Star bikepackers complete new Westfjords Way route in Iceland

Bikepacking Westfjords Way Iceland
(Image credit: Payson McElveen via Instagram)

A group of well-known cyclists including accomplished adventure photographer Chris Burkard and popular ultra-endurance racer Lael Wilcox has completed an eight-day, 690-mile route through the Westfjords region in Iceland. 

The group documented the journey—which roughly follows the recently established Westfjords Way driving route—on social media and through daily audio diaries in hopes that the general bikepacking public will be inspired to visit the remote region. 

Joining Burkard and Wilcox was professional mountain biker and gravel racer Payson McElveen, Yeti Cycles ambassador Nichole Baker, and photographer Rugile Kaladyte.

Burkard has been to Iceland more than 40 times and has taken multiple bikepacking trips through the country. He created the route that the bikepackers followed and is promoting it along with the local tourism office. 

"We actually had a little tourism opportunity to come and explore this new route, a 690-mile route called the Westfjords Way, which we are sharing on and sharing for the world," Burkard explained during an audio diary posted by McElveen's The Adventure Stache podcast. 

The Westfjords is a large peninsula in the northwest corner of Iceland, connected to the main portion of the island by a 4-mile-wide isthmus. The region is dotted with dozens of fjords and steep hillsides. The mountain passes and coastal roads are prone to extremely windy and rainy conditions. Despite being only about 69 miles from Reykjavik, Westfjords is one of the most remote parts of the country with only about 7,000 residents.

In October 2020, the Westfjords Way driving route officially opened, thanks to a tunnel that allows the circular road to be driven year-round. The route is being promoted to tourists who want to see the sights and experience the local culture and food, but the tourism office is also working with Burkard to promote human-powered trips along the route via bikepacking.

During the eight-day journey, the cyclists faced rain and blistering headwinds but also ripping tailwinds, views of the fjords, and local hospitality at roadside cafes. Kaladyte, who is Wilcox's partner and documents many of her bikepacking events and adventures, photographed and filmed the journey while riding much of the mileage on an e-bike.

In addition to numerous posts on the bikepackers' social media channels, the crew got together to record a daily audio diary podcast recapping the highlights and lowlights experienced on the day.

While not as high profile as Burkard, Wilcox, or McElveen, Baker is an accomplished cyclist in her own right. She is a Yeti Cycles ambassador and runs the non-profit organization Path of Logic, which provides pathology services in Uganda.

The riders finished their route on September 8 and will be releasing full details on the route soon so that others can follow in their tire tracks.

"I learned that trips like these transform you, and that I want many transformative experiences in the future," McElveen said of the trip.

"We all kind of spoke about the fact that this ride is cool, it's an eclectic group, but we're also doing it in the hopes that maybe just the average person, maybe the weekend warrior, might want to come out for a day or two or a week or do it in a multi-day tour," Burkard said.

Bike Perfect will continue to track any new developments with the Westfjords Way route along with other bikepacking routes.

Ryan Simonovich

Ryan Simonovich has been riding and racing for nearly a decade. He got his start as a cross-country mountain bike racer in California, where he cultivated his love for riding all types of bikes. Ryan eventually gravitated toward enduro and downhill racing but has also been found in the occasional road and cyclo-cross events. Today, he regularly rides the trails of Durango, Colorado, and is aiming to make a career out of chronicling the sport of cycling. 

Rides: Santa Cruz Hightower, Specialized Tarmac SL4