Norovank, as we returned towards Yerevan on the main road from Iran we noticed that there were stacks and stacks of Coke bottles for sale at the roadside. Actually, they contained red Armenian wine but this was the ruse by which the Iranian lorry drivers were able to take alcohol back. As we flew out at the end of the tour we knew we had overstayed our visas (only 21 days were allowed then). As we queued for immigration we were sent to the back and ushered into a back room where we had to buy new visas for another 21 days, just to get out of the country! The Immigration officer was really nice and apologised for the bureaucracy. He offered us a cigarette. A great country to ride in and pretty strenuous. I calculated that we had climbed over 25,000m in 30 days, the biggest climb of the day having been 2,500m. Sorry for the ramblings but it’s always fun to share experiences.

    Reply

Leave a Reply