The approach to Istanbul by bike

I’m going to talk specifically about the route we took from Edirne to Istanbul here. This is to advise others researching the approach to Istanbul for whom this might crop up on Google. If you aren’t planning to do this yourself then the following might not be very interesting.

Long story short:

The D100 is the road most take from the border to the capital, even though it has a hellish reputation.
From Edirne to Lüleburgaz it’s not bad though.
From Lüleburgaz to Çorlu it is bad.
We couldn’t take any more so headed South to Yeniçiftlik on the coast – hilly but quiet and more scenic.
The D110 follows the coast. The road was bad, as busy as the D100, hilly and it was windy.
After crossing into Istanbul get off the main road (the E5) as soon as possible and keep off it. I would strongly recommend a roundabout route of ups and downs through residential roads.
Go South to the coast before crossing the second bridge and you can stay off the road for several miles.
When the bike path ends you might be best getting back onto residential roads because the main road along the seafront is very busy.
Eventually you will find yourself in Sultanahmet, the old town.
Get up very early throughout to avoid the traffic!

Long story:

We got up at 3am to leave Edirne on the D100. At this time it was pretty much empty and the air was still. I’d even call it peaceful. There was a good hard shoulder to ride on though we didn’t really need it until a few hours in when the traffic started to thicken. Lots of tooting from cars, motorbikes and lorries – mostly friendly (I believe). All was dandy though until Lüleburgaz when the road began to be surrounded by heavy industry and a smog that smelled like burnt plastic hung around us. The sun was well and truly up by then and the traffic was less than pleasant. At the same the quality and consistency of the hard shoulder declined.

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By Çorlu we were fed up of the D100 so we headed South for Yeniçiftlik on the coast. This was hilly but much more pleasant. Eventually… sea! The beach was pretty revolting but it was good to take a dip and wash the dust and grime of the motorway from ourselves. We stayed until shortly before dark then headed just a few miles East along the D110  (not too bad at this time) before spying some abandoned buildings halfway down a steep decline to the sea. We hauled our bikes down and found a perfect spot to sleep for the night on a level platform under the stars, the full moon sitting over the sea and a half-hidden sandy beach below us.

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We got up the next morning at three again and continued along the D110. The road became the E84 then we turned back onto the D100 to continue hugging the coast. It was windy and hilly and the progress was slow. There wasn’t always a hard shoulder to ride on. Stray dogs at petrol stations chased us as we went past. After decidedly ill – meaning barking we’d only hear the clicking of the nails on the tarmac as the sprinted at us – it was often to dark to spot them. Each time we would shout expletives and fly like the wind for the next quarter mile. This helped our progress somewhat.

The traffic steadily picked up as the sun rose until approaching the bridge at Büyükçekmece the road decended into anarchy. An accident had caused more than a mile of gridlocked, furiously hooting cars. Any regard for seperate lanes was abandoned and cars piled in wherever a gap opened up. We weaved with the scooters until we broke through and across the bridge. We were in Istanbul! The city is enormous though and we still had a long way to go. We turned off the D100 onto Cengiz then Turgut. This was a hell of a hill! At the top we could see for miles behind us.

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From there on we stuck to the residential roads were possible. Where we were forced onto the E5 it was bad – fast, multi lane traffic peeling off in all directions at spaghetti junctions. Before reaching the Küçükçekmece bridge we headed South into the Avcılar Sahil park and to follow the seafront away from the traffic.

Just after crossing the bridge we were called down by a chap walking his dog. We thought he was offering tea before we realised we were all invited to stay the night! We declined as politely as we could but stuck around for çay, Turkish coffee and food. It would become clear in the following days that this sort of trust and generosity is commonplace here. He turned out to be the president of the Turkish cycling organisation Bisikletliler Derneği and had cycled to destinations as far flung as Beijing earlier in his life.

After numerous selfies (on other cameras) we tore away and continued to hug the seafront on a bike path until we were forced onto the busy coastal road. Once we reached Sultanahmet we turned left and struggled up a treacherous incline towards the Grand Bazaar. Our final destination was not giving itself up without a struggle! Eventually we reached Beyazit Square in various States of exhaustion, shock and delerium. RESULT! A few selfies in front of Istanbul University and we headed off to our respective accommodations.

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