Cycling with nomads on the Mongolian steppe
After an incredible day of cycling imagine relaxing outside your tent beside a babbling stream when a herd of yak appear over the hill and wander down the valley to drink close to our camp. Two riders approach on horseback, one wears a drab brown robe, the other a vivid blue gown tied around the waist with a sash, and we watch as the two youngsters corral the herd to the safety of their nomadic camp for the night.
To visit Mongolia on our fully supported cycling holiday is not just to visit a far-off land in distance, it also feels like travelling to a different place in time. Mongolia is a land of ger dwelling nomads who spend the year tending their herds and moving on to fresh pastures. And for nine wonderful days, we live amongst this wilderness, cycling through the vastness of the Mongolian Steppe, and spending our nights' camping in the valleys of friendly and ever hospitable nomadic herders, whose way of life has changed little over the centuries.
Join us in Mongolia for a truly memorable cycling adventure.
At a Glance
Total Days: 13
Cycling Days: 9
Daily Average: 40km
Max. Alt.: 2800m
2019: 29 Jun - 11 Jul: $3100.00
2020: 20 Jun - 02 Jul: $3100.00
There can be few places like Mongolia left to explore. A land of nomads whose traditional way of life has changed little over the centuries. A wilderness where the night sky, free of light pollution, is a dazzling display of stars.
During our Mongolian adventure holiday, we cycle on unsealed roads and tracks through a wilderness that changes at a startling rate from desert and barren hills, to green valleys and pastures bedecked with alpine flowers where the scent of wild herbs fills the air. Mongolia really is a truly special place to explore by bike and our fully supported cycling holiday is the best way to do that if you want maximum enjoyment without the burden of having to carry your own camping equipment, food, or without having to worry about navigation.
I can’t imagine there’s a better way to explore Mongolia than by bike, the landscapes and terrain are stunning and surprisingly varied. The cycling is not overly technical but does have some very small sections of steep downhill, challenging climbs on loose surfaces and fun river crossings to keep it exciting everyday. Nights are very relaxed and spent resting tired legs, chatting with a beer and watching the herders bring their flocks home. You also get the added benefit of the sky being totally unspoiled by light pollution so the stars are amazing on clear nights.
Keith Evans - London on Mongolia
The cycling is entirely on unsealed roads and trails through an unspoilt and amazingly varied wilderness of grassland, desert, alpine pastures, rolling hills, craggy rocks, and rivers of crystal clear water. Whilst a high level of technical skill is not necessary, this is a cycling holiday for more experienced cyclists with some off-road experience. There are on occasions short steep sections where we cross passes on rocky trails with loose surfaces, and these need to be approached with caution and a willingness to perhaps push your bike at times, both up and down. There are also rivers to ford by foot, so wet feet are to be expected as part of the adventure.
On the whole, we are riding on gravel roads, grass trails, and hard-packed dirt tracks and roads.
The distances may look short in kilometres, but typically we leave camp at 08:30 and arrive at our next overnight stop mid-afternoon, which in our experience has proved popular.
Most nights we sleep in tents where our crew create fine meals in our kitchen/dining tent whilst we relax with a coffee or beer and enjoy the atmosphere of the wild. On three nights we will sleep in beds in comfortable ger camps. We also have three nights in hotels.
In a break from Painted Roads' tradition, this tour has no full rest day. Instead, we have opted for two shorter days of cycling, both of which finish in ger camps in time for lunch and a leisurely afternoon, an arrangement that is popular with our guests.
The overwhelming hospitality of the Mongolians was matched by David, Echo and the local team and considering the remote locations of our camps the food was incredible. This being my second trip with Painted Roads my expectations were high and both Mongolia and the guys more than exceeded them.
Keith - UK on Mongolia
Suitable Bicycle. This is a tour for mountain bikes, either hard-tail or full suspension. We recommend a minimum tyre size of 50mm, either 26", 27.5", or 29".
