*Wrote the post below months ago but never got around to posting it. We have now cycled the entire length of Uzbekistan from West to East.*
Link to interactive route map for Uzbekistan here.
We have lived in Uzbekistan for 4 years (well, Matthew for 4 and Niamh for 3....long story) and have cycled a fair chunk of the country. In 2015 we cycled from Tashkent (where we live) to Bukhara (famous Silk Road city). In the warm months we cycle up to the mountains and wild camp overnight or stay in dachas. On other weekends we just pick a direction out of the city and try to explore new roads and villages. We have now covered every direction on a compass several times. In June 2017, we are planning to ride from the far west of Uzbekistan back to Bukhara to join the dots and then East from Tashkent to......the world!
Click here to find out more about our Round the World ride.
Cycling in Uzbekistan can be very rewarding but it can also be insanely annoying. Here are some tips we have picked up along the way to get the most out of cycling in this diverse country.
1. You Are Very Unlikely to Have a Serious Crisis
The most important point first. To be honest, you could probably stop reading after this. Your bike may break, you may run out of water or you may not have somewhere to stay. These things could turn into a crisis elsewhere but it's unlikely in Uzbekistan. People have an innate kindness and as far as we have experienced, are always eager to help. We have been rescued, housed and fed more than once and someone often knows someone who can help solve whatever problem you have.
2. Realise That Cycling is Uncommon
Cycling as a sport or leisure activity is extremely uncommon in Uzbekistan (although the Astana team sometimes trains here). In fact, bicycles were banned for a short time a few years ago. You may see some people using bikes as transport for short distances but this is mostly bakers making their deliveries on old, rickety bikes. A bike tourer zooming past with all the bells and whistles may as well be a martian riding a unicorn. Besides the stares, other consequences of this are people beeping at you out of pure surprise and amusement (gets tiresome after the 93rd beep of the day), not being given any space on the road and a lack of bike shops.
3. Road Quality
The quality of road surfaces varies wildly. In Tashkent, many streets are smoothly paved but watch out for huge, deep gutters appearing out of nowhere and various other obstacles. Outside of Tashkent, there are some new roads but mainly patchy and bumpy tarmac with lots of potholes. Beware big patches of broken glass scattered along the edges of many roads (from car crashes and people smashing beer bottles). We, surprisingly, haven't had that many punctures here but bring lots of tubes and stuff for repairs anyway. The motorway from Tashkent to Chimgan/Beldersay is very well surfaced and quiet early in the morning. Another excellent surface is west from Gazli for a few hundred kms in the desert. Bikes are allowed on all roads.
4. Bring Enough Water
This might sound obvious but Uzbekistan gets extremely hot in summer (reports say up to 45 degrees celsius/locals say over 50 degrees celsius). Road temps can be over 60 celsius. There are plenty of mini markets in towns and even small villages but if you are planning to cycle in the desert then bring plenty. Tap water and river water are not safe for drinking. You could use water purification tablets but there aren't many rivers or streams once you leave the mountains....it is a desert after all.
5. Learn a Few Words of Russian
The two main languages in Uzbekistan are Uzbek and Russian. In Tashkent, some people will speak a little English but outside of the city (Besides the tourist hotspots of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva) very few will. People really appreciate if you try to use Uzbek but learning some Russian might be more useful in the long term if you plan to cycle in more Central Asian or Eastern European countries.
Every car on the road is also a taxi and will pull in and out across your path without warning while trying to pick up customers. Be very careful on all streets. When turning left at a junction, always look over you right shoulder because vehicles will often try to overtake on the inside and cut across you.
Technically, you must be registered (with OVIR) in a hotel every night (after the first 72 hours) and should keep the slips as proof. But, currently, only one in every 18 cycle tourists is asked for registration slips at the border when leaving. While this could incur an 800 dollar fine, explaining that you've been camping since you arrived often results in you being let pass without paying. If you are an unmarried couple touring together, it's easier to pretend to be married so you don't have to pay for two hotel rooms and don't make homestay hosts uncomfortable. Always carry your passport with you. Never take photos of government buildings or infrastructure.
If you do happen to pass someone on a bike, they will try to race you. Feel free to accept the challenge but they are usually young boys who will drop out after a kilometer or so and haven't realized quite how far you are going.
8. Don't Be Cynical
You can usually take people at face value here. You may have experienced tourist traps in the past and are wary of offers from strangers. But an hour later, when you are sitting with their grandmother, enjoying tea and hospitality, you will realise that it is genuine intrigue and friendliness which led them to approach you.
9. Bread is Revered
Bread is plentiful and cheap but it wasn't always so. As cyclists, we need lots of fuel and often stock up on a few loaves at a time. If, for some reason, you don't finish all of the bread you bought- try to avoid throwing it in the bin if at all possible. Put it in a bag and leave it on a table or hang it from a railing. Someone will find a use for it.
Tips are useful but the most valuable advice is to just get on your bike and enjoy.
Link to interactive route map for Uzbekistan here.