The Every-Man’s Race
February 6, 2017
How light is the Klim Krios Helmet?
February 7, 2017

Noel Thom

Iceland. The adventure rider/cyclist/4x4 playground. Massive scenery, no people, gravel tracks and rivers. Plenty of rivers. Shallow rivers, deep rivers wide rivers. As UK rider Noel Thom discovered, if you're going to ride anywhere in this wild country there's one thing you're going to have to get used to, and that's crossing rivers. Good job he wasn't on his own. Oh, wait, he was...


When I told friends I was planning to ride to Iceland most seem concerned that I was doing it alone. Alone didn't concern me.

What did concern me was water. Fast flowing, deep, unpredictable, cold, bike drowning water.

Away from the tarmac Iceland has lots of it and some online research on my newly acquired BMW showed me that if I was going to drop my bike during a river crossing I was going to require a large jam jar to hold the umpteen nuts and bolts I'd have to remove to put things right.

In the worst case scenario I'd have to find and drain the air box, remove the spark plug (hidden beneath the air box) and empty the barrel and exhaust. No mean feat on a motorcycle surprisingly designed with none of this in mind. Not dropping the bike was therefore uppermost in my mind when I came across my first river of melt water flowing from the Koldukvislarjokull glacier above me.

At this stage I was 100 miles down a gravel road across the interior and I hadn't seen a living soul since I'd left the tarmac ring road after breakfast. My map meant it wasn't a surprise and I'd donned my Sealskin socks in preparation that morning.


Trail riding and kayak experience had taught me that disturbed ripples meant shallower water running over stones. I'd also been told that the riverbed was often smoother on the downstream side of the crossing. A consequence of previous four wheel drives passing through. Narrow sections were to be avoided as these were always deeper.

Being melt water and a beautiful shade of grey I couldn't visibly gauge the depth and despite the freezing temperature and wind I decided to walk this river first. Walking tentatively in I instantly questioned my reasoning for the whole trip. As the water came over my knees and down the inside of my knee high socks the consequences of failure hit me square in the face.

During four decades of trail rides back in England I'd crossed much bigger stretches of angry water albeit on a much lighter bike. Here in the epicentre of Iceland, alone and on a heavy fully loaded dual sport below an imposing glacier it felt like my first ever attempt. Using my knees as depth gauges I soon choose a line and marked the opposite featureless bank with a large boulder.

As a solo traveller I'd already decided that contrary to popular opinion my technique was going to be the sitting down with feet off the foot pegs. With two fingers hovering over the clutch and front brake I'd be ready for any unexpected large stones sweeping away the front wheel and in first gear I'd be able to catch the bike before it went down.

It worked and what surprised me most was how little I felt the quick current against my bike, perhaps the only advantage of a heavier bike. As steam rose up from my hot exhaust and the front mudguard began to disappear under the bow wave I realised that this experience was exactly why I'd come to Iceland.

Aiming for my rock and keeping my feet just above the riverbed until they were needed I exited from the other side and instantly forgetting my wet feet I was already looking forward to the next river up ahead.

The following day in a mountain refuge,a few miles on from this first river, I bumped into an Australian chap from the BMW Off Road Skills school in Wales leading a group.


When I asked him which technique he advised his clients to adopt when crossing water he told me that standing up was always preferred for better balance. Of course he was right. Transferring body weight through the bike via the foot pegs lowers the centre of gravity significantly and with good balance and excellent riding skill can produce successful results, even on a larger bike.

The Dutch group I caught up with at a large river several days later had all been given similar advice by their guide. Two men in waders from their support vehicle had already walked the river, throwing aside larger rocks and were now positioned and poised, ready to catch their clients should things go wrong. I pulled along side the guide to say hello and quiz him about the rivers up ahead. Staring straight ahead and without ever making eye contact he asked if I was travelling alone.

"I am" I said.

Still looking ahead and with a disapproving tone he uttered, "That is very dangerous" before he rode too fast into the water standing up and promptly dropped his bike. Twice.

Riding alone certainly added to the sense of desolation but it also meant riding conservatively and at my own pace, something I don't think the Dutch guide had fully appreciated.

After twenty six  days and three thousand miles my time in Iceland eventually came to an end. It's scale and and scenery had amazed me, causing me to shout out in my helmet every hour I was there. I certainly returned home with a much more relaxed attitude to river crossings, having never once needed my large jam jar.



Noel used his Klim Adventure Glove to keep his hands warm and dry during all his Icelandic river crossings. You can find out more and get yours here



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