I was lucky enough to test the Nua Bikes La bestia while crossing the breath-taking landscapes of Iceland’s highlands last summer.
This epic journey was part of the development process of this world-tour ready bike. Here are my thoughts about “La bestia”, some words about my journey and my photographical report of the adventure.
My bike and I have experienced the harshest Icelandic meteorological conditions: windstorms, pouring rain, snow and below 0°C temperatures during one month and a half.
This journey was both a test of the Nua La Bestia and a personal inner quest coupled with a photographic report. Like every bike journey, this led me to live a lot of amazing moments and meet truly inspiring people that I can not thank enough for sharing the way they see life. On the human side, this journey is an ode to freedom and spontaneity.
My pace was quite irregular, with days with up to 120Km of off-road riding and days of made of just hike and photography. Sometimes, the awful bad weather forced me to ride only 30km of road before seeking shelter. Finally the whole journey in the wild was about 1500Km.
Abrasive volcanic sands, rocks cutting like razor edges and numerous river crossings have also challenged me, my bike and my kit. The wind was always pretty strong, blowing the abrasive sand on each and every components of the bike.
Even if the first ten days where pretty sunny with average 15°C temperature, I also experienced mostly around 5 to 0°C temperatures and lots of rain – plus eventually some snow.
Unlike my undefeated “La Bestia”, the ukulele I decided to bring with me as great way of making new friends – and part of my kit – did not made it to the end of this adventure.
Primarily to this memorable expedition, Roberto, Marcos and I have developed and assembled this bespoke La Bestia as the ultimate bikepacking machine with especially this trip in mind.
The usual Pinion C1.12 gearbox and Gates carbon belt drive duo was no question as we were aiming for the most durable and maintenance-free bike. For drop bar compatibility, we chose to use the Cinq innovations road Shift:R for Pinion.
As both security and comfort requirements, we decided that the bike might be able to produce it’s own electricity to feed a powerful set of lights and a USB plug enabling me to charge my GPS and my phone on the go. This was achieved thanks to a Shutter precision dynamo hub and a Cinq innovations The Plug III USB device.
For the cargo, I decided to use a Topeak Super tourist DX rear rack on which we mounted my Supernova rear light and my Ortlieb gravel edition front panniers. The rest of the kit was made of two Salsa dry bags mounted on two anything cages on the fork and an Apidura frame pack.
More info about this particularly capable bike can be found on a former blog post available here.
I did not really planned the route, just knew that I wanted to cross Iceland South to North “off the beaten path” and meet a mountain-passionate friend in a town of the far north Iceland called Siglufjörður. Eventually I also knew I would love to ride to the Askja crater lake which is located just north of the Vatnajökull glacier and possibly reach Rifstangi cape, the northernmost point of the island.
I started my journey in Reykjavik – the capital city – with the objective of reaching the F35 road – one of the most common but still demanding routes to cross the island. Prevailing winds are normally blowing from North to South, so most people decide to ride this way, but I decided to go South to North and risk myself to struggle a bit with headwinds – fortunately, it did not happened.
The paved road 35 becomes the mountain road F35 near the touristy yet beautiful Gullfoss waterfall – located in the Golden circle region – that I decided to reach using as much unpaved roads as possible. This famous route would cross the Kjölur sand desert with both the Langjökull and Hofsjökull glacier on its sides.
This idea led me to reach the Þingvellir lake by the Nesjavellir valley – where the last stage of the icelandic Enduro MTB championship took place at the end of my trip.
After a nice sunset next to Þingvellir, I decided to head to Geysir by riding north and avoid a paved road section. This would lead me to reach the south of the Langjökull glacier and some glacial lakes then finally drop to Geysir and Gulfoss through a beautiful forest – which is quite rare in Iceland -in order to buy some food.
I properly started to ride in the wilderness of Iceland in the mountains north of the lake. I spent two days in the mountains to avoid those 15 km of paved road. It was a brilliant decision regarding the scenery and the chosen solitude I experienced!
I remember a 120km stage of unnamed road in the immensity of Iceland that led me to sleep in the entrance of a closed mountain hut. This saved both unpacking/packing time and money. I had not seen any other human being – or car – for two days.
Pure joy and feeling of freedom started to become my travel companions as fresh icelandic air was circulating in my lungs!
