- New Zealand
- The Queen Charlotte TrackMountain biking the Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds
- History on the Heaphy
- Suppressing the Competitive UrgeMountain biking in Malborough
- Northern ExposureMountian biking the Coromandel
- Hurunui Hot SpringsWinter mountain biking to Hurunui Hut in the Lake Sumner Forest Park.
- Craigieburn Conservation ParkMountain Biking Craigieburn
- The Brevet ClubGuy and Laurence recount the suffering and intrigue of the inaugural Kiwi Brevet... a 1100km mountain bike race around the top half of the South Island over six days. Informal with self-enforced rules, no entry fee, unsupported, and... well, hard.
- Wharfedale TrackThis is arguably the best and longest stretch of single track in Canterbury
- Double FencelineThis classic trip snakes along the summit ridge of Banks Peninsula.
- One Night StandsOvernight mountain biking trips in the South Island
- Fool's GoldMountain biking in Central Otago
- All that Glistens... the Croesus and Moonlight Gold TrailsMountain biking on the South Island's West Coast
- Otago GoldMountain biking - Bannockburn, Central Otago
- Loop de LoopGreat mountain biking can be found in most corners of this flat earth and New Zealand boasts its fair share of classics.
- Magnetic WestMulti-day mountain biking, Kaikoura to the Tasman sea
- Romping Round the Marlborough SoundsMountain biking Marlborough
- Rambling Around the Marlborough SoundsMountain biking Marlborough, Arapawa and D'Urville Islands
- Off the Beaten Track An off road traverse of the South Island on mountain bikes
- At Peace with PureoraMountain biking around the Pureora Forest in the Central North Island
- Taranaki for NeophytesMountain biking in Taranaki
- South Pacific
- West meets EastAfter riding all morning through the tail of a typhoon, we didn't want to slosh into a Japanese restaurant in that state. I tried drying out by standing under the vent outside the kitchen. I got no drier, but now I smelled of noodles...
- Tien Shan TraverseWhat do you do in the middle of the mountains when two large, thuggish Chinese men get out of a car and stride purposefully towards you? You smile and say thank you for the stale bread and peaches they are offering you!
- One Gear, One Continent, One Hero.Hero Cycles is the world's largest manufacturer of bikes, spitting out a whopping six million a year. You're unlikely to find one at your local bike shop but as any seasoned traveller can attest, they are the 'people's car' of India.
- Laid-back LaosMountain bike touring in Laos
- The Road to MandalayCycle touring in Myanmar
- Vietnam on Thirty Dollars a DayCycle touring in Vietnam
- A Short Ride in the Hindu Kush Cycle touring in Pakistan
- On a Wheel and a Prayer FlagCycle touring in Tibet
- Shanti Shanti - Across the Himalaya by BikeCycling across the Himalayas
- Biking the Hidden HimalayaCycle touring in North West India
- Pedalling Patagonia"Wow! Amazing! You're cycling to the bottom of South America. Is it all downhill?" Alan and I looked at each other in amusement and suggested that we expected a few uphill sections.
- Cycling Cuba with Fidel and Ché
- Dirt Roading in Colombia'The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay', promises Colombia's latest tourist advertising slogan, printed over glossy photos of idyllic Caribbean coastlines, perfectly preserved colonial towns, rolling, lush coffee plantations and a Latin couple dancing hot cumbia.
- Famous Potato Recipes from Idaho
- My Private Idaho
- Donde Estan Los Pollos
- Alaska - the Last Frontier The Alaskan Iditasport Human Powered Ultramarathon
- In Search of Maple Syrup and a Decent National Anthem Mountain biking in Canada
- All You Can EatMountain Biking in Northern California
- Caffeine and Singletrack in the USA Mountain biking in South West Colorado
- Bici Dolomiti Cycle touring around Italy and the Dolomites
- A Slice of Swiss CheeseMountain biking in Switzerland
- London Calling The London Cycle Show
- Stairway to Heaven - biking Spain's Camino de SantiagoCycle touring in Spain
- Albania for BeginnersIn the summer of 2009, our route from Greece to Germany crossed the small country of Albania...
- Fat Tyre Touring in ItalyCycle touring through Italy.
