Iran Cycle Adventure
Small group bike tours
Venture into the unknown and challenge everything you think you know about Iran. Completely misrepresented by world media, Iran is home to one of the friendliest, warmest and most welcome locals anywhere on the planet.
Social Cycles will take you on a journey to interact and connect with local grassroot Non Government Organizations (NGOs) and the beneficiaries of a funded project of your choosing. Research what really happens on the ground and out in the villages with Social Cycles in a tour that carefully balances ethical research and local impact with cycling and site seeing.
Our journey traces the magnificent legacies of the Persian Empires which will not fail to inspire, yet it is the snow clad mountains, vast deserts, oasis towns and spontaneous engagement with the locals that provide surprise at every turn. This adventure starts in the capital Tehran, slowly heading south towards Shiraz.
March 30 to April 10
September 7 to September 18
April 7 to 18
Features & inclusions
- Tour Inclusions
- Social Impact
- Support Van
- Cycling Distances
- Culture & Customs
- NGO Partners
- 11 x nights accommodation (7 in hotels, 4 in traditional homes)
- Bicycle hire, not including helmets
- Minimum 3 x support staff, including cycle guide, driver and cultural tour manager
- 2 x support vehicles for the ride with water and fruit
- Minimum three NGO presentations with local staff across Iran
- Multiple field trips to villages and communities
- Entry and guided tour of Persepolis UNESCO world heritage site
- 11 x breakfasts, 6 x lunch and 8 x dinners
- Transit from Shiraz back to Tehran via vehicle
In addition to the van, we will also have a car/4WD. This gives us the flexibility of dividing the group, yet keeping everybody safe and supported (and happy!) If a few members of the team feel like skipping the cycling (or part thereof), we can have the option to drive them forward to the next destination.
It is the respect from the locals, the small intimate villages where nobody in a bus would ever stop and say hello that make this type of travel truly remarkable and enriching. We start riding at about 8:30 after a solid local breakfast and aim to get into our next destination by about 3:00-4:00pm. Our small group policy, which is a maximum of 12 riders (plus 4 hosts) means it’s easier for all of us to stay together. You don’t need to be super fit for this ride, because the support van is always an option, but you do need to be positive.
- Alcohol is illegal. This doesn’t just apply to locals, it applies to everybody. There will be absolutely no alcohol on the Social Cycles tour
- You must dress conservatively. WOMEN must wear a hijab (head scarf) at all times when in public. Long sleeve shirts and trousers should also be worn. The month of April is still cool so this type of clothing should not pose too much of a problem whilst cycling, especially with the altitude we will be. For MEN, full length shirts and trousers should also be worn in public. Cycling clothing is permitted but should be covered with loose fitted clothing over the top.
- Money. There is no Visa or Mastercard access from ATM’s as sanctions still limit financial access. As a result, you will need to bring in US cash and exchange at the airport. The money that you bring into the country is the only money you will have access to whilst you are in Iran, so make sure you have enough for all your souvenirs!
- Ta’arof: In the world of ta’arof, the Persian art of etiquette, people fight over who pays the bill, seem to refuse payments for a purchase, pretend they don’t want something to eat when they’re starving. In a culture that emphasizes deference, ta’arof is a verbal dance that circles around respect. If a taxi driver insists you should not pay, you cannot just say ‘Thanks!’ and walk away. It is a ritual display of respect & humility that can be confusing to understand at first. As a rule of thumb, you insist (or refuse) at least three times before the desired transaction can take place
In Tehran, we meet the wonderful people behind the scenes at Omid Foundation. The holistic program comprises two and a half years of care and education, for young women with issues of abuse, neglect and poverty. Speak first hand to the management and learn about the Iranian way of caring for disadvantaged young women. This is truly and inspiring and unforgettable, moving experience. In Esfahan, we visit Congress 60. This opens a door into the world of hard drugs and addiction in Iran. Very much a taboo topic and incredibly illegal, Congress 60 have pioneered an approach to recovery with so much success, they have recently received support from the government in it’s practices.
