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Mongolia's Arkanghai Mountains

July, 2007


A year after the Tibet trip, I packed up the bike one again for a trip to the wild steppes of Mongolia!

Mongolia has a rich and varied landscape, from the wide open steppes of central Mongolia, the challenging mountain trails of the high Arkhangai mountains stretching to the vast deserts of the Gobi, or the Altayn Mountains on the western Kazahk border to the desolate landscapes of the vast Gobi Aimag, Mongolia has something for everyone who loves the outdoors!

Erdene Zuu Khiid Monastery, Kharkorin

Riding in Mongolia

The riding in Mongolia can be very isolated, you can go for days without seeing anyone which of course is one of the reasons Mongolia attracts adventurous holiday makers from Walkers to Climbers, Skiers to Cyclists. 

The roads in Mongolia are all dirt, with the exception of the roads going into and out of the capital, Ulaanbataar. As one dirt road becomes too corrugated, drivers create new tracks and this can lead to some confusion on the maps. Often the roads will just go in different directions and then they'll meet up again in 5 kilometers time for example.

The heat can be stifling and it is made worse by the lack of shade. Make sure you carry enough water to get from town to town on the Steppes. If there are Gers around, you can pick up water no problem but if there are none around you'll have to be self sufficient. Water in the mountainous regions of Arkanghai in June/July is abundant.

You will find streams and rivers with fresh water but even so I carried up to 10 ltrs of water per day, just in case. The majority of Mongolian people on the steppes are nomadic, many of them being herders and live off the almost entirely off of the land. Being nomadic, they move across the steppes when the seasons change packing their felt homes, called Gers, which can be pulled apart and transported across the steppes. Mongolia’s sunshine is intense with temperatures in summer in the high 30’s. The rainy season is from late July to August and can cool things down but the tracks turn into muck.

Highway To The Gobi

Section 1 | Kharkorin to Tsetserleg; 160km

After checking the bike arrived in Ulaanbaatar without any major breakage’s I arranged a ride by microvan to Kharkorin, the ancient capital of Mongolia set up by Chingiis Khan in 1220, 375km west of Ulaanbaatar.

Kharkorin served as the political, cultural and economic capital of the Mongols for only 40 years and is a great place to hop off of your crowded microvan and visit the Erdene Zuu Khiid, the country’s oldest monastery. Once you’ve done your final bike checks and had a good nights sleep camping by the stunning Orkhon Gol river, get ready to head west, 180km to Tsetserleg.

The two day ride from Kharkorin to Tsetserleg 180km to the east, is heavily rutted and can really shake your bike. Stifling heat and dust from the trucks and 4WDs who share the tracks make the ride challenging but after 25 km the tracks become less busy revealing the beautiful steppes with their magical shades of green and scattered Ger settlements, ideal for setting up the tent and taking it all in under the stars at night.

After only two days of riding I had three broken spokes on my back wheel and by the end of the trip I had 4 broken on the back and two on the front, the corrugation taking it toll on the heavy bike.

Dropping in to the Gobi

Section 2 | Tsetserleg to Bayonhongor

Tsetserleg, literally meaning ‘Garden? is a pretty town situated on the northern edge of the Arkhangai mountains and is a great place to begin the trip south into Khangai Nuruu National Park before dropping into the Bayan Khongor Aimag.

The town is ringed by mountains, the streets are tree-lined and a lovely little temple overlooks the town. This is the last place to re-stock for food before the trip south.

Once you’re out of the town, you really get a sense that you’re on your own except for the odd Ger or motorbike taking a short cut to south to avoid a 16 hour drive. Nomad families will happily provide cheese and simple dried meet in exchange for smiles and a play on your bike!

If you get a chance (which you will) try the local Airag, a local brew made from fermented mares milk. It has a fizzy texture and has a bit of a kick! From Bulgan 37km down the road the trail becomes less defined before leading you to a deep valley, your home for the next 3 days. You will find many Gers along the rivers with inquisitive kids riding horses, women milking the cows and herders lassoing stray yaks.

My Escorts to Bulgan

The ride through the Khangai Nurru valley follows a beautiful river and is home to many nomad families in the summer, the livestock enjoying the lush green grass. Easy riding with wild horses following and playing on the steppes is truly magical.

The weather is very changeable and one minute it can be a scorching 38 degrees and the next can drop to 20 degrees and poor down with rain. My tent went up four times in one day ?I would recommend taking light water proof clothing.

The route south becomes tough once you leave the shelter of the valley. I preferred to push through the larger rocks for nearly the whole day walking the bike rather than risk more spokes being lost. Once up on the pass the riding is becomes easier and drops into Erdenedsat after a hard two day slog through swollen rivers. The rivers change places for dry deserted tracks in a matter of one days riding.

After some eleven days riding, Bayonhongor awaits you at the northern end of the Gobi. For me, the highlight of Mongolia is being self sufficient in the middle of the steppes but never too far from stumbling on a family who will take you in like one of their own. A phrase book will help but to be honest a big smile and a play on your bike gets you a long way!

Nadaam Festival

Mongolia comes alive during July for the Nadaam Festival, it’s a time for friends and family to come together from all over Mongolia. I’d recommend seeing the great Nadaam festival in one of the smaller towns ?it’s an unforgettable experience held on the 11th and 12th of July each year and is the perfect opportunity to see explosive wrestling, horse racing and archery.

Ride Stats

Guide Books and Maps

Outdoor Equipment Sourced From |

Pannier Racks by Old Man Mountain



Oh, and a billy can!


Full Story: Download the full Mongolia Story as a pdf here

"They say the journey can be more important than the destination, in mountain biking there is no destination, just a bike, a rider and a place to ride"

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