I have been an avid cyclist since high school and I been camping all of my life. I never thought to put the two together until a friend of my wife turned me on to bike touring two years ago and I’ve been hooked ever since. My trips have been fairly modest two day affairs until this past summer when I flew to Israel for the three week holy hardcore bike tour of a lifetime.
When it comes to bike tours of Israel, there are two options: the first is to take mountain bikes down the Israel trail which runs the entire length of Israel and the second is with a street bike. I chose the latter.
Research and planning are critical when planning a bike tour of Israel, for very obvious reasons. While it is technically possible to enter the West Bank with a bicycle, I decided against it and kept a wide berth from any areas of conflict.
I landed in Ben Gurion Airport and made a beeline to my apartment in Tel Aviv with my bike and all of my gear. I wanted a base of operations while I was in Israel. Tel Aviv is in the center of the country so I rented a vacation apartment about two blocks away from the beach for the entire duration of my trip. It was a far cheaper alternative to a hotel and I also felt far more engaged with the city being in my own apartment right in the center of everything.
After a couple of days acclimating and enjoying everything that Tel Aviv has to offer. I made my way out to Jerusalem for four days. I left my tent and camping gear at my apartment and just brought some clothes. There is really no place to camp in Jerusalem and the ride is 60 miles of very serious inclines. I highly recommend stopping off at the Latrun Monastery just outside the town of Modain. The monastery produces a number of wines that are available only at the monastery’s store. Jerusalem is absolutely amazing. I passed a few days just wandering around the Old City and it was completely overwhelming.
Once I returned to Tel Aviv, I cleaned my bike and got my gear together for what would be the “meat and potatoes” of my journey; the ride up north to the Golan Heights, west along the northern border to Naharia and then all the way south to the Red Sea city of Eilat.
Purchasing quality equipment is critical for bike touring. Out on the road, your life is in the hands of your equipment. In terms of bicycle, it doesn’t have to be the most expensive high-performance racing model available but it should most certainly be solidly built with quality parts. I also recommend investing money a little extra money in a pair of “thicker” tires for your street bike in order to avoid flats. In addition to your weight, you can anticipate at least another 60 lbs. of gear. Before I started using “hard case” tires, flat tires were an everyday thing for me when touring.
When touring, the quality of your camping equipment is just as important the quality of your bicycle and cycling equipment. Get a good quality tent that won’t tear in a light breeze and a sleeping bag that will keep your warm at night. Make sure the panniers (saddlebags) you use are solidly constructed and that all of your equipment fits firmly in place on your bicycle. You might also want to pick up a solar charger for your cell phone. I used the GPS app on my phone so the solar charger was critical for me.
It can get terribly hot in Israel and in certain places, unbearably so. In most parts of the country, you can’t really ride on any road for more than 3 miles without running into a gas station or store of some kind so water isn’t really an issue with 3 exceptions; the Golan Heights, the northern border road from Kiryat Shmone to Naharia and the entire area from Beer Sheva south to Eilat. When traveling through these areas, always make sure that you are carrying a healthy reserve of water in your bags in addition to the bladder in your backpack. Temperatures during the spring and summer months can reach as high as 110º Fahrenheit and more in certain places and the road through the Negev Desert to Eilat is truly brutal.
The ride through the north was a lot of fun. I camped at a couple of the beaches off of Route 4 on the way to Haifa and then cut west on Route 65 on the way to the Sea of Galilee. I spent a couple of days camping and tooling around along the way. The Sea of Galilee was beautiful. I stayed there for a few days at an organized campsite right on the water.
The way up to the Golan Heights from the Sea of Galilee is a serious challenge. The angle of incline is too steep to allow for riding so you can expect to spend the better part of a day pushing all of your stuff up hill. Make sure that you bring plenty of extra water. You will need plenty for the way up and there is no restaurant/bar waiting for you at the top.
The Golan Heights is really nice. There are some great natural parks there like Banias and Gamla as well as a number of fantastic vineyards. One small caveat…don’t cross any barbed wire fences; they delineate mine fields.
On the ride down from the Golan Heights on my way to Kiryat Shmone, I made a quick stop at Tel Dan. The Tel Dan national park has incredible vistas and is home to the ruins of the ancient city of Dan and well worth a few moments out of your day.
The ride from Kiryat Shmone to Naharia along the northern border was long, lonely and I recommend you think about it twice. First, it hugs the Lebanese border which has been known to get hairy at times. Second, there are absolutely no stores , no gas stations, very little traffic and it is extremely hilly – almost bordering on the ridiculous, you can expect to spend the better part of a day pushing your bike up mountains.
Naharia was a blast. There is a nice boardwalk with all kinds of bars and restaurants and the whole atmosphere is great. I made camp on the beach for a couple of days and really enjoyed myself.
It was time to head back to my apartment in Tel Aviv and get ready for the southern leg of my journey. I did the 100 miles in a single day; it was a flat ride and even with all of my gear it wasn’t much of a problem.
The ride to Eilat in the summer is a very serious journey and one that should only be undertaken if you are in exceptional shape. I started south from Tel Aviv and spent two nights on the beach outside of the coastal city of Ashdod and then continued on to Beer Sheva. I had originally thought to spend two days in Beer Sheva but decided to make my way down to Mitzpe Rimon. On the outskirts of Mitzpe Rimon is a really cool “bed and breakfast” in the form of a Bedouin encampment with tents. I had originally planned to stay for a day and ended up hanging out for 3.
The ride from Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat was intense. It starts with a steep decline and continues for over 90 miles of stark, furnace-like desert. I was told that there were no gas stations or stores along the way so I had the foresight to pack 5 gallons of water in my panniers in addition to the gallon in the bladder on my back. It turned out to be the perfect amount; a half gallon less and things could have gotten uncomfortable.
While there are areas set aside along the beach for tents, I decided to treat myself to a hotel room Eilat is a lot of fun. The beaches were a bit crowded for my taste but the nightlife was very lively. After a couple of days in Eilat, I considered packing my gear on a bus and cruising back to Tel Aviv but a little voice in my head told me to soldier on back north and that’s what I did.
Written by Daniel Feinstein