- Corsica- touring the scented isleCycling in the Mediterranean
- A Scottish Coast to CoastCycle touring in Scotland
- Crouching Tiger - Cycling Ireland's South West Coast Cycling Ireland's South West Coast
- The Italian Job Mountain biking around Lake Garda
- Double DutchA cycle tour of the Netherlands.
- A Rather Big Swedish RaceMountain bike racing in Sweden
- French ConnectionCircumnavigating Mont Blanc on the "Sentier Pedestre" hiking trail.
- A Month in Provence Cycle touring in the South of France
- A French PilgrimageTouring with the Tour de France
- End to End, the Long WayCycle touring in Great Britain
- Steve's SabbaticalCycle touring in France
Dirt Roading in Colombia
Cass Gilbert, UnderGround
Updated 15 December 2011'The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay', promises Colombia's latest tourist advertising slogan, printed over glossy photos of idyllic Caribbean coastlines, perfectly preserved colonial towns, rolling, lush coffee plantations and a Latin couple dancing hot cumbia. The words reference a darker past, to when hostage taking was all the rage and when this South American republic was touted as the most dangerous country in the world. Whether this tag was overhyped or not, it's fair to say Colombia has long had its issues.
Fast forward twenty years and life is changing. With the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar removed from the picture in 1994, the government has embarked on a concerted clean up campaign to shed the country's narcotraficante image and push its remaining revolutionary guerilla army, the FARC, deeper into the jungle. While human rights may remain a dubious grey area, the result is improved security in much of the country, and with this, a reopening of its doors to tourism.
My own journey took me from the warm, translucent waters of the Caribbean Coast, where I'd arrived by sailboat from Panama, with plans to pedal across one of three gruelling cordilleras to neighbouring Ecuador. Having begun my ride in Alaska, following quiet dirt roads much of the way south, I was determined to keep to the real Colombian backcountry, even if it meant adding significantly to the distance. And the country's improved safety record had really opened up the possibilities for exploring its more remote regions.
Plenty of cyclists make the pilgrimage south, often as part of a larger ride. In the mountain village of San Gil, I teamed up with Belgian Arnaud, on a quest to cycle every country on the continent, and climb each of their highest mountains. Together we encountered local rider Alonso, a student harbouring dreams of cycling all the way to Argentina. A keen mountain biker, Alonso knew the trails intimately, so we were delighted when he suggested riding together for a few days. It was a shared opportunity. For us, spending time with a local and being guided along unmarked tracks. For Alonso, who'd never camped out before, he gained insights into long distance touring, and brought his dream closer to realisation.
What followed was one of the finest week's cycling I had experienced on this journey. We crossed from Santander into Boyaca, a notoriously mountainous province. For good reason it is a breeding ground for many of Colombia's strongest hill climbers. The area was lush, rugged and utterly remote. We shared the muddy roads with colourful old Dodge trucks collecting cow's milk to sell at the markets, and families on horseback. We wild camped in San Juan de la Montana, rode through tiny settlements of poncho-wearing farmers, pushed our bikes up impossibly steep terrain and experienced the Paramo, home to the gangly frailejon. Spread in great swathes across the high altitude mountains like an invading force of punk-alien creatures, these bizarre, triffid-like plants can tower six feet high. They exist only in this area of Latin America and are crucial to its ecosystem, by gathering moisture in the air and feeding it slowly into the earth.
By now we'd worked out a formula... begin the day with breakfast around camp, put in a few hours of hard riding, and then refuel at lunch. Comida Corriente, the omnipresent set menu, can be found in every eatery across the land. We would gulp down the soup of the day, before tucking into an enormous platter of rice, beans and the inevitable hunk of meat - washed down with a fresh fruit juice. And all this, for less than a few dollars. Bananas were plentiful and allowed a healthy alternative to energy bars. We would supplement them with Colombia's wonderful array of exotic fruits. One day it might be the frog spawn-like granadilla, from the passion fruit family. Another, the enormous sweet mangos that left my hands sticky and belly bloated. Or even sour lulus - best eaten with scrunched up eyes and puckered lips. Come dusk, we'd seek out a ranch, and ask for a spot to pitch our tents. We were rarely turned down and more often than not, a hand was waved in the direction of the finca's orchards. "Help yourself", we'd be encouraged.
