Tian Shan Traverse, Kyrgyzstan

  • Distance

    613 Mi.

    (987 KM)
  • Days

    20

  • % Unpaved

    95%

  • % Singletrack

    5%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    7.5

  • % Rideable (time)

    98%

  • Total Ascent

    49,000'

    (14,935 M)
  • High Point

    12,600'

    (3,840 M)

Contributed By

Joe Cruz - Pedaling in Place

Joe Cruz

Pedaling in Place
Kyrgyzstan soars to every superlative and defies you to invent new ones. It’s beautiful, culturally compelling, and physically challenging: Grass carpet single and double track for days through rolling river valleys between 5,000 meter snow covered peaks, delirious mountain passes with the clack and rattle of scree under tires, and friendly and outgoing nomadic horsemen herding sheep and cattle. This central asian country will race your heart and is a dreamscape for adventurous cyclists.
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We’ve camped at the edge of a small village and a young sheep herder has come out to greet us. With us lacking Kyrgyz or Russian we communicate through pantomime. He has an idea. His cousin lives in the USA, so he calls her on his mobile so that she can translate. Nuri is stunned that we’re in her mother’s childhood hamlet and talking to Tamerlan. The cousins want to know why we chose Kyrgyzstan for cycle touring. For us, the question hardly makes sense anymore. We’ve been here for two and half weeks and the rumors of Kyrgyzstan’s sublime beauty and of the outgoing friendliness of the people have been confirmed tenfold.

Photos by Joel Caldwell, Joe Cruz, Logan Watts, and Lucas Winzenburg

Kyrgyzstan is in the cloud scraping peaks of the Tian Shan—in Chinese it’s the range of the ”heavenly mountain” that meets up with the Pamirs and Altai. The country is glaciers and crystal blue sunshine and mirror lakes, long lonely valleys with low grass like a golf fairway. It’s nomads who have moved their herds to high pasture in summer, living with their families in yurts. It’s breathless four thousand meter passes, scree slopes and lumpy marshland plateaus requiring river crossings. It’s roaming curious horses and the smell of sage at every star domed wild campsite. And it’s blocky central asian urban areas with Soviet era monuments and facades.

This nearly one thousand kilometer route follows a curve from the far east of the country back to Bishkek, the modest capital. It’s different from more familiar Silk Road tours that take in Osh and the Pamir Highway in the southwest, as it’s oriented toward a wilderness experience. On the other hand, this trip is well within reach for an intrepid rider looking to try out a more remote bikepacking tour than usual. Though the terrain can be rough, the cultural and logistical dimensions of travel in Kyrgyzstan are not difficult. To us, the ‘Stans first and most mean hospitality, history, and amazing landscapes. Certainly don’t let the news make you think otherwise.

A substantial mix of riding textures awaits. There are day long climbs up through trees and then above treeline on dirt tracks that get narrower as they get higher. There’s cumulatively a few hours of hike-a-bike. There are dusty wide dirt roads where you’ll pull up your buff to cover your nose and mouth when trucks come by. Much of this trip is doubletrack through grass where a couple of times a day a beat up Russian Lada will come chugging through or a livestock truck struggles along. Sometimes we couldn’t quite find the track, but that was fine: we pedaled over the steppe in the direction that we were seeking. We had three to six day spans between towns, so there was a sense of remoteness but not a complete lack of infrastructure. Almost every day we encountered Kyrgyz on horseback eager to come over and shake hands and acknowledge our visit, even if we could rarely communicate anything more ambitious than our joy and appreciation.

Between us we’ve been to many corners of the globe, but by early on in our trip to Kyrgyzstan, we were ready to declare its landscapes as transcendent as any we’ve seen.

