Our first three trips to Costa Rica covered thousands of kilometers over several months in the saddle on mountain bikes and it’s still one of our favorite activities. Most recently we covered the first and last legs of the human powered trans-continental trek on bikes.
Many of the routes we followed have become dangerously developed and most visitors don’t have weeks to ride but day tours offer the chance to challenge Costa Rica’s mountain and beach roads.
One of the most popular routes is along Arenal Volcano National Park and around the east and south sides of the lake on a gravel/4WD road. It’s a fairly level easy ride for Costa Rica where elevation gains can be brutal.
Other longer rides are offered from bases in and around San José. Shuttles are used to transport riders to the top of Irazú or Turrialba volcanoes for long downhills on 4WD and gravel roads into the Central or Reventazón valleys. Other rides start atop the Turrubares or Coastal Range and drop down to the coast near Jacó, Parrita or Manuel Antonio.
We used to try to link to the websites of the companies that offer these rides but it seems to change nearly yearly. We knew one of the operators who lasted for a couple of seasons but stopped offering the tours because there wasn’t quite enough business to make a good profit. They really are fun rides and each year the vacuum left by a failed operator is filled by another.
Trans-Continental Sea-to-Sea Bike Ride
We’ve crossed Costa Rica by bike a few times but most of the roads we used have been “improved” to the point that they’re too dangerous to ride. The pavement has been smoothed, the potholes filled and the average vehicular speed has climbed from 30 kph to over 100 kph. Unfortunately the “shoulders” are still only 2 inches (5 cm) wide and filled with broken glass and crumbling edges.
There is at least one route though that’s not suicide. An organization called Camino de Costa Rica provides a marketing platform for communities, guides, cabinas and lodges along a dirt road and single track path from the Caribbean to the Pacific. Much of it follows the Ruta de los Conquistadores extreme bike race route but there are some side road cheats.
Bikes & Gear
Mountain biking is definitely a sport where good equipment can actually make a better rider. If the gears are not ranged for the terrain or slipping it can be extremely frustrating and difficult to climb. Good suspensions help even novice riders keep contact and traction both on the way up and while coming down. Brakes are important…
In our experience the bikes offered by tour companies in Costa Rica a bit crappy for a few reasons.
- They aren’t normally renting to extreme riders.
- Top end bikes are expensive to begin with and 100% import duties make them prohibitively expensive in Costa Rica.
- The mud, rain and abrasive volcanic dust are very hard on bikes.
- And finally, mechanics in Costa Rica tend by necessity to be more of the “I can kludge that together with baling twine” than the “fine tuned racing machine” variety.
A beginner fun ride on the 4WD road around lake Arenal is one thing but thrashing a single track on a rental bike is probably not going to end well. If you’re a good rider who demands a lot from your bike the only way to get on a good one may be to bring your own (or shell out an ungodly amount to buy one).