If you’re looking for a cycling challenge, it doesn’t come much more exciting than the Trans Andean, a coast to coast cycling journey through South America, from Chile to Argentina.
Far more than your average bike tour of South America, this is a 1,000 mile cycling adventure, riding across an entire continent.
This brand new event is the brainchild of Rat Race, a company that lives and breathes bucket list challenges. (Their tag line says it all: “extraordinary global adventures for everyday people”.) Here Rob Atkin, Rat Race’s Operations Manager, shares the inside story on what to expect.
It sounds absolutely awesome.
If you’ve always fancied cycling in South America, but never quite got around to it, perhaps now is the time?!
Photo credits: Shutterstock
1. Tell us about Rat Race's new bike tour in South America. What, where and when?
The Trans Andean is a west to east journey from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, cycling the mighty Andes mountain range and linking Valparaiso in Chile with Buenos Aires in Argentina.
It’s just under 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometres) of cycling in nine days through stunning landscapes.
Set for January 2023, the inaugural event is already nearly sold out.
2. Give us an overview of the route
This 1,000 mile (1,600 kilometre) adventure includes an impressive 8,500m of climbing.
However, the route has been designed to be achievable by most.
When you look at the route profiles (all available on their website here), you’ll see that the first three riding days are big ones (with 1,000-2,500m of climbing each day and distances between 75-170/km/day). However, after that, things get significantly easier; yes, the daily kilometres are high, but there’s a lot of downhill and flat terrain with little climbing.
The route is predominantly on road, with just a portion of day 2, where the road is unsurfaced (we will change to gravel tyres for this section). So this is definitely a road biking event.
Overview of the route
The meeting point for this epic adventure is Santiago International airport. From here we transfer by road to the coastal town of Valparaiso, around 90 minutes away. After exploring the fascinating UNESCO World Heritage City of Valparaiso our journey begins.
The first 20km hugs the coast and gives us a relatively flat start to this incredible journey. But when we turn away from the sea, it’s up and up and up, through the stunning wine growing region of Chile’s Central Valley.
After a change of tyres, we’re onto dirt roads to reach the statue of Christ the Redeemer of the Andes at 3832m. It’s been a symbol of peace between Chile and Argentina for over 100 years and we reach it via a stunning section of classic mountain pass hairpins. We overnight with views to Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas.
Back on to the road tyres, the efforts of the previous days are met with 164km of downhill, eventually arriving in the lively city of Mendoza. This vibrant city is famed for great wine and great restaurants and is the hub of the main Argentinian Malbec-producing region.
We leave the mountains behind and cross the vast Argentine Pampas, known for its agriculture and beef cattle – great news for the steak lovers! The steaks in these parts are sensational – and huge. This might also be the time you come face to face with the gauchos of the region as we head eastwards towards the bright lights of Buenos Aires.
The culmination of all that riding brings us to Buenos Aires, one of South America’s most cherished cities. It’s a bustling, multi-cultural colossus with 15 million people. Our route keeps us to the north of the main hubbub of the city as we aim for the obligatory dip of a wheel in the Atlantic Ocean; and a chilled beer.
That’s it! You’ll have crossed a continent using just the power of your legs.
You can find the full route overview on Rat Race's website, here.
3. What drew you to this South America coast to coast adventure?
There is so much to love in this journey.
The variety of terrain, landscapes and cultures is huge.
It has an excellent balance of challenging riding and easier terrain. The legs still need to push through 1,000 miles, but climbing to 3,832m means there is still an awful lot of downhill to enjoy!
Sights and experiences
The journey has great sights throughout the route: the UNESCO World Heritage site of Valparaiso in Chile, Central Valley vineyards, the statue of Christ The Redeemer of the Andes at 3,832m and the peak of Aconcagua on the horizon for days.
The city of Mendoza is famous for Malbec red wine and gorgeous steak, the famous gauchos of the Argentine Pampas and a finish line in one of the world’s great cities, Buenos Aires.
This is a fully supported journey so cyclists don’t need to worry about anything other than getting across the continent. It’s a fantastic opportunity to do something incredible and enjoy every second of the journey without worrying about logistics.
4. Why are you cycling across South America rather than cycling the length of South America?
Our events are all about inspiring ordinary people to take on extraordinary adventures and such people have families and jobs which means that our events have to fit within a reasonable time scale, usually a week or a couple of weeks at most.
Biking South America from coast to coast is achievable in two weeks so it meets this criteria. Cycling the length of South America would take around 10 weeks so doesn’t fit with our aims.
Furthermore, our events need to be safe, enjoyable and fully supported. The route we have chosen allows for all of those things with good accommodation at the right intervals and fabulous scenery. It is also easily accessible from major international airports.
5. What are you most looking forward to about cycling South America?
This will be my first trip to South America so I’m really looking forward to immersing myself in the culture and meeting the people of these two great countries.
Cycling is quiet, environmentally friendly and doesn’t disrupt small villages and communities.
Kids love a bike, they’ll come out and talk to you just to check out the bike.
6. Tell us about cycling in Chile?
There’s only a day and a half of cycling in Chile, but it will leave an indelible mark in the legs and hearts of everyone who takes on this journey. After a 10km warm up along the coast, the route turns inland and heads uphill and keeps going uphill all day.
Constantly in sight is the grandeur of the Andes mountains as the riders wind their way through the central valley vineyards. The route is rural and roads are generally in good order and often have good shoulder space for cycling. Cycle lanes are not massively developed in this part of the country.
Cycling in Chile isn’t a national pastime, certainly not at a pro level, but that said South Americans generally love the sport.