  • Highlights

    camera

  • Must Know

    alert

  • Camping

    home

  • Food/H2O

    drop

  • Resources

    link

  • Some of the most sublime landscapes we’ve ever ridden.
  • Friendly, outgoing locals who may invite you into their yurts for chai, kumys (fermented mare’s milk), or vodka.
  • Wild and remote steppes.
  • Curious and confident herds of horses visiting camp.
  • The descent toward Beatov—starting around mile 285/kilometer 459—affords views that somehow exceed the already stratospheric standard set by the rest of the country.
  • Song-Köl Lake (well-loved by Kyrgyz tourists and therefore with no shortage of trash and signs of overuse, but still spectacular).
  • Kok-Boru, games where horse riders compete to drag a goat carcass to the opposing team’s endzone.
  • Fly in and out of the capital, Bishkek.
  • When to go: Due to a lot of snowfall at higher elevations, July to September is the best time to ride this route.
  • Changing money is easy at the numerous small money changing storefronts in Bishkek. Rates are published on the outside and are fair. You get a slightly better exchange rate with big bills—US$50’s and US$100’s. Money can also be changed in Naryn and Baetov. Don’t expect to anywhere else on this route, however.
  • In Bishkek, Naryn, and Baetov we had no trouble finding English speakers. English was very rare elsewhere.
  • We hired a sprinter van and driver to take us to the start of the route in Kyzyl-Suu. Making this arrangement wasn’t complicated: we went to the main bus/taxi stand in Bishkek, found an english speaking driver, and relied on his help in asking around until we found transportation. It cost approximately US$150 total for the four of us with our bicycles and gear. Obviously, one could ride from Bishkek to Kyzyl-Suu, and there is likely to be an interesting route north of enormous Lake Issyk-Kul. This would add 3-5 days to the trip.
  • Kyrgyzstan is mountain country (think Colorado or Switzerland). Come prepared with appropriate clothing and kit. It can snow at elevation in midsummer while the valley bottoms will have you sweating in shorts and t-shirt.
  • There will be river crossings, so have a plan. E.g., bring a pair of sandals to change into or a pair of gore-tex socks to wear.
  • We did this trip on three fat and one plus bike. They were ideal for the diverse and sometimes broken demanding terrain we encountered. At least one day is through rolling marshland with no regular track. Experienced riders with a good attitude could do this route on standard 2.2 inch wide mountain bike tires, especially with front suspension. There are numerous sections, however, where a traditional touring pannier setup with 1.7 tires on a drop bar bike would likely be overwhelmed or at least not much fun.
  • The route includes an out-and-back spur to Tash Rabat, a 15th century silk road caravanserai and a well known tourist destination. We found the ruins there underwhelming and can’t recommend it. Still, it is an historically important area and the restored structure does give a sense of a romantic past. There are a few tourist yurt camps on the Tash Rabat road where an excellent inexpensive meal can be purchased.
  • With its wide open spaces and traditional nomadic culture, wild camping in Kyrgyzstan is not only a cinch, it would be madness to spend the night in any other way. Our biggest camping challenge was deciding between merely gorgeous versus unspeakably astonishing campsites.
  • Naryn has reasonably budget friendly lodging options including homestays and hotels. Stop in at the tourist office straightaway to avoid riding around town to check vacancies.
  • Bishkek has a wide range of lodging, from US$10/night hostels to expensive western chain luxury hotels.
  • It is crucial to ride a setup that can carry at least five days of food, preferably extendable to six or seven. The first 170 miles has no resupply opportunities. Riding fast could cover this distance, of course, in fewer than the five and a half days it took us, but we think that would be missing the beauty of the place.
  • Do initial shopping in Bishkek; Kyzyl-Suu has no grocery store to speak of.
  • Naryn has large grocery stores and a lively outdoor market.
  • After Naryn, resupply opportunities are more frequent but still sometimes several days apart. Reliable groceries and restaurants can be found in At-Bashy and Baetov. There is a small store in  a tent on the south shore of Song-Köl, but it is seasonal and the stock is highly contingent on when the merchant last drove to the market. There are more permanent small stores at Kojomkul and Djong-Alysh (the route includes an out-and-back detour to the latter). Selection at the small stores is very limited and will require that you get creative with your meals. #ramencircus.
  • Herdswomen will sell delicious loaves of bread that they’ve baked in their yurt, but some won’t be able to help seeing it as an opportunity for a ludicrous markup.
  • Water is widely available in streams, rivers, and lakes, but should be purified. We each had a carry capacity of 3-5 liters and that was plenty sufficient for getting us between sources.
  • At the end of your ride, be sure to visit Sierra Coffee in Bishkek. The great staff and friendly expat owner serve beer, real coffee, and excellent food.

Additional Resources

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • Kurt Schneider

    That’s a beautiful trip. Well done.

  • Joe Cruz

    Appreciate the kind words, Kurt.

  • Martin Kasemsan

    Breathtaking pictures, thank you for sharing!

  • Kel

    Amazing. This country is number 1 for me to visit and bike pack. Thanks for sharing.

  • pipistrellus

    Hi Guys! May it be that I met you at the CBT office in Naryn? It must have been about August 20th. I started in Bishek and proceeded to Karakol via the Kemin valley. From there on our paths were more or less the same :-)

  • Joe Cruz

    Hey Pipistrellus, thanks for writing. I don’t recall us meeting any cyclists in Naryn—though we briefly hung out with a fun trio of Poles right before we arrived there. We were there on August 7th or so, and by August 20th we were a day away from returning to Bishkek. I regret that we missed you! Incredible place, no?

    Joe

  • charlesbinns

    Hi. A fascinating write up of an amazing trip. I am hoping to visit Kyrgyzstan next year and found your article very useful. How did you research the route from your trip – did you use maps or are there other resources available with possible routes? Also what sort of mileage were you doing per day – I ‘d like to get an idea of what is feasible given a likely fairly limited timeframe.

  • Here’s our guide to route planning: http://www.bikepacking.com/plan/route-planning-guide/ … that’s a good place to start; particularly satellite imagery and various mapping layers.

  • Joe Cruz

    Hi Charles, thanks for your nice words. I can say a bit about my procedure for creating this route.

    First I put together in one place (like in a single google doc) links to web resources including blog entries, youtube videos, and info from tour guides. These came from multiple search terms including biking, trekking, horseback riding and motorcycling. Looking through these gave me a sense of the terrain in various parts of the country and offered a strong sense of how much ground I thought we could cover in a day. (In the end we aimed for around 45 miles/73k per day.)