From across the country, ten’s of thousands of addicts have found a new life over the past 20 years of Congress 60’s existence. We engage with one of the centres in Esfahan and speak to former addicts and advocates of the Congress 60 program. Have the chance to ask questions and learn about why this program works so well for Iran, and why don’t countries in the West follow their success.
The concrete jungle of Tehran can seem a little daunting at first, but it doesn’t take long to get your bearings and feel right at home. We don’t have a lot of time scheduled in Iran, so we’d recommend you arrive a few days early to have a good look around. You can check out one of the many museums, mosques or markets. Brett, one of the tour facilitators (and founder of Social Cycles) will be in the city to greet you and offer some local advice. Our first official activity for the evening is a welcome dinner at a ‘local’s favourite’ restaurant.
Meals: Dinner. Accommodation: Hotel. Transport: None
Welcome to Persia
We start the day with the wonderful people from Omid-e-Mehr foundation. Learn how this incredible non government organisation empowers local disadvantaged young women through three key areas: self empowerment, education and training. Starting in 2004, Omid-e-Mehr was set up to help victims of sexual, physical and mental abuse. Today, it has over 200 young women enrolled in it’s program. This insight into Iran is an incredible, eye opening education.
In the afternoon, we will start to make our way to Qom, the second holiest city in Iran. This is an ideal place (and time) to see Muharram, the mourning of Imam Hossein. The festivities of this religious occasion will follow us on our whole trip across Iran in September, but nothing will be more prevalent that what you will witness in Qom.
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner. Accommodation: Homestay. Transport: Van (2.5hrs)
Our first cycle day
We’ll take the van in the morning to get out of town into the foot of the mountains. This is where we start our first cycle day as we begin a gradual climb from 2000m to 2800m asl over the first 17km. After a bit of undulation, we finish the day at 1950m asl around the 31km mark, before getting into the van and driving to Kashan. The terrain is a mixture of sealed road (13km) and gravel (18km). We plan to arrive into Kashan in the comfort of a hotel to give you a chance to rest, relax and explore the incredible town of Kashan at your leisure.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch Accommodation: Hotel. Transport: Cycle 31km (7hrs) + Van (2.5hrs)
Hammams, historical houses, ancient gardens and rest…
We’ll arrange the van to take us to Fin Gardens (about 10km out of town) for the morning, but the rest of the day is yours to explore. Kashan is a really interesting city that is rarely spoken of outside of the country, but is a common tourist destination for locals. And for good reason.
The Agha Bozorg Mosque is an excellent example of 19th century architecture, the bazaar, Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse and Bagh-e-Fin Garden are all easy to get camera crazy over. And then there is the food to eat and rugs to buy!
Of course, this is an opportunity to soak up the cultural surrounding by just taking rest. Take your camera for a walk, drink tea with a local stranger and let the local hospitality guide you. The video below is taken during the Mohurram period (September 2017). Please check with us to see if it will be ongoing during your requested tour dates.
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner. Accommodation: Hotel. Transport: Van to Fin Garden (optional)
Local villages and a 20km climb
We drive out of the traffic of Kashan and onto a quiet road, some 1400m asl. The 20km climb is broken up by exploring some of the local villages on the way. Don’t be surprised if the locals invite us in for tea, and if so, expect a feast of fruit, dates, home made sweets and of course, black tea. The day finishes at 2200m asl in the small historical village of Abyaneh. Make sure you take some time to go for a stroll and marvel at the wonderful red colours of the mud brick town.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner. Accommodation: Homestay. Transport: 20km cycle + Van (2hrs)
Cycling to great heights through incredible mountains
From Abyaneh we tackle the mountain range to the West. A slow 13km climb will take us to new heights of 2800m above sea level into a land of complete remoteness and rural fascination. These are the roads less travelled, let alone cycled, and these are the roads that lead to great adventures and authentic experiences. We will arrive at a tiny village near some ancient ruins, before being picked up by the van to transit into Esfahan. It’s important to note that the majority of this ride is not supported by either vehicle as the terrain is not suitable. There is an alternate (sealed) route that riders can take that is supported.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch. Accommodation: Hotel. Transport: 28km cycle + Van (2hrs)
Mosques, markets, city squares and an NGO
Esfahan is the number one tourist destination in Iran, and for good reason. Being one of the oldest cities in Iran, some 2500 years, Esfahan is famous for it’s tree lined boulevards, Life-Giving River, The Zayandeh-Rood, abundant and beautiful mosques, bazaars, bridges and city squares.