January is a perfect month for cycling Chile, average temperatures are in the mid 20’s with virtually no rainfall. However, we’re climbing to nearly 4,000m and at that altitude, the weather could do anything, so some low temperatures are definitely possible.
The final stretch cycling through the Andes in Chile is an unpaved ‘gravel’ road, which will provide an unique experience.
7. Tell us about cycling in Argentina?
The majority of the journey is in Argentina, with 7.5 days of open road leading from the remotest corner of the country to the heart of the capital. Nearly all of it is downhill!
Good quality roads lead out of the mountains and into the pampas. Argentina’s Pampas is punctuated by small towns with some nice accommodation options. And then there is the food and wine that Argentina is famous for, perfect for feeding tired bodies at the end of each day.
The cycling infrastructure in Argentina is similar to Chile. As the route is rural (other than for the last day), bikes share the roads and none of them are massively busy. Heading into Buenos Aires is like entering any large city and cycle lanes will start to appear.
8. Have you been cycling in South America before?
South America is a new territory for Rat Race but we are seasoned travel, expedition and event operators all around the world. Our MD, Jim Mee, has cycled across the UK, America and Australia. We take cyclists to landscapes as diverse as the Namibian desert and a frozen Mongolian lake.
Cycling is a key part of many of our events and we are experts in supporting cyclists to take on challenges. We know what a cyclist needs in terms of logistics and mechanical support and a Rat Race Pit Stop is stuff of legend. Many customers claim to ‘put on weight’ during our events due to the epic nature of our pit stop spreads!
We test every event ourselves before customers take it on to prove the concept and ensure that it’s achievable by regular folk.
We love riding a bike but none of us are racers by any means. It’s more about fun and adventure than watts for us.
9. What do you think the biggest challenges of the ride will be?
The route goes uphill very quickly, so the speed with which we gain altitude will be the hardest thing to adapt to. Fortunately it only lasts for 1-2 days before the route starts going down hill again.
Most people with a reasonable fitness and a bit of prep should be able to easily cope with a couple of big days of road riding in a row, but 9 days of consecutive 100-mile days will have an attritional impact on the body. This means riders will need to think about recovery and looking after themselves off the bike as much as training the legs for on the bike.
Really nailing a comfortable position on the bicycle will be a big benefit. This will be an advantage of choosing to bring your own bike with you for the event (though rental bikes are also available from us).
Learning a stretching regime for the evenings will help too; not just for the working muscles of the legs, necks and shoulders can suffer from the riding position over many days.
-rat race ceo-
10. Do riders need to have done much long-distance cycling beforehand?
We do need participants to have trained and got themselves ready before the event. Training for it will make success more likely and the whole event will be more enjoyable.
We recommend anyone looking to do this should have covered a 100 mile ride at least once before the trip. Ideally, they will have done back to back 100 milers over two or three days. To have done this beforehand takes a lot of anxiety away from taking on the challenge.
The riding isn’t technical, but good bike handling will make responding to issues on the road and avoiding incidents much easier. There is no substitute for time on the bike to get ready for this.
That said you don’t need to be a pro racer to take part. Cut offs are always generous and are mainly driven by daylight hours. Just keeping going in the dark for the sake of it is unnecessarily risky. Schedules can be flexed a bit and getting going very early just as the sun goes up can lengthen days if needed, but rest is also very important and can’t be underestimated as a factor in completing the challenge.
The ride will be supported by mechanics, but having a basic knowledge of simple tasks will allow riders to keep going if mechanic support is not directly to hand. Fixing punctures quickly and easily will be a key task for riders to be responsible for (time to get watching those YouTube videos and practising at home before you leave!).
11. What will it be like to do this event with Rat Race?
Rat Race looks after everything from the moment you’re picked up at the airport.
Hotels are always a good quality, mid-range standard but of course in some of the more remote towns of the trip that standard will vary and that’s part of the adventure.
The support will always be there throughout the trip and will be provided by a wide variety of people from local fixers, drivers and crew, UK standard medics, and Rat Race UK staffers. Prior to setting off there will be a full briefing on how to access support if you need it.
Rat Race tries to get the balance right in terms of being on an adventure and feeling there’s support around should you need it. This is not a guided cycling trip/cycling tour of South America per se. We take away the difficulties of route choice and booking hotels etc but don’t expect a ‘follow the leader’ luxury cycling holiday in South America; this is an adventurous journey!
Everyone will be given the route GPS files and be expected to have a GPS enabled device to navigate with. Riders will have the option to rent a device from us. They will navigate the route themselves and be expected to check in at each pit stop. They will all also have a GPS tracking device so we can see where folk are and for supporters back home to track progress.
The trip is for a maximum of 40 people and the total crew will number about 20. Bicycles will mostly be housed in hotel rooms for maximum safety, but other options may be available at some hotels.
You can find full information on the trip's inclusions/exclusions on Rat Race's website, here.
12. What advice would you give someone trying to decide whether this South America cycling challenge is for them?
The Rat Race ethos is all about the completion of our epic challenges. We celebrate finish lines NOT finish times.
A hearty dose of commitment, grit and positive mental attitude is required but pro level fitness is not.
Participants need to be comfortable on a bike for sure but this is doable by regular people who have made a commitment to train and be as ready as they can be.
Crossing a continent is a timeless classic adventure, a proper pub story, and the colour and style of South America makes this one a must do, once in a lifetime journey.
Want to cycle South America with Rat Race?
Having written this article, we certainly do!
Rat Race would love to have you join them on their journey cycling through South America.
Get all the details at their awesome website: https://ratracetransandean.com/