    Secondly, I put my hands on a paper map—I ordered the GIZI one—just to get a big picture and to have something material to place markers on and in general to visualize a route without getting disoriented in the micro details. By then I knew that we wanted to visit the more rugged eastern part of the country near Karakol. The paper map had a lot of tracks that we ended up taking marked on it, so I could sketch out a plan under the assumption that the route would be Karakol to Bishkek (ultimately we didn’t start in Karakol because the road from there to Kyzyl-Suu where we’d start ascending into the mountains didn’t seem that interesting). At this point I was simply literally making pencil marks on the map.

    I then translated that sketch to a plotted route in ridewithgps, which often meant I had to make even more specific choices about particular tracks than were represented on the paper map. This involved switching between the various background map options including the satellite view. I then kept expanding the route until it was a length that would fill the number of days we had given my assumptions about how far we’d travel in a day. That expansion was guided by the landmarks and places (e.g., Song-Kol lake) that I knew we had to hit that I’d gleaned from the web sources.

    And then the final step in fine tuning the route came from exporting it to Google Earth and looking at maximum zoom at every kilometer of it to see if I thought that it could be done on fat bike. Some tracks are more trekking and horse oriented, and usually you can tell that from Google Earth. I find especially useful the user-uploaded photographs that are tied to their location on the map. Clicking on those would give me a ground level view of the textures of the track and usually that was sufficient to tell me what I needed to know. Zooming in on villages and counting the number of buildings and streets would also usually tell me whether we could expect there to be stores there for resupply. This phase generated notes on particular things that I wanted to keep track of, like stuff that would be navigationally confusing.

    There’s the summary of it. It took a few months working sporadically.

    Hope that’s helpful,
    Joe

  • pipistrellus

    Hi Charles – For this region, the old sovjet maps may be of good help, even they are at bit outdated. There is a nice android app (from ATLOGIS Geoinformatics) which, at least in the commercial version, allows to cache the maps on your device, so you don’t need any data connection out in the field. I can highly recommend this.

  • pipistrellus

    Hi Joe. Thanks for the clarification. What a coincidence – there were three or four guys with fat bikes, at least one of them with a carbon frame :-) And yes, this is a VERY incredible place! My next trip is in preparation already ….

  • Joe Cruz

    Yes, wow, a coincidence indeed! By the way, I’d love to hear more about the Kemin valley leg of the trip. Time constraints prevented us from doing our route as a proper loop, but it sounds like you’ve scouted just the section one would need. Might you have any info to share?

    Joe

  • charlesbinns

    Joe & Pipistrellus that’s very helpful, thank you. I am waiting for my GIZI map to arrive on Monday and will start planning then. I am also finding that looking at the routes offered by commercial companies leading tours in Kyrgyzstan is providing useful pointers as to where to visit etc (I plan to tour independently). Half the fun and most of the headaches are in the planning as they say so I am looking forward to getting stuck in over the coming months.

    Thanks again for your advice and great photos by the way.

  • pipistrellus

    Hi Joe. Thanks for the interest. The Kemin valley is really nice, I left it via the Kök-Arik pass (3889 m.a.s.l.). This one is, in general, quite similar to the Kegeti, but much more eroded and less ridable, as it hat not been maintained for a longer time. There should also to be an option the proceed further on to the end of the valley and to leave it via the Ak-suu pass (4052 m.a.s.l). As far as I know, the Ak-suu includes a traverse on a glacier and is even less ridable. The last part, along the Isik-Köl lake, is well paved (at least to Kyrgyszian standards :-) ) and should not take to much time to pass.

    http://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c34ee7fcfd58e44991efaab27c1b57686aa89795e8d92092958f279b8ebaf32e.jpg : Kök Arik as seen from the Kemin Valley

  • Galya Yurasova

    My lovely Tyan-Shan mountains. I was there with bicycle in 2012. The best place for riding

  • Galya Yurasova
  • Joe Cruz

    Great photos, Galya, thanks very much for sharing them!

  • Lieven Loots

    I would be interested in knowing your camera carrying set up while on the bike. Do you use some kind of holster or just dangle it by its strap? Does it move around lot while cycling?

  • Joe Cruz

    Hi Lieven,

    Well, I think there were several different ways of carrying our camera gear, as we were running different sorts of setup and the carry method changed depending on conditions. Speaking for myself, I shoot with a micro 4/3 camera that is small enough to fit in the Revelate Periphery front pocket. I’d just take it out to snap photos; it has a short hand strap for security while moving, but nothing more.

    Joel and Logan had full frame Canon 5D setups with pro lenses. I think they both often carried the camera clipped to Peak Design Capture Clips attached to the left shoulder strap of their backpacks. (You get a clear view of this in the third black and white photo, which is of Joel.) In foul weather they’d move the camera inside the backpack. Maybe Logan can comment on how much that method has the camera moving around while pedaling.

    I can’t remember how Lucas carried his lovely Leica (the b&w photos are his). Perhaps exclusively in his backpack.

    Joe

  • Lieven Loots

    I am carrying an old GF1 hanging by its strap around my neck, which is then kept close to my upper body by closing my backpack buckle over the camera strap. It works really well for keeping the camera from swaying when cycling, but even if it is a small camera it still starts hurting my neck after a while. Also having the strap around my neck for quick shots I can’t get the camera far enough from my body to have a good look at the rear screen for framing shots so it is often a hit-and-miss afair (luckily more hit than miss). I am now researching the use of an (equally old) GH1 during mtbing, and will need to figure out an alternative set up, as I can’t immagine having that hanging around my neck for a whole day (and to think I used to carry a Nikon D300 and 18-50 mm f2.8 – but then I was still young). I noticed the Capure Clip in the photos and will have a closer look into these, as well as possibly a small handle bar bag/accessory pack. Thanks!

