10 Tips for Cycling Turkey
We spent two months in Turkey and cycled 2,200km from the Greek border to the Iranian border, via Istanbul, Cappadocia and Erzurum. Here are our top 10 tips for cycling in Turkey.
1. Plan your route and buy a map before you enter. Good maps of Turkey can be very difficult to find in Turkey, so it’s best to buy one before you arrive. In terms of route planning, the main roads in the East of the country are generally not too busy and have a hard shoulder, but in the West of the country they can get very busy, particularly around Istanbul and Ankara, so it can be better to stick to secondary roads in these areas.
2. Don’t skimp on tires. The Turkish roads generally consist of rough tarmac and parts often melt in the heat of summer, so you may have bits of tarmac stuck to your tires. Roadworks are common so ask the locals regularly about road conditions. Our Schwalbe Marathon XR tires (26 x 2 inch) performed well on the Turkish roads, with few punctures and good grip. If you are on narrow tyres be prepared for a bumpy ride!
3. Stop at mosques for clean drinking water and toilets. Every Turkish village has a mosque, and most mosques have nice clean bathrooms with drinking water. You can also have a wash there – some mosques even have showers (usually only for men though).
4. Give yourself time to get used to the heat. If you are cycling through Turkey in summer, be prepared for scorching temperatures and little shade. Start cycling early and take a break over lunch. Wetting your cycling shirt can temporarily cool you down. Drink lots of water and make sure you replace the salts you lose through sweating, e.g. with salty snacks. Much of the Anatolian Plateau is quite barren, so it’s a good idea to take a tarp to be able to create instant shade.
5. Rest up at fuel stations. Turkish fuel stations are great resting places – there’s shade, water, cold drinks, snacks and toilets, and sometimes even a restaurant. The staff are quick to brew up a chai and assist you in any way they can – it’s like a national sport. You can also pitch your tent at many fuel stations, as they often have some space out the back, though it’s not always the quietest place to sleep.
6. Consider your tent choice. If possible, choose a tent colour that provides some camouflage when you wild camp as some areas in Turkey are quite heavily agricultural and farmers wake up early. They’ll probably be delighted to see you, but if you are not keen to be discovered, dark colours are a wiser choice. A free standing tent is handy as you may sometimes be offered a concrete area to pitch on.
7. If you can’t find a place to pitch, just ask. If you can’t find a good spot to wild camp ask for permission to pitch your tent. Asking in villages can be a good option as they will often have a suitable place for you to pitch your tent, or someone might volunteer their garden. Asking at fuel stations, police stations and farms are other good options.
8. Keep the local wildlife at bay. Place your rubbish bag a safe distance away from the tent at night, and make sure any remaining food is well wrapped up. There are bears and wolves in the more remote parts of the Turkish mountains. Less worrying but much more common are the field mice who might enjoy the leftovers of your tuna pasta!
9. Have a strategy to deal with dogs. We have found most dogs in Turkey quite harmless. They will certainly bark and snarl but back off eventually. Some, especially in the East, can be quite aggressive. We carried a stick and pepper spray but never used either. Some people carry stones, some swear by the Dog Dazer. We usually slowed down and tried to assert ourselves as the alpha dog, which worked in all but one case. The one time we did get attacked a dog was so fast and vicious that Freddie couldn’t even whip out her stick before the dog sunk its teeth into her pannier.
10. Plan in enough time to for idle chat. Turks are very hospitable and love a chat. They are quick to offer you food and drink. A route map to whip out and explain your journey is useful as Turks are very curious, and a Turkish language guidebook definitely helps communication along.
Map of our Route through Turkey