Rental Bikes. Although we always recommend using your own bicycle, for those wishing to rent a bike we can provide Giant XTCs. These are aluminium hardtail bikes with front suspension, hydraulic disc brakes, 27.5" wheels and 30 gears.
Although our rental bicycles are ready to ride if you have a saddle at home upon which you are comfortable we strongly recommend bringing it along. Likewise, if you use clipless cycling shoes such as Shimano SPDs please be sure to bring matching pedals. We are of course happy to help you with fitting these items.
Spares and Repairs
We will be in the wilderness for the entirety of the journey with no bicycle shops or availability of spares. It is therefore essential that you ensure your bicycle is serviced and properly maintained.
Our back-up vehicles carry water and tools, although for those competent with tools bringing your own pump, puncture kit, and multi-tool would speed up any trailside repairs and adjustments that became necessary.
If you are unsure about the mechanical side of things a professional service at a reputable bicycle shop is essential, make sure the bike shop is aware of the circumstances of your journey
Spares to consider include:
• tyre x 1
• inner tube x 2
• sealant if you use tubeless tyres (also bring 1 x tube even if you are running tubeless).
• puncture repair kit
• chain link
• spokes of the correct length (spokes have the ability to know if you are carrying spares - Murphy's Law applies).
• derailleur hanger
• brake pads
• chain lube
Also useful is a means of carrying your camera, sunblock, rain jacket etc. such as a lightweight backpack, or something from the variety of bike-packing bags that are now readily available.
If you are looking for a great cycling experience definitely consider the Mongolian trip with its wonderful scenery, animals and warm hearted people. This trip is well organized with delicious food, interesting routes, wonderful camping sites and of course as David is the tour leader, a great many laughs.
Shona Bailey. Shanghai. on Mongolia
Clothing and Sleeping
Temperatures can vary considerably with night-time temperatures between 5º and 15º, and daytime temperatures between 15º and 35º. Layering is always a good idea and for these conditions merino wool is excellent. Rain is possible so a waterproof jacket is essential. A down jacket is a good idea for the evening.
You will need to bring your own sleeping bag. Pillows are not provided, a down jacket makes a good pillow, alternatively, bring along a travel pillow. Sleeping mats are provided.
Arriving at Ulaanbaatar airport you will be met by a driver and guide and transferred to our joining hotel where you will be met by David, your tour leader.
The first almost 100% off-road route provided by Painted Roads is attractive to clients not fond of tarmac The food was surprisingly good as Mongolia, being a country with specific climate, cannot provide a broad variety of local produce. This lack was amply compensated by the fantasy of the cook and his crew. The mix of a good hotel at the start and end of the tour, with camping in comfortable tents and gers in between makes the tour very attractive.
Marko Žumer - Slovenia on Mongolia
Early Arrival - Ulaanbaatar.
Ulaanbaatar is a town well worth arriving early for. Despite a population of one point three million people, the centre has a relaxed small town feel and a surprisingly modern vibe. There are museums to visit, and the restaurants, cafés, and bars where the staff speak good English. But as with any new town to just wander and absorb the atmosphere is a fine introduction to a new land.
If possible early arrival is recommended to allow time to overcome the ravages of a long flight before we head out to the steppe. Moscow and Beijing airports also have a reputation for baggage delays on transit flights and we have known luggage to arrive a day late.
For those who are looking for an experience that is a bit different, and in a truly wild and wonderful setting, the Mongolia tour is hard to beat. The scenery is stunning and changes day by day throughout the route. To come over the brow of a hill and see huge herds of yaks, wild horses, flocks of mountain sheep flowing across the landscape makes for some just indescribable moments. Although entirely off-road, the tour is not that difficult in terms of terrain and the distances each day are far from demanding – any reasonably fit and competent cyclist will enjoy the daily challenges. As ever, the leadership and support team were just great, making a great tour a truly special one.