  • Stijn Christiaens

    Great tip!! Planning to do same or similar coming summer. Looking for a partner in crime…. Anyone?

  • Stephane Bertox

    Hi, I greatly appreciate your photo trip report.
    How do you do to hold your camera on the shoulder strap of your backpack.? This will merit a full article of carrying techniques for SLR cameras during a bikepacking trip.

  • Joe Cruz

    Hi Stephane. Both Joel and Logan are using Peak Design Capture camera clips to secure their cameras. The clips work extremely well.

  • Stephane Bertox

    thanks

  • Kevin Machtelinckx

    Amazing photos and route. What were you using for purifying water? Tablets or physical filtration (pump-type)?

  • J Lit

    A friend and myself have just booked flights and will be trying to ride as much of this route as possible. We only have 15-16 riding days, given the shorter time frame we will have to lop off a bit at the front or near the end (or a combination). Do you have any recommendations on which parts to sacrifice? We’re not worried about altitude or acclimation as we will be coming from a reasonable altitude to begin with.
    Also you mentioned in one of your posts that you targeted ~70kms per day. How realistic was that and how long were your days. We were thinking about a similar distance and hoping to keep the riding to 8-9hrs/day.

  • Joe Cruz

    Hey J, sorry for the delay in replying, Logan and I were on a trip!

    I’m psyched that you’re doing this route. It’s unrelentingly beautiful and you’re going to have a terrific time. I think there’s no question that you can fit some slight variation of it into your timeframe. Our 20 days ended up with leisurely pedaling at the end when we realized we were ahead of our schedule. The key is to not get demoralized at a lack of progress on the first six days; they’re the hardest, and if you mistakenly use them as a reference, you’ll feel like you’re behind the 8 ball when you’re not. (It might also be worth repeating here that those first days, from the start to Naryn, have NO resupply. Be able to carry all your food for however many days, likely 4-6, that it will take you. Water is abundant and never a problem.)

    Let’s suppose you get to Naryn on expedition day 5 or 6. If you have 10 days from there, you’ll have to hustle, but you’re in business. Don’t spend a day in Naryn, just resupply and blow through. You can completely skip the excursion to Tash Rabat (mile 247), it’s not worth it. You can also skip the resupply side trip at mile 518—which you can do if you’ve stocked up in Kojumkul. With those three amendments, you could probably do the whole route in your time frame, depending on how much you want to rally.

    If that still looks tight, the obvious thing is to ride west from Naryn through Dostuk to reconnect to the route. You’d be skipping some long miles of dusty road in the south, so that’s not a loss. But on the other hand you’d miss the very nice portion from the plains up to Baetov. That really is a beautiful bit, so if you could see you way clear to riding hard with the savings indicated above, you should prefer that over the west from Naryn shortcut.

    Finally, your questions: the 70k/day was a struggle for the first five days, and then a cinch afterward. Yes, I suppose we rode 8-9 hours/day, sometimes shorter or longer.

    Hope that helps a bit and keep us posted on your trip!

    Yours,
    Joe

  • Joe Cruz

    Hey Kevin, thanks for the kind words. We mostly used Steripens and had tablets as backup. Maybe Logan was also using a pump type filter. Water was almost never silty or off-tasting.

    Joe

  • Stevan Beer

    Hi, looks super fun! I’m thinking mid August into September of this coming summer. Considering doing a loop into the Almaty region of Kazakhstan to return to Bishkek. Thoughts on that? Did you guys find any white gas in Bishkek, or go with alternative fuels for (I’m guessing) your Whisperlite International? Cheers!

  • Hi Stevan. We didn’t ride any in Almaty, so I can’t answer that. But I can comment on stove fuel. Your best bet is to use a multi fuel stove such as the International. The only sure bet is standard petrol. We did manage to get a couple large butane canisters given to us by some trekkers who were leaving the country when we arrived. So it is possible to procure those in Bishkek, although we didn’t find out the source.

  • BBischof

    Does a rigid plus single-speed sound like an awful idea for this? It seems like the single-speed is the only thing that might be a problem.

  • Andy Bates

    Joe- what tent did you use on this trip? looks like a nice single man.
    Andy

  • That’s the Fly Creek UL1 HV. There’s a review under Gear > Camping Gear

  • Oooh. Yeah, that hurts my knees.

  • BBischof

    Do you think it’s an awful idea, or just a generally not ideal one. The alternative is that I build up a Rohloff ?

  • Well, it really depends on your comfort with singlespeeds. I know a couple guys who ride SS exclusively, so they would do it. Me personally, no. I took every gear I could get out of that 1×11 setup (with a 26t up front. That said, if you planned the right dinglespeed, I think it’s doable.

