Go with a reputable tour company
The quality of the bikes is the most important factor when choosing a tour company. It is also important that the guides have the expertise to fix, maintain or adjust your bikes to best suit your needs. Don’t skimp on tour costs if it means you have to cycle the Death Road on an old, unreliable bike. There should be two guides on every outfit – one leading and the other bringing up the rear. They should also provide you with bicycle pants, jacket, elbow and knee guards, as well as a helmet.
Wear closed toe shoes
Travelers have cycled the Death Road in flipflops, but given the condition of the road – gravel, loose stones and in places where road works are going on, hot tar – you’ll do your feet a favour if you wear closed toe, protective footwear.
Dress in layers
The Death Road winds its way from an altitude of about 4,000m to about 1,500, going from alpine high to a tropical low. Starting the ride early in the morning, it can be cold and foggy, but it begins to get hotter in the lower elevations. The deviation in temperature means that you’ll warm up as you cycle downhill. Dressing in layers means you can unpeel as it heats up – you can leave your clothes in the support van.
Don’t start the cycle on an empty stomach. Have a proper breakfast and replenish your sugar levels with regular snacks such as jerky, granola bars or fruit. Most tour companies offer biscuits, sweet drinks, yoghurt or fruit on pit stops along the way – make the most of them.
Ride on the tire tracks
The road is bone jarringly bumpy and uneven. The tracks made by vehicles are comparatively smoother and makes for easier riding. You can ride on the left tyre track if you are passing a vehicle or another cyclist; otherwise the right track, closer to the rock face, is probably a safer option.
Only use the back brakes
Unless you are an experienced biker, you should probably only use the back brakes. Using the front brakes too forcefully can cause your bike to tip forward, sending you flying over the handlebars. The best bicycles are those with hydraulic brakes – they are more sensitive than cable ones, and you have better control over your brakes.
Don’t forget the sunscreen
It may start off cold, but the Death Road quickly descends into sunny, tropical climes. Remember to slather on the sunscreen, at the start and throughout the ride. It may also be a good idea to bring some insect repellent along – there are some biting beasties in tropical Coroica waiting for you at the end of the road.