Welcome to the first in a series of guest blogs. Michael bought a bike from us three years ago and has previously cycled in India . Here he describes his most recent adventure, a trip across Iran in the summer of 2019.
It’s now just over a week since I came back from my cycling trip in central Iran. When I would say I was planning a trip to Iran most people’s reaction would be ‘Are you mad?’, or ‘Wow! Persia – how amazing’. Well, my 3-week trip totally exceeded my expectations – the landscape, the people and the architecture – all just amazing. Visa requirements for UK passport holders meant that the trip had to be organised by an official Iranian travel company. We decided on our route and the travel company provided a cycling guide, a minibus and all the accommodation.
Before we left we watched the oil tanker hostage issues closely – deciding to go if the political situation looked stable. After a bit of admin, a trip to the Iranian consulate in London, the trip was on – flying with Qatar Airways meant the bikes could be carried free – well within out 30kg hold weight limit. Six of us decided to make the trip – all friends of mine. We arrived at Heathrow with our bikes packed in 2nd-hand cardboard bike boxes. This worked really well with none suffering any damage en route – we just took off the front wheels, pedals and handlebars.
After arriving in Tehran we drove to Qom – a very religious city. The girls were wearing black with their heads covered with scarves and tunics. We reassembled the bikes in the reception lobby, to the amusement of the locals. Not many cycle in Iran, although later in the trip we did meet a cycling club from the south – including some women. There is actually a fatwa against women riding bicycles – but this isn’t really enforced. In Qom we visited the main mosque and had an English-speaking Imam as our guide. He was quite open about the political difficulties.
We were always quite a novelty as not many English people seem to visit Iran. Lunch was had sitting on raised platforms covered with carpets in an upmarket restaurant. The next day we started our cycle ride to the next city on our list – Kashan. Our trip took us from Kashan to Isfahan, Shiraz, Persepolis and Yazd before we returned to Tehran to fly back home. They were all amazing cities with such welcoming people. Highlights included the amazing architecture of the mosques, the winding bazaars, an ancient settlement from 2,500 BCE, beautifully-presented food, the generous people and the adobe city of Yazd.
We spent each night either in hotels or home stays. Most were very good with fabulous Iranian food – breakfast was mostly fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, dates, figs, soft cheese and flat breads. The Iranians drink masses of tea (without milk) – and they have masses of sugar. For lunch we usually had a midday stop often in an official picnic area – usually covered concrete platforms near a children’s play area. The Iranians love picnics, so we were often joined by the locals, sitting on a carpet they had brought, brewing tea and cooking kebabs. A few of our other stops were near mosques where we could use the toilets.
Each day we usually tried to set off at about 9am and cover between 35 and 60 miles, depending on the terrain. Over the three weeks we covered about 500 miles on the bikes. The minibus had the capacity to take us all with the bikes if we ran behind schedule. Iran is a very modern country, but it is suffering badly from Trump’s sanctions. The roads were generally excellent – well paved with a good hard shoulder. The cars and trucks were very respectful and gave us plenty of room. As cyclists are not a common sight, drivers often waved and hooted at us. One stopped ahead of us and gave us a huge watermelon and bread. We were often offered tea at the road side, and wherever we stopped we usually drew a small, very friendly crowd. One guy on a motorbike led us out of his town to ensure we knew the route. The sun set at about 5.30 so we usually aimed to finish riding at about 4.
My bike was a 3-year-old Bristol Bicycles touring cycle with Marathon Plus tyres. We did have rain at the start of the trip, so the only maintenance was cleaning the chain. I did carry spare spokes, inner tubes and cables – all rather unnecessary. The bike coped fantastically with the terrain – we were mostly on paved roads but did cycle along a few dirt tracks. Cycling was such a great way to see the Iranian landscape. As we cycled from city to city we crossed the Zargos mountains – we cycled up to about 2,300m with snowy peaks above us at 3,500m. Central Iran is generally very dry with extensive irrigation channels providing water to the extensive rice fields. As we cycled higher we travelled through pomegranate, walnut, pistachio, orange and apple orchards.
Iran is a country with a large young population. The women are very fashionable – their scarves only just cover some hair, and they wear ripped jeans under their stylish tunics and coats. Many Iranians want change in their country and we were told that women will be at the forefront of change. More women (70%) than men go to university. As I write this the government has just doubled the price of fuel and there have been widespread protests against this policy and against the country’s leaders. The internet in Iran has been shut down for the last four days by the government in order to try to quell the issues. Not much of this is being reported in the mainstream media. The Iranian people are some of the kindest and most generous I have ever met – I hope their troubles can be peacefully resolved. I’m planning to go back in the next couple of years as we saw only a tiny part of an amazing and misunderstood country.