  • Jumping in here as someone who raced singlespeed exclusively for eight years (not that Logan isn’t a credible judge!): There are long and steep climbs with loose traction that requires plenty of body english. For those you’d need to run a very very forgiving gear if you didn’t want to walk. But there are also long, 75k+ sections of fast rolling grassy doubletrack where it feels great to open it up and cover some distance. It’s those two extremes that I think would make singlespeeding frustrating and that’s why, I think, Logan’s suggesting a dinglespeed.

    Another way to look at it: For the climbing parts, its completely doable if you somehow didn’t care that you’d be spinning out and going very slow on those rolling sections.

    Hope that helps,
    Joe

  • Yeah, what he said. ;)

  • Evan Braithwaite

    I’m interested, I’d love to chat! Free in late June and July this year.

  • Stijn Christiaens

    Hi Evan, Hope all is well… thank you for your reply on my note.
    My initial plan is to do the tour in August, but I might be flexible… What are your plans?

  • Evan Braithwaite

    I was thinking of going in mid June to mid July, I am only available until about July 20th. Feel free to email me: evanbraith at gmail dot com

  • Григорий Данко

    Hi guys!
    This summer (03.07.2016-17.07.2016) I’m going to do almost the same trip. If someone wants to join the trip, please let me know :)

  • J Lit

    Thanks for the great beta. We’re going to try and do the whole deal basically as you describe with maybe one or two small variations. I agree the start looks the hardest and we will have few options to get used to the altitude. Fortunately we spend a reasonable amount of time in the Canadian Rockies so this shouldn’t come as a total kick in the arse…
    I do have a few more logistical questions that could really help us plan and avoid wasting time searching for things.
    1) Is white gas available in; Bishkek, Nayrn, and Baetov? (is white gas what you used?)
    2) Are there plenty of food/resupply options in the three towns?
    3) What are the shop hours for re-supply? (are stores closed on certain days)
    4) Did you get a chance to try the fermented mare’s milk? (I heard it is exquisite…)

  • J, I’m excited for your trip and look forward to hearing about it. Yes, coming from altitude would certainly be helpful! Regarding your logistical questions:

    1) We used petrol, not white gas, and the petrol was readily available. We did not do a committed search for white gas anywhere. We were led to believe that a couple of outdoor stores in Bishkek might have fuel canisters, but we did not confirm this.

    2) Yes, in Bishkek, Naryn, and Baetov food resupply is easy and readily available. Bishkek unsurprisingly had the most variety, but Naryn and Baetov were not far behind.

    3) My recollection is that our shop visits were always squarely during familiar daytime hours, so I cannot say with confidence what closing time is. My guess is 7pm, though the Bishkek markets were open well later than that. We never encountered weekend closures, but that could have been an accident of our timing.

    4) We absolutely drank kumis whenever it was offered! Yes, exquisite! I quite liked it, though some of my travel companions may view it differently.

    Joe

  • Uri Trullas

    hi man!!! im going to do the same as well! actually going the 3th of July. you?? contact me by email if you want, at uritrullas90@gmail.com

  • Uri Trullas

    Hi Joe!! Thanks so much for your post man. This route looks amazing. I am planning to do it this July, and I have a couple of questions!!
    1. What temperatures can I expect at night time?
    2. Is it to crazy to do it alone?? don’t know how remote and desolated that is…is there sign to call in general?

  • ridingwild

    In the middle of the route right now, thanks for putting this together! This photo is taken just after Barskoon pass (the first big one) in early June. brrrr.

    http://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f5a60afae7c728a2f4862985fa03ddbd906e8255f1393c3025adf7c870ce8ebb.jpg

  • Oh my! That’s incredible. Hope you’re having an amazing time.

  • I’d say there is absolutely no problem and you could for sure do it. It may be a bit nicer, as you know, because you will spend more time with people and they could be more open to a solo traveler. As far as temperature, well, very weather dependent, of course, but we sometimes had perhaps -3 at the coldest.

  • Wow!! Amazing. I know just the spot.

  • ilya mor

    2017 update:
    I was in the area 3 weeks ago and the locals told me
    the bridge near ak-tal has collapsed (south the son-kol near the main road to naryn)
    not sure what the best alternative (maybe go east towards naryn before the bridge)
    You definitely can’t cross the river by your own (massive, deep, rapid river)
    Maybe they fixed it by now..
    be advised (ask cbt naryn)
    B

  • Ari Rosenzweig

    Hi Joe,
    Thanks a lot for the amazingly Inspiring writing and photos. It made the base for the trip that me and my two buddies just finished. We didn’t have as much time as you and made a short version of your route. It has been an eye (leg) opener for future trips. I attach some pictures from our trip. Thanks again
    Ari, Max and Omri

    Ps: the Kegeti pass is highly recommended to do from the south side, both due to altitude difference, but also that amazing looooooong blast of a downhill from the north side to Kegeti town. We had snow and hail going up from the south side and had a hard time pushing the bike up through the rocky slippery steep serpentine trail. Going down was such a treat after the hard work:-) http://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b920e45b3af30d87d7bec0f502daf7a920b05721d710113b1b291be38da46dd9.jpg http://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/1ff973855025452461815b0613433852882159297bc8dac3992250b48e35135f.jpg http://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/995dc40faa259da5d09ce2eccd7e6d03498f0831c818561ebb2038f158c9471a.jpg http://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a853f8f770a44bbe218e0b6f69410956a9e3064199e9d300aa03530b8e79db11.jpg http://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b4f3f6cdd8145a18d9873e81721532e74e8eb801787c6d2535f21f7f5c4f908c.jpg

  • Chris Hahn

    We just rode it a few days ago. It’s still passable by foot (or bike) traffic but they will apparently start work on it in the next couple weeks. It was unclear whether or not you will still be able to walk it when it’s being worked on

  • Chris Hahn

    We just finished a variation on the tour – had to shorten it a bit as our bikes were lost for 5 days. Thank you guys for posting this! One of the most stunning bike routes I’ve done by far.