Nigel Fielden - Manchester on Mongolia
(meals key: B = breakfast; L = lunch; D = dinner)
Day 1. Arrival. Ulaanbaatar
Arriving at Ulaanbaatar’s Genghis Khan Airport you will be met by a driver who will deliver you to our joining hotel where you will be met by your tour leader.
This evening the group will meet for a briefing and our first meal together.
Day 2. Transfer, Ulaanbaatar to Arvaikheer
Today is a transfer day as we leave Ulaanbaatar in our Russian made support trucks heading east towards the Kangi Mountain range. The city is soon behind us and we start to get a feel for the vastness of the country we will be spending the next nine days exploring by bicycle. At times we are driving through sandy desert, at other times the rolling landscape is covered with grass or crops of wheat, and dotted across the scene are the white, round ger tents that are home for many Mongolian people.
Our destination for the night is the small and remote town of Arvaikheer where some may be surprised to find we dine in an Irish pub.
Our cycling begins today, but first, we have a further two-hour transfer across more open wilderness during which we may well pass grazing camels. Neither wild nor beasts of burden, these camels are often owned simply as a status symbol and spend a trouble-free life wandering and grazing.
With the drive over we prepare our bikes, drink a coffee, and take to the trail.
We are now on the unsealed tracks and trails that are to be our conduit to exploring Mongolia. Ahead of us, a long gentle climb leads us through a beautiful deserted scene of gently rolling hills and a huge sky towards the Kanghi Mountain range.
Our first campsite of the journey is set in the midst of a wide valley. Nearby are the carved standing stones of a Bronze Age archaeological site whose interesting story our guide will impart before we camp. The valley is home to a scattering of nomadic herders who, in the true tradition of nomadic Mongolians, may well wander across to our camp and offer us hospitality and refreshments.
Having broken camp we head west through a narrow valley where the environment changes rapidly from fertile green where scattered rock gardens may see riders pushing their bicycles, to an arid desert where vultures perch on the valley wall and circle as they search for carrion.
Passing Shargaljoot Riverside town, a small collection of colourful houses, a school, hospital, and police station is a significant point in the journey as it marks the final outpost of ‘civilisation’ for some days to come.
We camp tonight in a wide valley where herds of yak appear across the hills to drink at the river beside which we camp. As the evening progresses local lads on horses will round up the heard and drive them to the safety of their camp for the night. Now not only are we in another world, but we also begin to feel as though we are in another time.
We set out this morning following a wide valley where herds of yak and horses roam. Turning from the valley our first challenging climb begins on a trail leading through a pasture of grass and edelweiss that takes us to the head of another valley.
We take lunch at the highest of the day's three passes overlooking a view where rock formations jut from rolling green hills that lead to the far distance. From here the descent is rocky and challenging requiring discretion, and some pushing may we'll be necessary on the initial section. One final grassy climb, a short but rocky descent, and smooth valley floor trail lead us to tonight's riverside campsite.
A challenging climb and descent followed by a gentle downhill to a river make up the first eight kilometres of today's ride. From the river crossing grass and dirt tracks climb gently across the highland pastures and past the sacred Erkhet Mountain. Onwards past a Bronze Age site and to a gravel track leading to a lunch spot with views stretching across the plains to ger camps and herds of grazing yak.
After lunch, a gravel road leads us via a short steep climb to the highest point of the tour at 2850 metres. From here we drop amidst rolling hills to the babbling brook beside which we will camp for the night.
Today's terrain incorporates a stretch of rocky river bed that is often flooded necessitating the inclusion of a transfer midway through the ride.
The pre-transfer ride is predominantly a gentle valley descent on double track, at time gravel, at others grass and hardpacked dirt.
During the transfer, we cross the watershed from where all rivers cease to flow south and now head northward, generally to Russia’s mighty Baikal Lake.
