Turkmenistan’s flat, repetitive desert landscapes and high temperatures do little to charm the touring cyclist. But Turkmenistan connects Iran with Uzbekistan and the rest of Central Asia. That’s why every year a steady stream of long-distance cyclists tackles the desert and races across the country within the five days the transit visa offers.
Roads and bicyle repair
For a detailed account of road conditions in Turkmenistan see driving in Turkmenistan. The main transit cycling route from Sarakhs to Farap is mostly in decent condition.
For bicycle repair you should consider the neighbouring countries of Iran and Uzbekistan as the availability of spare parts is limited and you will probably be short on time anyway. Easy, improvised repairs can be done around the bazaars of the major towns in Turkmenistan.
Cycle routes in Turkmenistan
Most cyclists cross the country on the shortest route across from Sarakhs to Farap or vice versa because of the limited time frame transit visas offer. While five days is not a lot for the distance of about 500 km most cyclists manage to do it. If you are using the Caspian Sea ferry, you will need to get on at least one train if you plan to make it on time.
Take into account that crossing the border can take a couple of hours and there can be strong head winds limiting the distance you can cover.
At the Farap and Sarakhs border you can cycle across no man’s land while at the Ashgabat border crossing you must load your bike on a bus. Between Sarakhs and Khauz-Han you can choose between the main road and a more direct dirt track in various stages of decay. Besides that, route options on the transit route are basically nonexistent.
The highlight of the transit route is the city of Merv only a few kilometers off the main road, otherwise the landscape is repetitive. There are roadhouses spread along the way, where you can resupply, but especially between Bayramali and Turkmenabat they can be far apart. They are marked in OpenStreetMaps.
Wild camping is not an issue anywhere because the country is so sparsely populated. Hotels on the route can be found in Sarakhs (on the Iranian side of the border), Khauz-Han, Mary and Turkmenabat.
Summer temperatures are very high and there is little shade along the route. So make sure to take extra water and to start cycling early in the cooler mornings. Plan to avoid the hottest time of year if possible. Heat exhaustion is a real danger.
Traffic in Turkmenistan
While there is not a lot of traffic in Turkmenistan you will be partially cycling on the main transit route between Iran and Uzbekistan. That means there is a small but steady flow of large trucks passing by, many of them coming from Turkey. When you are running short on time you should be able to catch a ride with one of them.
Bicycle on train
Like in other countries in Central Asia it is possible to take your bike on a train if you only try hard enough. A useful train for cyclists is the Mary – Turkmenabat Service if you want to skip a long stretch of desert cycling.
Cycling the Silk Road
Thanks a lot to Jonas Andreae for writing this article!