Pretty much every time I tell someone of my plans to cycle to Beijing, the first thing they say after “Are you mental?” and I tell them the route, they say “Is Iran not, eh….seriously dodgy?!!!”
To be honest, I thought the same when I originally sketched out my route.
It turns out we’re all wrong, well according to the glorious internet!
Among the many great resources out there for bicycle touring is TravellingTwo.com. These guys have some amazing articles, and have been a great source of information for my research. Their article “Cycling Iran” was a great read and in particular the piece on Culture Shock. It seems the only thing I’ve to worry about in Iran is getting peace and quiet.
Another great resource I’ve read is Chris Smith’s “Backdoor to Beijing – by bicycle” (Chris cycled from Birmingham to Beijing with a 6000km loop of India in the middle, crazy f*cker). His sentiments about Iran were much the same as the TravellingTwo article – a seriously friendly place where the people welcome visitors in a way most people from the West aren’t accustomed. A couple of the best moments I recall from his book are an old man who didn’t speak english coming out to the field where he was sleeping to insist that Chris stayed in his house instead of the field. The other was a pickup truck pulling in and some men getting out, only to say “we saw you cycle through our village so we came out here to give you food and water.” Another cool one was a van driving by and a hand appearing to hand him a cucumber!
Mark Beaumont’s “The Man Who Cycled the World” has a similar account of Iran – friendly people, maybe too friendly, and lots of “Zam Zam” – the local version of Coke/Sprite etc… Everyone that cycles through Iran seems to talk about Zam Zam!
Another great thing about Iran is that it is apparently an excellent place for getting high-quality cycling parts. By the time I’m in Iran I should have about 5000-6000km done, so that’s about the right time for a good overhaul. That’ll be a new chain and cassette, probably the bottom bracket too to be safe. This is good because it’ll save me having to carry these parts and tools – that should save me at least 1kg in my panniers and every kilo counts!
I’m certainly looking forward to cycling in Iran – it’s really the road less travelled, and I’ll hopefully have experienced a country & culture that few get to privilege to. I’m reading another book on Iran at the moment – Iran, Empire of the mind. It’s a tough read (maybe because I’ve the reading age of a four year old), but it certainly seems to be a hugely interesting country with a rich history that has had huge influence on the rest of the world. I’m going to have to learn some Farsi before I go though – I don’t think many people speak english, nor are most of the road signs.
So yeah, Iran should be awesome. The desert may be a problem, but hopefully I’ll get through before the hottest part of summer 🙂