With the transfer over we remount our bicycles in an altogether different scene. Now across the Kangi watershed, the fertile north-facing mountain slopes give life to conifer forests and the region becomes altogether greener than we have been used to. From here on the ride takes on a new character as, still cycling past herds of yak and horses, we ride on smoother hard packed double track trails, a feature for the remainder of the tour.
Day 8. Tsenkher
A couple of short steep climbs today break up a series of fast flowing hard pack tracks as we head east at a swifter pace through a series of wide valleys dotted with evergreen forest.
The town of Tsenkher throws up a couple of interesting surprises in the shape of traffic lights, cars, and a tarmac road. Needless to say none of these last for more than twenty minutes and soon we are back on fast flowing dirt trails heading for lunch and an early finish.
Today is our first experience of a ger camp. Better know as yurts in the West, gers are the traditional large white tents of the nomadic Mongolians. Our gers are comfortable with the combined novelties of electric light, a bed with sheets, a shower block, and a dining room. The setting is tranquil and the afternoon can be spent relaxing in pastoral isolation, or if you prefer you can join the crew as they head into town to stock up on supplies.
Accom: Ger camp
Day 9. Tsenkher Hot Springs
Today is another semi-rest with a short but beautiful ride climbing three passes past forests of fir and pastures of alpine flowers. None of the climbs are particularly high, but the final one is of sufficient distance to work up a good appetite for lunch. The conditions make for a swift ride, and following a tea break atop the flower-bedecked final pass we swoop downhill on smooth double track to the comfort of our ger camp, which we should reach before noon.
The afternoon can be whiled away soothing tired muscles in the mineral water of the hot pools, taking a massage, relaxing in your ger, wandering a little in the hills, or enjoying a cold beer and convivial banter in the ger camp’s bar.
Accom: Ger camp
A longer day today with several passes to cross riding mostly on smooth hard packed trails. The land is fertile, the grass is thick, and as we ride away from our ger camp we climb through conifer forests and pastures thick with wildflowers. As we head east the scene we ride through is rolling hills, pastures, and wide valleys where cattle graze, all rather reminiscent of Austria’s Tyrol. We end the day at a beautiful riverside campsite beneath a small escarpment.
Our final day on the bikes follows the Orkhon Valley as we head towards our final ger camp at the town of Kharkhorin. The ride is fast and flowing, at times riverside and at times moving a little away from the river to cross small passes offering fines views of the river and the lovely valley through which it flows.
Our final lunch in the wilderness is riverside and just a few kilometres from our evening's ger camp which boasts a convivial bar, ideal to relax on a sunny afternoon and enjoy sharing memories and tales from a wilderness adventure that will surely be recalled many times with much fondness for years to come.
Accom: Ger Camp
Day 12. Ulaanbaatar
Having loaded our support trucks with bikes and kit we return to a sealed road for the journey back to Ulaanbaatar. We are now back in a desert scene where camels are more commonplace than yak.
We should arrive back in Ulaanbaatar mid-afternoon in time to pack bikes (for those with private machines), take a shower and have a last wander around town or enjoy pre-dinner drinks in the sunshine before our final dinner together.
Day 13. Finish
The tour ends today with a transfer to Ulaanbaatar's airport in time for your onward journey.
For those wishing to remain a little longer in Mongolia, we are more than happy to organise extra nights for you.
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£ Pound Sterling Payment Option
Our prices are all in US dollars but we can offer you the option of paying in GBP (£) based on the exchange rate at the time of booking. You can choose on the booking form, adjusted prices will be shown there.
2019: 29 Jun - 11 Jul
2020: 20 Jun - 02 Jul
For those wishing to rent a bike, we can provide Giant XTCs. These are aluminium hardtail bikes with front suspension, hydraulic disc brakes, 27.5” wheels and 30 gears.
Rental Fee: US$200
The prices quoted above are for a twin room share basis. If you are travelling alone you will be paired up with another lone traveler of the same gender to share with. Single room occupancy can be arranged, the single supplement rate shown is per person.