27 September – 5 October 2016
My initial plan had been entering from Georgia in the northeast, doing a loop south around Lake Sevan and exiting back into Georgia in the northwest. However skipping Azerbaijan, I instead entered from Iran doing 550k from Meghri in the south to Bavra in the northwest. I had no knowledge or expectations about the country and maybe therefore it became a surprisingly great experience especially the beautiful nature.
Itinerary and weather
From the Iranian border, I rode main road M2 north to Goris and west Yeghegnadzor, from where I took M10 north past beautiful Lake Sevan. From Dilijan, I rode west on M3 and M7 to Gyumri where I went north to the Georgian border on M1. The parts of Armenia I went through were almost exclusively mountains (except around the lake), which - besides navigating these – also meant riding between mountain ranges across big cultivated valleys and along rivers in narrow gorges. Climbing the mountains (highest point 2,535m and total climbing of more than 10,000m) was a lot of hard work but all worth it, as I was often rewarded with stunning views.
Day temperatures in the mountains was around 5-10C and somewhat higher in the lower valleys. Depending on the elevation, night temperatures were around 0-10C except the last night at 2,400m were I had frost. It was Fall, and several times I experienced beautiful multi-coloured leaves on the trees. The wind was most often medium from changing directions – only a few days, I had a strong headwind.
The roads and drivers
Most of the roads in Armenia were very bad being washing board, potholed and bumpy though not quite as bad as e.g. Kyrgyzstan. It was bad on the main roads but particularly horrible in and around every town/village. The bad roads were especially problematic on the many steep downhills, where I constantly had to brake which heated the rim and caused countless flat tires.
Nothing much changed with the drivers – still honking, speeding, cutting off corners and aggressive coming unnecessarily close. For me the biggest risk was when they went wide in curves because they didn’t slow down – several times a vehicle almost went off the road missing a curve.
I wouldn’t say the people were unfriendly but they weren’t helpful either. Many times when asking for professional bike shops to buy tubes, people sent me around town with hopeless directions – and when I finally found a store, they only sold kids’ bikes or it was a sports shop with nothing for bikes. One time when I asked at a sports shop, the woman brought me a car tube to use at the beach – you got to be pretty “thick” when I’m standing there asking for a tube for my bike. So I began asking people to look up professional bike shops up on their phones (shop and directions) but everybody refused – “it’s right down the road” but it never was and in the end I gave up hoping I could make it to a good bike shop in Georgia.
One exception wasdriver Arthur and tour guide Sonia. On a long steep downhill from the first mountain pass, I had 3 flats in 2k. They were on their way back from the Iranian border in an empty bus and stopped to ask if I needed help. I hesitated but accepted a ride when they offered to help find new tubes in the next big city Kapan 20k down the road. We looked around for tubes for 1½ hour, but found nothing remotely useful in the bazaar or shops, however I really appreciated the effort and hospitality.
An annoying element again became wild dogs (and “owned” dogs running off their property) – like in most Central Asian countries, they ran along the bike (often in packs) aggressive barking and showing teeth. It’s never pleasant but after so many years of biking, I’m used to it and seldom take it too seriously. Most of them sneak off when I stop and scold them.
As described in the Iranian section, Vincent (the French guy I had biked with for a while) was complaining a lot, so on the first day in Armenia I decided it was time to split up before his negative energy began influencing me too much. The problem solved itself when I got a ride with Arthur and Sonia – the quick goodbye before jumping back on the bus was maybe not the nicest way after biking together for a week’s time, but on the positive side I didn’t have to tell him, I was tired of his company. Later, I met him a couple of times where he never returned my greetings so his ego must had taken a big beating when I split up.
On the way, I met two young German bikers (heading for Tehran), which I talked with for 45 minutes amongst other getting valuable information about Georgia should I ever get that far. And later I met a Belgian couple, who – besides offering a place to stay in Belgium – recommended a great camp spot besides a monastery by a lake (one of the most beautiful and peaceful places, I have camped in 2016).
Riding the mountains and countryside, it was usually fairly easy to find a nice camp spot. Only a few times I rode late because I had steep slopes on both sides of the road or it was a wide-open landscape.
The open tent still caused problems with bugs, mosquitoes and mice in the tent. One night at 4am, I spent ½ hour getting two mice - running around on my sleeping bag - out of the tent...
The first days in Armenia, I had countless flat tires braking on the long steep downhill bad roads – a heated rim on the bad rear wheel was unsustainable and something had to be done or I would have to quit biking and jump on a bus to Istanbul. So I spent an afternoon in a small village making a new rim-protection out of the broken Australian puncture free tube (it took hours with a scissor to cut it the right size). Incredibly, it worked pretty well and though I still had a few flat tires the problem was reduced significantly causing hope that I could make it to the Turkish border or maybe even Istanbul should I not run out of tubes, patches and glue. So being short on tubes, I also patched the perforated patches on old tubes - normally this is a fairly hopeless effort (especially riding a heavy bike) but being in the middle of nowhere with little chance of finding new tubes, I had to get the most out of what I had. When fixing a broken spoke some days later, the patch-on-patch tube was stretched beyond understanding with a big bump looking like a huge human abscess! I felt very lucky the tube had not exploded on one of the many bad downhill roads - it could have been disastrous.
All the way since Singapore, it had been an emotional roller-coaster with constantly changing bike challenges – and as I thought one problem was under control another arose. First with the broken new wheel on the first day out of Singapore and following huge problems until I - in Myanmar - got my used Australian wheel and had an extra wheel built. The newly built wheel quickly began to cause lots of problems, which I tried to mitigate in Bishkek by buying 5 new tubes + patches/glue as well as an extra tire from a nice French/Argentinian couple. When my good Australian wheel broke the first day in Iran and I again had to use the bad wheel, the real problems began and I went from being short on spokes to tires, tubes, patches and in the end even glue.
At the same time new bike problems seemed endless. Besides my handlebar beginning to get wiggle, I got problems with the derailleur. Every time I shifted to 1. gear the derailleur touched the spokes, so I spent a long time trying to adjust it (bending it, etc.) but nothing helped. This problem continued all the way to Istanbul, which was extremely annoying with the endless ups and downs for more than 2,000k, so I often (unpleasantly) rode in 2. gear to avoid stopping and bending down to adjust the derailleur.