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 opportunities.
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, utilizing sheep trails provides access to stunning 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 for mountain bikers.
The colorful rhyolite mountains, geothermal activity, and dramatic peaks everywhere make 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.
Building up bigger and steeper berms in Husavik.
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.
Antoine Daures - Guide and Photographer
Magne Kvam - Icebike Adventures Founder and Trailbuilder
Gunnar Jarl - Trailbuilder
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.
Just stay on the trails.
Photos by Bruno Long
Film by Scott Bell
Words by Mark Matthews