Esfahan is an incredible city to explore and discover through the diverse food, cafes and teahouse’s. We will also dig a little deeper and meet another NGO, to learn a little more about the what happens beneath the surface of this friendly and welcoming community.
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner. Accommodation: Hotel. Transport: None
A 44km cycle day, with more down than up
As standard, we will drive out of the city of Esfahan to quieter roads. At a starting elevation of 2300m asl, we’ll make our way through remote outback Iran, via small villages to a small town, right in the middle of the Dena Protected Area. We’ll reach our highest elevation of 3200m asl. There are not a lot of kilometers to cycles, but don’t underestimate the challenge ahead. It’s all on sealed road, barely any traffic except for our trusty support van.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner. Accommodation: Homestay. Transport: 44km cycle + Van (3hr)
More mountains, villages and cycling
We continue our journey on bike through the mountains for a further 30kmk or 35km, depending on the route we go and the confidence of the group. The beauty of cycling out in these back end roads is that it is an opportunity to witness true Iranian hospitality. Tourists are covered with kindness and are considered by some to be ‘guests from God’. These off the beated tracck roads will give us the opportunity to take our time and stroll through local villages on the way, whilst enjoying local foods and capturing that amazing photograph.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner. Accommodation: Homestay. Transport: 30km to 35km cycle + Van (1hr)
Cycling through the Zagros mountain range
Starting at an altitude of 1700m, we will climb to a peak of 2500m over the first 60km, before descending to 2300m for the evening in the next 10km. This is the last cycle day of the trip and the distance we cycle towards Shiraz will depend on the group and the time we want to arrive. Having two support vehicles and a small group allows for greater flexibility in our cycling day and everybody should be able to have a great day.
Shiraz is another fabulous city and one that wants to be explored. We’ll have the entire following day to explore, but the mosque and Hafez Tomb are great places to visit for sunset and evening times.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch. Accommodation: Hotel. Transport: 60km to 70km cycle + Van (2hrs)
The city, the people, the monuments and our last NGO
We take a full day here to explore, relax and reflect on the experience over the previous couple of weeks. Shiraz is a photographers dream with highlights such as Eram Gardens, Nasir al-Mulk mosque, Vakil mosque and bazaar, Karim Khan citadel just to name a few. We’ll spend part of the day visiting our final NGO of the trip, while the rest is yours to explore what suits you best (and to grab some of that last minute shopping!)
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner. Accommodation: Hotel. Transport: None
The ancient ruins of Persepolis (515BC) and the long ride home
We’ll drive straight to the country’s premier attraction, Persepolis. This ancient empire was built in 518 BC by Darius the Great as the capital of the mighty Achaemenid Empire. Alexander the Great burnt the city to the ground in 330 BC, but many remnants of its former glory remain and Persepolis lives on as one of the greatest wonders of the ancient world. Officially made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
It’s a long day in the van, but we’ll get you to Tehran by early evening to say goodbye.
Meals: Breakfast. Accommodation: None. Transport: Transfer to Tehran
Where we ride
Yep, it’s fair to say that the below map can look a little daunting/exciting. It’s true, there are a few hills in there and we’ll be reaching a reasonable altitude. However, we’d much prefer to have fun than to finish. It’s all about the journey on our rides, not about the destination. We will be using the support van to help and it will be on hand at all times should you want to enjoy the air conditioning and take a load off!
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