This first section of mountain roads – called “F-roads” in Iceland – is also when I released the potential of my plus wheeled drop bar Nua “La Bestia”. Low pressure allowed me to maintain a solid 20-25 km/h average speed on really rough terrain with about 30kg of load on the bike and a photography backpack. Impressive, as this is the same average speed I had on paved roads!
When riding South to North, the F35 starts with a long climb leading you to a splendid plateau where you can start feeling the solitude. The feelings of happiness and freedom became even stronger here considering the epic landscapes that Iceland was offering to me. The road finally becomes more wobbly and leads you to Abrudir mountain hut and its magnificent views on both the Langjökull glacier and the Kerlingjarfjöll mountain range.
After a contemplating night in Abrudir, a one day detour led me to the great geothermal and volcanic area of Kerlingjarfjöll – that offered me a relaxing moment in a warm river. The ascension – particularly with a heavy cargo – is quite hard and a good test for the gearing ratio of the bike. Fortunately, Roberto and Marcos decided to opt for the smallest admissible ratio for the Pinion gearbox which made my ascension easy.
Last stop on the F35, Hveravellir is another mountain hut and geothermal spot that I reached struggling with one of the strongest headwind of my tip. It was my last stop before reaching the 1 road and the “capital of the North”of Iceland called Akureyri. This particular riding day was happily shared with two German riders – Stefan and Sami.
They shared a 120km ride with 1500m of elevation gain, some food, some beers, the visit of a car wreck in the middle of nowhere, and my misfortune when a car drove over my tent while packing for a small bus lift to avoid an unpleasant and dangerous section of the busy main road just before Akureyri.
Reaching Siglufjörður from Akureyri – and coming back to head to Rifstangi was a pleasant ride along the sea – and inside tunnels, which I am not sure I was allowed to cycle – that showed me how capable the bike was on the road. Without headwind a 35km/h average speed could be reached easily! Hot tubs along the way in Hauganes and Hjalteyri were more than welcome.
After of few days resting and discovering Siglufjörður’s locals hospitality as well as exploring the mountains around the Fjord, I pedaled back to Akureyri and took a bus to Husavik. I then headed to Rifstangi cape – and its abandoned house – through the Asbyrgi canyon and the small town of Kopasker.
The atmosphere of the north-east part of Iceland was heavier and tougher . I could tell this region was probably wilder and that more people were leaving the town and farms I was crossing along my way. Most of the roads were gravel roads too – which was were the La Bestia was at its finest.
Finally, the northernmost point of the Iceland was a small cape, a abandoned house and thousands of trees brought there from Russia by a strong sea current. This was clearly not what I expected and was not the most impressive scenery Iceland has to offer. The strange atmosphere in this ruin that you could only reach by riding in the fields for around 8 km starting from a small gravel road made this moment unrealistic and kind of out of time. This strong feeling – the one of discovering a very special place – is one of the great things that bikepacking has to offer!
My last and most breathtaking destination was the Askja crater lake and its twin – the small, warm and deep blue Viti lake. The twin lakes lie in the center of Iceland highlands just north from the Vatnajökull glacier. To reach them, I had to quit the east and get some supplies in the North. I came back to Asbyrgi, then reached Myvatn through the Dettifoss waterfall riding on an impressive mountain path. The fog made this moment quite unreal.
I started my ride from the Myvatn lake and headed south by the F88 – a demanding, wobbly and one of a kind fire road quite exposed to the wind. The fantastic Herðubreið mountain – “the queen of the mountains” – was my target through the first 60km of lava desert.
Quite deep rivers had to be crossed on the way, and I had to be quick as the weather was changing. Fortunately, two German tourists helped me to cross some rivers on the back of their pick up truck – I saved some precious time this way!
Dreki hut – literally meaning “dragon” and named after the nearby Dreki canyon- was my last stop . This impressive mountain hut is located next to the twin Askja and Viti lakes. Not far from there, you can reach a canyon where the astronaut who walked on the moon were trained back in the days. The impressive scenery was indeed quite similar to what I would expect from the moon.
This amazing place – where I finally reached the snowy mountains, met great people and discovered that the next days would be made of harsh winter weather – was the one where I realized that I had found what I came in Iceland for.
I had nourished my soul with amazing landscapes, new friendships, great adventures and the feeling that me and my bike were able to do much more.
I decided that this test and journey was complete after 1500 km and headed back to Reykjavik with a great feeling of satisfaction.
