We pick the ten best islands in the world for road and off-road cycling adventures
Top 10 cycling islands in the world
Some 200 miles off the coast of North Africa, Tenerife is the largest of the sunblessed volcanic Canary islands. It’s not just the sunshine that brings cyclists here – after all, there are some 20 distinct microclimates on the island; not all of them dry – but the whole cyclist’s wish list. Staggering variety of landscapes to ride through? Check – from the barren, blackened volcanic slopes of Mount Teide, to the shady pine forests of La Corona forest park. Challenging roads? Check – Tenerife is laced with well-surfaced mountain roads, including Europe’s longest continuous road climb, which rises from sea level to 2100m in one unbroken 35km climb. Mountain bike trails? Check – explore pine forest trails, or descend from over 2,000m to the beach. Flowy forest singletrack, Mars-like volcanic trails, or gnarly, rocky downhills, the choice is yours.
Any of the five incredible roads up (or down) Mount Teide. Off road don’t miss the 25km descent from Circo de Las Cañades to Vill de Arico.
The Mediterranean island of Mallorca has taken cycling to its heart with half the professional road peloton practically living on Spain’s biggest island during the off season. It’s easy to see why: immaculate roads, respectful local drivers, fully signed cycling routes, miles of tranquil, flat riding between sleepy Mallorcan villages on the central Es Pla plains, as well as two serious mountain ranges which flank either side of the island. The largest of these, the Serra Tramuntana in the west is laced with sinuous challenging climbs and epic descents, incredible scenery at every turn, and those essential coffee stops in shady medieval town squares. Off-road Mallorca has a growing reputation too, with high mountain trails, oak forests and secluded coves, which can only be accessed by knobbly tyred bikes. Whether it’s technical rocky trails around the spectacular Lluc Monastery, or orange groves in the Soller valley, there is riding for every ability and taste on this beautiful island.
With 854m of vertical gain, Puig Major is the island’s biggest cycling climb at the heart of the Serra Tramuntana. Be sure to stop at Formalutx for a coffee and view
The word ‘epic’ might have been invented for cycling in Iceland. The 1,332km Ring Road which runs around the island, connecting major towns: Epic. The natural wonders you’ll see from it, such as the Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls, and the Dyrhólaey and Jökulsárlón glacier lagoons: Epic. The black sandy shorelines, lava fields, and erupting geysers powered by geothermic activity so ubiquitous it generates 25% of the country’s electricity and heats most of its homes: Epic. Even (or especially for cyclists, to be honest) the sub-polar weather is epic. Pedal into Iceland’s interior, the remote, sparsely populated Highlands, and you’ll find snow-capped mountains, lava fields and landscapes that are as inhospitable as they are photogenic. Thankfully camp sites are good and cheap and there is a good network of mountain huts.
Pedal through the foothills of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in the south of the island to gawp at the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall or blaze the sandy yellow singletrack of the barren Landmannalaugar trail.
The Inner Hebrides’ largest island is quintessential Western Scotland cycling: barren, craggy landscapes shaded a thousand hues of brown, dripped with a thin, deserted ribbon of tarmac, backed by foreboding, dark grey mountains. And rainy, of course – with 266 days a year of rain, waterproofs and a sunny disposition will need to be top of your packing list on any cycling visit to this part of the British Isles. Scenically the jewel of Skye’s crown is the Cuillin Ridge, as ridden by stunt rider Danny MacAskill in his 2015 video The Ridge (read our interview of him on page 30). But don’t even think of riding there yourself – this ridge is considered one of the most extreme ridge scrambles in the world… The ridge is best left as a part of the island’s many epic backdrops, every inch of which you’re free to explore, thanks to Scotland’s enviable (from a English point of view) ‘right to roam’ policy.
Enjoy a breath-taking circuit of the Trotternish peninsula with ever-changing sea views and its giant obelisk-like Storr rock formation before returning to colourful Portree.
Sao Miguel, Azores
The largest of the nine Portuguese islands that make up the Azores archipelago, Sao Miguel is everything you’d expect from a volcanic island adrift in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Lake-filled calderas, waterfalls, a stunning coastline battered by Atlantic rollers and a unique culture, Sao Miguel is a verdant biker’s paradise of lush vegetation, epic views and wild landscapes. Mountain bikers will find trails from ultra-technical single tracks connecting mountain passes, beaches and coastal flats known as fajãs, while roadies or leisure cyclists can link up lakes, mountains and coastal views on a winding network of quiet tarmac and dirt roads flanked by dazzling hydrangeas and Japanese cedars.
Ride on or off road through the village of Sete Cidades, next to the lake at the bottom of the three-mile wide crater of the same name that it sits in. This location has seen it named one of the 7 natural wonders of Portugal
Azores Mtb Holidays runs a 4-day guided MTB tour of Sao Miguel, visiting thermal waterfalls, local eateries, and the island's spectacular volcanic calderas. Price: From £823 pp.