VIDEO: THE RISE OF ICELAND’S MOUNTAIN BIKE SCENE
If you didn't already want to ride in Iceland you will after seeing this!
THE RISE OF ICELAND’S MOUNTAIN BIKE SCENE
By Mark Mathews
The passion and enthusiasm of the Icelandic mountain biking community is truly contagious.
Despite facing significant challenges such as limited resources and environmental restrictions,
these riders and trail builders continue to work tirelessly to create more mountain biking
After visiting Iceland in 2018, I personally faced some controversy for riding in ecologically
sensitive zones. I returned four years later to create a project that brings light to Iceland’s
mountain bike community. Icelandic mountain bikers face a lot of challenges that limit their
access to purpose-built trails, and most of us outsiders visit the country without an
understanding of this. As a result our actions can negatively impact their ability to trail ride in
their own country.
In many parts of Iceland, the availability of mountain bike-specific trails is limited. However,
sheep trails are a common form of singletrack. Those furry dudes have been shaping trails
across the country for ages, and now they’re providing access to amazing backcountry zones.
Sheep farming has long been a crucial aspect of Iceland’s agricultural heritage, with freely
roaming sheep shaping the trails across the country. These already established tracks are an
accepted way for riders to access some of the pristine areas of the country but often result in
trails with limited flow and features.
Shortly after our visit to the Icebike Trail Center, we had a super fun crew from Icebike Adventures come out to show us around!
Vibrant rhyolite mountains, geothermal hotspots that could cook a mean Icelandic hotdog, and
jaw-dropping peaks everywhere you look. The location makes you feel like you’ve teleported
into another world.
As soon as you enter the backcountry in the Icelandic highlands you will quickly realize that
mountain bike specific trails are non-existent. It became clear that several factors contributed to
this issue, including Iceland’s strict environmental protection, small population, and limited
resources, making the development of new trails a challenging endeavor.
The most significant hurdle in creating more mountain bike trails in Iceland lies in the country’s
delicate ecosystem. With its unique and fragile environment, Iceland is highly susceptible to
damage from human activities, and mountain biking is especially intimidating to The
Environment Agency of Iceland. Groups like 640 MTB in Húsavík are doing great work with
sustainable trail development. These groups are proving how mountain biking can symbiotically
co-exist in Iceland’s environment.
Consequently, advocating for additional mountain bike trails in Iceland proves to be no easy
task. Local mountain bikers like myself face a multitude of challenges in obtaining land access
and securing permission to build new trails. Navigating the intricate and sometimes bureaucratic
processes involving government agencies and landowners can be a daunting endeavor.
Northern towns like Húsavík and Akureyri have the strongest mountain bike communities in the
entire country. It’s here you will find mountain bike specific trails.
Adding to the difficulties, Iceland’s tourism industry places greater emphasis on hiking and other
outdoor activities, often overshadowing mountain biking. This makes it harder for their mountain
bike community to gain recognition and support for their cause, as the value placed on the sport
is not as high.
Upon my return to Iceland to delve deeper into the local riding scene, I discovered a small yet
passionate mountain biking community.
Despite the obstacles they face, they are dedicated to overcoming those challenges and
developing more trails that respect and sustain Iceland’s unique environment. I want to give a
thank you to all the Icelanders who opened up to us and gave us a look into their world.
Thanks to PEARL iZUMi for supporting this project.