    I have a couple comments about the route for anyone planning on doing it down the road:
    – The pass after the hike a bike section was essentially a marsh when we went through and made for very slow travel (turned into more hike a biking). We opted to continue straight to the mining road instead of turning right after the lake. This short cuts some of the boggier sections. I imagine this will be a lot drier later on in the year.
    – The route from Tash Rabat to Baetov is currently mapped to a road that doesn’t exist (or was on my GPS). It started out as a narrow rough horse trail and then turned into open grassland which takes you to a cliff. It was an interesting detour but I’d probably stick to the gravel road next time.
    – Bring lots of water on that leg as all river sources (apart from one which was around 20km from the highway) were extremely silty for us.
    – As mentioned above, the descent to Baetov is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. See photo below. Don’t miss it.
    – The bridge between Baetov and Song Kul is being repaired. It’s still passable by bike but unclear for how long.
    – There is a nice store in the town right after the bridge whose owner speaks English well. They have great bread and I guess they’re struggling a bit since the bridge got damaged. So give them a visit!

    All in all it was an amazing trip. Also don’t under estimate those first section to Naryn – with the altitude and amount of hiking we found it quite tough. We did it in 4 days but that left us with a very long last day to get to Naryn.

    http://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f4b10271c6f0290da19749072b3f76a5c95dfa005e71e46228fa50cb75a4d693.jpg http://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cc76dfcbb5312e32ce6d0db5e8df1829d42eb6e84d7fd6c7e2849cd2cb2d9b63.jpg

  • Ari, Max, Omri—Incredible photos! The shot of you guys coming up Kegeti is mind boggling, just so great. Thanks for sharing, and I’m glad that you did this trip.

    Joe

  • Thanks for sharing this, Chris. I’m loving the photos, I find that section before Baetov just incredible. Very useful beta, too, for people thinking of doing this, especially the part about not underestimating those early days.

    As far as the road from Tash Rabat to Baetov (after crossing the highway), yes, I remember the section well: road on the map, but no road in real life! We kind of angled a bit east, maybe a hundred or two hundred meters, of where the road was marked up at the top. That allowed us to stay to the right of the cliff, where we were able to ride down to the road where it meets a farm with some friendly folks.

    Super psyched that you did this ride.

    Joe

  • Jo h

    Sitting in Nomad Cafe in Naryn drinking good coffee, and having sampled the pizza, salads and cakes we are still on a high from the first 6 days of the TS Traverse and looking forward to the rest of the trip – we felt for you guys not getting the AMAZING views over the plateau or finding the pizza in Naryn! Thanks so much for posting this route, I was excited when I first stumbled on it as we did not have a route plan for K’stan at the time. We followed a neat route from Naryn over 4 passes to Issykul to start the route only repeating 20km of road
    http://www.alberttown.co.nz/category/central-asia/

  • Jo—So great to hear that you did that section, it was our favorite, too! And terrific, evocative photos on your site, thanks for sharing the link. Yes, I’m envious that you found pizza in Naryn. :-)

    Cheers,
    Joe

  • Roman

    Hi, I am right now in Kazarman (KZ) and looking for a way to connect to your route in Baetov and continue on it eastwards to Issyk Kul. Do you think there is anything extraordinary to consider when riding your route west to east? Just curious. Thanks, Roman.

  • Hi Roman—Doing the route in reverse from Baetov should be plenty fun, with nothing special to be aware of, if I’m thinking through it correctly. Your last resupply will be Naryn, so be sure to get what you need there. Kyzyl-Suu—what will be for you the end of this rouete and where you emerge back on to the main road—has no grocery store so plan on making it Ak-Suu (if you’re heading east on your onward journey) with your provisions.

    So beautiful! Enjoy,
    Joe

  • Roman

    Hi Joe, Thanks a lot for your quick reply! Yeah, I guess I will have to buy a huge load of Ramen and Snickers in Naryn ;-) See ya on the trail. Roman

  • BBischof

    Just got back from Dinglespeeding it. Not bad!

  • Bravo bravo bravo! Can’t wait to hear whatever details you can share!

    Joe

  • Valentin Krehl

    Bridge is still under construction but passable by foot/bicycle. As it looked like, it also will be during further renovation!

  • Valentin K

    Butane canister can be purchased at a shop in Biskek called “Red Fox”. I also saw canisters at the “Duet Hostel” in Karakol.

  • Hey Logan, what is that contraption you’re using for the dslr? Thanks!

  • That’s the Peak Design Capture Pro Clip… it works surprisingly well if you have a good fitting backpack.

