What you should know about touring in Turkey


Istanbul is one of the largest and most historic cities in the world. With more than 14 million residents, Istanbul is the most populous city in Turkey, Europe and the Middle East. Although it has experienced name changes, from Byzantium and Constantinople, Istanbul still has a number of historic ties to the days when it was one of the capitals of the world and most significant cities in civilization. 

It's size, historical and modern cultural offerings make Istanbul the perfect kind of place to explore on bicycle. Touring from architecturally marvelous mosques to sites that existed when it was the head of Eastern Roman Empire, cyclists could soak up more knowledge and experience than others would driving through a whole country. But, before your pack your panniers and head off to Turkey, The National – an American-style, English-language Abu Dhabi newspaper – explained that riding through Istanbul is easier said than done. 

"Cyclists say the biggest deterrents are the limited infrastructure in Istanbul, a sprawling city of 15 million people and the attitude of the general public, especially car drivers," The National explained. "They say that most of what's been created in the city thus far runs along seaside routes used mainly for leisure and requires cyclists to share space with pedestrians."

Istanbul's sprawling, traffic-filled roads could be helped by a boost in cycling and infrastructures to make that change, but, as The National pointed out, these adjustments are unlikely to occur unless more people start cycling. However, people don't want to cycle through the city if it isn't bike friendly. It's a conundrum for the cycling community. 

Early bike sharing programs have been successful in the Middle Eastern metropolis, and the master plan looks to add more than 600 miles of new bike ways by 2023. Bicycle equipment, touring gear and bikes themselves are more widely available in the country than ever before as well. However, there's still plenty of work to be done. The National listed efforts to make roads safer for cyclists paramount, but cyclists in the community are hopeful that overall riding and commuting will improve.

Touring Turkey 
While Istanbul may not be perfect for cyclists looking for an urban tour, Turkey does have other cycling options. With its proximity to the Middle East, Asia and Europe, Turkey can be a great destination or passing through point on a cross-continental ride. Before you head out to this Mediterranean coastal country, be sure to know what you're getting yourself into. Here are a few tips to keep in mind with your pedaling through Turkey. 

There aren't many bike shops 
Although The National explained that Turkey now has many more biking supplies than it did in the past, it still might not have everything you need for a quick fix. Be prepared and carry more tools than you might typically in more bike-friendly countries. This is far from a rural wasteland, but there isn't a bike shop on every corner. 

The roads vary drastically 
Don't ride Turkey and expect perfect paved roadways with wide shoulders. While The National explained that this is particularly an issue in Istanbul, TravellingTwo pointed out that roads can make riding difficult in other places as well. 

"Turkish roads range from very good to very bad. Most times we had a decent shoulder but the quality of the asphalt was not always good and sometimes very bumpy. Occasionally on busy stretches our shoulder disappeared completely or was taken over by cars as an extra lane and this made cycling stressful," the touring advice site explained. 

You should also be prepared to honk too. Outfit your bicycle with a touring horn and look out for local dogs that can get in your way or chase you. Talk to locals or do some research to find out how you want to keep these dogs at bay. TravellingTwo recommended confronting the dogs directly or throwing rocks. 

Pick a good route 
Like Germany, France, Italy, the U.S. and many other countries, you'll see very different sights depending on where you tour. Turkey has several beautiful coasts to explore: the Aegean Sea, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. 

The website Biking in Turkey recommended the south Aegean coast with the Bozburun and Dilek peninsulas. This offers a tropical-feeling beach experience similar to the Greek coast on the other side of the sea.

However, everyone is looking for a different experience. Try building a custom tour around the Black Sea in the north or visiting the countries to the east, like Georgia, Armenia, Russia or Azerbaijan. Or just set up camp in Ankara, the nation's capital, and spend multiday expeditions going off from the centralized city and exploring the whole of Turkey. 

Don't worry about finding lodging 
According to the Cycle Touring Review, it isn't hard to camp in Turkey. You don't need to be sneaky or stealth – in fact it's better if you're honest about what you need. Tourers who have ridden across Turkey explained that simply talking to locals can help you find whatever kind of camping spot you want. They said that they were able to find more peaceful, secluded locations by asking for them in Turkey than by wild camping in Europe.

Additionally, the Forestry Commission helped these tourers out more than they ever expected. By asking about somewhere to camp, they actually ended up in a government building with showers and bedding as well as hot tea. Just be friendly and respectful and you'll likely be able to find the perfect place to sleep. 

Be safe 
Turkey's southern border is with Syria and Iraq. There are some very real chances that cyclists could experience violence if they cross into these countries, so be sure to do research ahead of time and plan out a route that takes into account global violence, ongoing wars and risky areas.

The U.S. State Department advises citizens traveling to Turkey to be aware of terrorist attacks, as some have occurred there in recent past, but the country isn't generally a threat to tourists otherwise. 

About Stephane Marchiori

Owner of
Bike touring since 2003, including:
a 5-Year Bicycle Journey Around The World!

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