“Takk fyrir” Iceland, “Gracias” La Bestia!
What about the bike?
The general feeling resulting from this trip was that I was riding a very capable and sturdy bike – also well equipped – which let me ride confidently. I’ve always felt at ease – both on paved and unpaved roads – and knew I was far from reaching the limits of what the bike was capable of.
Surprisingly, I had not a single problem during my trip (including not a single puncture) apart from loosing a bolt from my Salsa anything cage (which hopefully has redundant mounts) and another one on my Ortlieb gravel pack (which ended up firmly tightened to my rear rack with a spare voilestrap). The bike really behaved perfectly and allowed me to fully enjoy the experience.
When heading to Siglufjörður, I had to ride a quite scary (regarding potential accident with a car) 30km section in tunnels, and at that exact moment I appreciated the most my Supernova lights set and my Shutter precision dynamo hub: I did not had to worry about cars and trucks drivers not seeing me.
On the other hand, the capacity to charge my GPS on the made me feel safer especially when I was unsure of my direction, far away from the closest mountain hut.
Maintenance free transmission and shifting
Another brilliant feature of La Bestia was the Pinion gearbox and belt combo. I already rode in the Icelandic desert areas with the chain and derailleur equipped fat bikes I formerly built as a personal project. Well, I was constantly cleaning the chain or looking for oil: volcanic dust always made the shifting either noisy or simply less funcional.
This time thanks to the belt and the gearbox, I have not had to worry about anything (except my cable hosing being slightly too short with my new and bigger sleeping bag, not a big deal and easy to adapt to my needs for next trip). I simply have not had to clean the bike once or maintain the transmission or shifting during this Iceland crossing – which is quite amazing!
The shifting of the Cinq five Shift:R remained smooth all along the journey, no matter temperature or humidity conditions.
Grippy and fast rolling Schwalbe G-one tires
Schwalbe G-one tires proved to be great in various off-road conditions (including downhill singletracks riding in quite rainy weather). They provided a really low rolling resistance on the road sections and good control on dry and wet off-road parts. Even in muddy sections – which I was quite worried about – I had no major problem of grip loss, either climbing up or braking downhill.
Off-road capacities of La Bestia
Another moment that showed the astonishing capacities of La Bestia was when I ended up riding the singletracks of Siglufjörður with “The Spades” a local and exceptionally welcoming group of Enduro mountain bike riders. Despite their advice of not riding the track with “this” bike, it all ended up pretty well, and even pretty fast considering the bike was a rigid drop bar gravel. Once again the plus tires and the high position of the handlebars – providing quite a high stack number – were useful.
Indeed, these bars were not only comfortable by providing a good rest position during long rides -they also provided with a remarkably good control of the bike on fast or technical off-road downhill sections and relatively technical singletracks.
The right bike for the “job”
It might sound slightly exaggerated, but the Nua La Bestia is simply the best travel bike I have ever owned.
This is much of a statement, especially because I am a former bicycle frame builder who designed Gravel bikes and Fat bikes that I also used to travel in Iceland a few years ago.
What makes me say so is the fact that the features of this bike are so well balanced and that I have not had to worry about anything during the whole trip – whatever the weather, whatever the terrain. The following points particularly stand out:
- the duo of a high-end titanium frame and plus tires offer incomparable comfort (especially on wobbly F-roads)
- the gearbox and the belt drive are truly problem free (no maintenance nor tension needed during the whole trip).
- the TRP brakes are powerful with the cargo and provide a nice feeling even when braking with just one finger
- The whole dynamo hub – lights – USB charger set up was bullet proof in the rain and provided me safety and autonomy (and worked perfectly even if I often forgot that I had a dynamo hub while crossing rivers and occasionally put it underwater)
- the Gravel geometry makes the bike at ease everywhere (fast rolling on paved roads, nearly as fast on gravel roads and pretty agile on singletracks where the big tires make La Bestia way faster on the way down than classic gravel bikes)
We hope this trip report will inspire you to start you own journey into the bikepacking world
While preparing it, feel free to have a look at www.nuabikes.com or stay tuned to the blog, follow us on social media (Instagram or Facebook) or sign up to our newsletter here to be sure to keep up with news about the Nua bikepacking and biketouring dedicated bikes.
For those feeling like riding their own Nua “La Bestia”, our bicycle builder is available here.
The Nua Team
Words and pics by Antoine Daures / @folksongsandsingletracks