  • Andrew Farley

    I’m trying to budget for this trip and the main factor I can’t account for is the cost of the bike as luggage. How much was it for the bike alone to be checked as baggage both ways?

  • It greatly depends on the airline you use… and they are always changing. You’ll need to contact the airline

  • Joseph Fuest

    Hi, this is absolutely amazing. Me and my brother have been looking for a route to do for a while and this just hits the spot. We are both fit riders but have not undertaken a tour before. (we are in our early 20’s) Would we be mad to undertake this ride or is it doable? Thankyou guys for the post, truly inspired.

  • Rocky Mcknight

    Hi – I’m thinking of doing this route. I ride an expedition tourer (thorn sherpa) without suspension. Do you think it would be suitable? Cheers, rocky

  • Hi Rocky—I can’t imagine any issues with your Thorn on this ride (nice bike!). It has something like 1.9’s on it? You don’t need aggressive knobbies, though you’ll want some. There are likely to be sections that you push through the marsh, and we appreciated the endless traction of our plus/fat bikes, but they aren’t mandatory.

    Enjoy!

    Joe

  • Hey Joseph—Well, I’d say this is pretty ambitious as a first tour. Not because it is particularly hard riding, you guys can surely handle that, and not because its difficult logistics, though that would take some focus if you’re not experienced international travelers (perhaps you are). Rather, I think it’s the cumulative challenge of a lot of little things on this ride. You have to have you food carry dialed, you have to know how to shop at a foreign grocery store when you arrive, you have to be happy to be in solitude for days in semi-technical terrain, you have to psychologically be okay with a couple of three hour hike a bikes, you have to be confident navigating by a track on the gps when you see nothing on the ground to indicate the way.

    To me, the best way to work up to a tour like this is to take on one or two of those at a time until you have a full repertoire of skills and self-confidence.

    So, my gut feeling is that this isn’t the best choice for a first tour. On the other hand, bicycle adventure is made of doing stuff that challenges and stretches you. A lot of us did tours at first not knowing anything. If you have a great attitude, are very flexible, and accept that stuff might go wrong (and have a plan for that), then there’s nothing about this tour that absolutely mandates experienced riders only.

    I would say that it’s mandatory that you at least do a few three-four nighters in advance where you can’t buy extra food and in a remote place, like on the Arizona Trail if you’re in the USA or maybe one of the Italy routes if you’re in Europe.

    Hope that helps a bit,
    Joe

  • Joseph Fuest

    Hi, thank you so much for the reply. Brilliant help, the advice is great and we will be shore to work on things as suggested. Can’t believe how much helpful advice you have given us, hope you have some brilliant tours soon :)

  • Rocky Mcknight

    Thanks Joe – really appreciate the response. We’ll send pics if we do the trip!
    All the best,
    Rocky

  • Toby Ebbs

    Hi everyone, Toby here.

    I was absolutely inspired by these photos and some of your descriptions so me and a friend are arriving to Bishkek on 18th June to do a 10-11 day bike packing route. Is anyone able to give us some advice on the following:

    Is there a shorter version of this route or something similar which can be done in 10-11 days? We are fit and relatively experienced cyclists but we are not experts and this will be the most challenging route we have taken on…

    Is it possible to avoid some of the snowy mountain passes on a 10-11 day route or is this inevitable?

    Is it more advisable to take a different route all together if we only have this much time? Or is it possible to take a bus / taxi cars to a certain point on this route and then continue by bike? I like the idea of being able to use the gpx file as it is so helpful!

    Thanks in advance

    Toby

  • Toby Ebbs

    Hi Chris

    Great info on the route. Is it possible that I can ask you a couple of questions about the ride? We are going in June. Do you think its possible to make it back to Bishkek in 11 days riding if we start from Baetov? Many thanks Toby

  • warren argyle

    Warren Argyle

  • warren argyle

    Hi,
    I have a similar question really..i’m planning a 7-9 day ride when I arrive in Bishkek at the beginning of September. I’ll be studying routes on bikemap and other sites but just looking to see if anyone has any particular recommendations and gpx link please?

  • Andrew Farley

    I’m leaving for Bishkek in a week and a half. I have two main questions. 1, Were you able to get easy to use maps of the area or did you only use GPS. 2, where were you able to leave your bike box/other luggage? Do you have a guest house or hostel recommendation in Bishkek?

  • Hi Andrew—For serious navigation, we only used GPS and electronic maps. (I had with me a copy of a large scale paper map that I brought from USA, but only used it for big picture amusement.) In Bishkek we stayed at Interhouse Bishkek (not Interhouse City Center). I would say that it was adequate. We left our cardboard bike boxes there, and there were many touring cyclists who did so. It was a bit annoying that someone took my good condition box so I drew from the remaining pool and went home with a different one! But it worked out.

    Hope that helps, you’re gonna have a tremendous time!

    Joe

  • We stayed at Interhouse on Manas Ave. They had locked/gated covered storage for bike boxes behind the hostel. Not ideal, but all of our boxes were there when we returned. Not sure about luggage storage though.

