It could be said that hardcore adventure travelers suffer from a type of sickness — a psychosis, even. Adrenaline junkies seek to scare the hell out themselves on a regular basis. Mountain climbers need to scale ever-higher, ever-more-dangerous rock faces. Hardcore cyclists are always looking for the hardest, most punishing trails to ride. On that note, here are three of the world’s most bucket-list-worthy cycling trips to complete before you die.
For Nature-Lovers: Trotternish Ridge on Scotland’s Isle of Skye
You don’t really need another reason to visit Scotland, but, if you’re a cyclist, here’s one more. Beginning and ending at the town of Portree on the Isle of Skye, a 50-mile loop traverses some of the country’s most breathtaking landscape. The deceptively simple trek takes riders around the towering ridgeline that cuts the center of the Trotternish peninsula, passing two iconic landmarks: the Quiraing and the Old Man of Storr (pictured above). In just a few hours, the scenery evolves from dark volcanic rock to idyllic pastures to the edge of the Atlantic. It isn’t Europe’s most difficult cycling trip, but it’s certainly one of the prettiest. There’s a reason Ridley Scott chose to film his otherworldly Prometheus here.
For Endurance Riders: India’s Leh-Manali Highway
The Ladakh region of northern India is one of the most vast, most rugged, most remote regions in the country. Set among the cloud-swept peaks of the Himalayas, the views (and the ride itself) are literally breathtaking. The Leh-Manali Highway crosses the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates, a highly active geological area wrought with frequent tremors and, increasingly, earthquakes. For most of its near-300-mile stretch, the road is treacherous, bordering on impassable. It’s often ranked among the world’s deadliest roads. Chaotic weather, spotty or no pavement, brutal cold, sky-high altitude, and minimal civilization make for a difficult trip even in a car or truck. However, all of this attracts cyclists from around the world.
For Masochists: Triple-Pass in the Italian Alps and the Dolomites
Spanning the Dolomites and the Italian Alps are three of Europe’s most brutal and beautiful mountain passes. An impossibly long series of switchbacks climb the Mortirolo, the Gavia, and Stelvio (pictured above) passes near the border of Switzerland and Italy. It’s the sort of place that seems purpose-built for car commercials. Indeed, we ranked the Stelvio pass among our world’s best drives worth flying for. For anyone seeking a serious two-wheel challenge, there’s perhaps no better place anywhere on the continent. The Giro d’Italia (Italy’s Tour de France) first popularized the triple-pass route as a worthy cyclist destination in the mid-1900s. Adventurous bikers can start in the tiny Alpine village of Bormio in northern Italy. From there, all three passes are directly accessible.