Over and over on this trip, I was reminded that treading the unbeaten path often leads to the richest encounters. Further south, Arnaud and I veered off the main road once more and ventured into the coffee growing plantations of La Argentina. One morning, camping in a farmer's field, we were were awoken while mist still lingered in the mountain folds. "Buenos dias, amigos". Cups of piping hot coffee were pressed into our hands by the farmer's neighbour, Isidro, who'd come by to invite us to tour his organic coffee farm. Nerve endings buzzing with the best coffee I'd tasted, we were then plied with arepas, traditional corn cakes. The neighbour's neighbour, not to be outdone, also arrived bearing edible gifts - yucca and plantanes. We left, tackling some of the steepest terrain so far, riding well above our fighting weight.
As rewarding as Colombia's backcountry touring proved to be, it was perhaps the country's incredible bike culture that was the most unexpected highlight. I knew about its peloton of Le Tour-worthy hill climbers, but had no idea that its cities were so progressive. An event called Ciclovia drew me to the capital of Bogota and its sprawling mess of people-packed streets. Each and every Sunday of the year, key streets are closed to motorised traffic and over-run by legions of bikers, walkers, rollerbladers and skate boarders, young, old and families alike. There were food stalls, yoga and family dance classes, all in the name of health and self-propelled awareness. The scheme started in the early '80s and currently covers 120km of routes. 30 per cent of the population partake, every week - that's some two million people. A resounding success, its blueprint has been repeated all over Latin America. Which begs the question: if cities as vast and confusing as Bogota, Caracas in Venezuela and Guadalajara in Mexico can organise traffic-free days like this, what's stopping it from spreading across the Western world?
More trail-related adventures lay ahead. Yet further south, the road from Mocoa to Pasto was a roller coaster that climbed over two and a half thousand metres in altitude. Extra challenges were presented by a landslide that stopped everyone - including those on bicycle. The army soon arrived, and together with a gang of truckies, we cheered on two diggers, locked in battle like jousters, as they struggled to clear the precarious stretch of mountain road. After a day's wait, we finally squeezed our way through the gridlock on either side. Three high passes lay ahead between us and the border with Ecuador. Along the way, we passed roadside shacks selling both the familiar and the bizarre: coffee, soft drinks and cuy, grilled guinea pig - a local delicacy. We camped around the peaceful waters of Lago La Concho, set at a lofty 2700m, before hitting the small settlement of El Encano to snack on more regional cuisine... paper bags of pork crackling and roasted corn, flutes of stuffed corn and cheese, and freshly made potato chips, mixed with chards of paper-thin fried plantanes. A hungry cyclist's paradise.
It was with a heavy heart when we left Colombia behind and crossed into Ecuador. The last two months had challenged my preconceptions of this Latin American country. To those who embrace its challenges, Colombia offers endless dirt road possibilities, an incredible variety of scenery, a rich bicycle culture and above all, warm and welcoming Colombianos - only too proud to show off their land to adventurous bicycle tourers.
The Nitty Gritty
> Safety: Colombia is a far safer place than even a few years ago. But like anywhere in Latin America it pays to keep your wits about you, particularly in the cities. Also there are still moving regional pockets of trouble to avoid. Locals will tell you if there are any zonas rojas - red zones controlled by the FARC.
> Bikes: A burly mountain bike is best for tackling the backroads. The major cities have glitzy, modern bike shops stocking every kind of spare. Even backcountry villages have inner tubes and basic tyres, and enough inventiveness to keep you rolling.
> Go light: Colombian backroads are ferociously steep, so keep a beady eye on the scales when you're packing, and you'll enjoy the riding all the more.
> Budget: you can get by on US$10 a day if you're camping, double that if you mix in hostels and hotels. Food is plentiful and cheap. Bakeries and street food abound. There's no shortage of exotic fruit, and tap water is generally fine.
> Good times to go: The weather can always be mixed in the mountains, though July-August and December-March are the driest months.
> A few highlights: Cartagena, on the Caribbean Coast. Mompox, a peaceful, time warped colonial town on the river Magdalena. The star-filled skies of El Desierto de la Tatacoa. The perfectly preserved colonial towns of Barichara and Villa de Leyva. San Agustin and its megalithic statues. For more stories and photos, see www.whileoutriding.com/category/colombia/