  • YOUR box was there, bro! I had to take that crappy Raleigh one. :-)

  • Oh yeah… I forgot about that. :)

  • אריאל מייזליש

    Hello everyone! After a long period of trekking in Nepal, I and a friend continued to Almaty to ride in Kyrgyzstan and then continue to Tajikistan. The route you’ve done is really inspiring and we plan to stick to parts of it. I have a few questions in the hope that you can help me.
    1. About navigation. Paper maps we will buy in Bishkek only for backup. Which app is best for the region? What layer? We have garmin inreach, can we use it as a navigation device, and if so how?
    2. The options in Almaty for buying panniers or bags are very poor, And we rely mainly on improvisations. If anyone has an idea where to get more reliable bags on the way, or selling bags I’d love to know.
    3. What is the most problematic part on the route for geting supplys? Are there possibilities to exit the route that you have taken in favor of re-supplying during the problematic parts?
    3. Is there a way to cross the mountains from ak-beiyt to osh without riding north to aral? Thanks a lot and sorry for the length of the questions

  • —We used both the Gaia and ridewithgps apps to navigate this route. On Gaia, the layer I used is the OSM cycle.
    —The most difficult resupply section is the first 5-6 days, from the start to Naryn. There is *no* resupply of any sort, nothing, for that span. Exiting from the route would be very time consuming for that section, and would likely simply constitute a new route.

    Perhaps someone else can jump in with thoughts on your other questions.

    Joe

  • luska

    Hi there, we have just done a part of this route from Karakol to Naryn. We altered it slightly as we wanted to take a dip in the Issyk Kul, which ment we joined the route by getting to the first high pass from Barskoon. Road from Barskoon is an unpaved mining road, so there was few trucks but we found it fine anyway. On this alteration you can also stock up on food in Barskoon instead of Karakol. For us the whole route took 5 days. Like Joe said resupplying is not really an option on this streach elsewhere. However it is really worth the effort;)
    As for gear, although Almaty is limited it is your best option in the region for sure. We couldn’t even get any decent lube in Karakol:(
    Some dry bag at the handlebar is a good option you can always use plastic bag liner inside. On the green bazaar in Almaty there is a few dress makers with solid looking machines maybe they can make some gear for you, although plenty of fabric stores around bazar, getting something heavy duty may be an issue;/ but if you have time and patience it may be an option.
    We met guys who found pretty decent looking panniers in Almaty recently in one of the bike shops, can’t remember what was the shop but those guys go under tartantravelers so you can contact them on Instagram.
    I have a hybrid set up with 2 small ortlieb and still lost 2 screws just after short time on bumpy road from them so don’t worry they are not that awesome, our homemade gear seems a lot better so far.
    As for navigation we used OsmAnd and found it great.
    Have a great trip!!!

  • אריאל מייזליש

    Thanks for the helping advises!

  • Cyrus Haselman

    Just finished this route on July 11th with my friend riding a Salsa Fargo and me a karate monkey. Bravo to those who pioneered this as a bike packing route. We were astonished by the geographic and cultural experience of the ride. Found it immensely challenging but also very safe, reasonable, and user friendly thanks to your excellent route information. The two high passes, Juku at the east end of the route and Kegeti at the west end near Bishkek were passable, although Kegeti had some large snow drifts that required some glissading and post holing. By the time of this writing they are likely much smaller if not gone, unless there has been another storm. Again, thank you for the information and the inspiration.

  • Cyrus,

    Thanks for the update and for the kind words. We’re thrilled that you had a great time on this route. Speaking for myself, I never get tired of seeing photos, so feel welcome to share some here or give us a link!

    All the best,
    Joe

  • Cyrus Haselman
  • Cyrus Haselman
  • These are fantastic, Cyrus! Many thanks for sharing.

    Joe

  • Shane McGuire

    Well done! I’m planning to do this next summer in a loop from Almaty. How long did it take you including rest days?

  • Shane McGuire

    Such a great route Joe, thanks for pioneering it! Does your 20 day route duration include rest days?

  • Thanks, Shane. The 20 day estimate includes one rest day in Naryn but otherwise assumes that you’re making some forward progress for 19 days. It also *doesn’t* count arrival day and maybe a day to buy supplies and arrange ground transportation, nor a final chill out day or two in Bishkek.

    That said, I think a fast experienced team could knock a few days off of the 20, but the place is so beautiful 20 remains a good target to me.

    Joe

  • Shane McGuire

    Cheers Joe!

  • Cyrus Haselman

    We had 13 days of riding and no rest days, but we cut off the section from Naryn to Ak-Tal. So, in Naryn we continued directly west instead of turning south, rode tarmac for one day, then got to Ak-Tal and rejoined the route on the way north toward Song-Kul (lake). I imagine we shaved off two days and one major pass by that cutoff. We rode an average of 8-9 hours a day with lots of short breaks. On our last day we rode 13 hours because we really wanted food and beer, up and over Kegeti pass and a nearly 10,000 foot descent.

  • Philip nik

    Beautiful, thank you for sharing this amazing story, I will be in that country for 30 days, I’ll get my time to enjoy all of that.
    Do .. I will be far more loaded than you guys in the pictures. I hope to make it through with trailer and load.

  • Hi all – got six weeks off work – spoilt for choice here!

    A few questions – has anyone cycled from Bis to begin the route? If so, how does this affect resupply? Is there any public transport to Karakol? Could you resupply generously in Karakol?

    Many thanks from Liverpool!
    Ross