How to Choose a Safe Mountain Bike Company for the Death Road, Bolivia

The Death Road
The Death Road | © Gatol fotografia / Flickr
Photo of Harry Stewart
20 April 2018

As you may have inferred from the name, Bolivia’s Death Road is no laughing matter. Thousands have lost their lives on this notorious mountainous highway, including over a dozen tourists since mountain bike tours became a thing. And with so much at stake, it’s essential to choose a reputable company to ensure your chances of survival remain high. Here’s how.

You get what you pay for

Countless different adventure tour companies hustle for business in La Paz’ main tourist thoroughfare, each promising an adrenaline pumping outing with strict safety standards. Thrifty backpackers may be quick to note that prices range tremendously, from US$50 (€40) to well over $100 (€80). However, it’s important to keep in mind that in Bolivia, much like elsewhere in the world, the old saying “you get what you pay for” rings especially true.

More expensive outfits tend to have sturdy, high-quality bikes which are far less prone to mechanical failures, meaning riders can rely on their equipment while hurtling downhill. Furthermore, most guides have extensive first aid training and may carry rescue gear such as winches to propel down the cliff should an emergency arise.

Cheaper companies, on the other hand, tend to provide clapped out bikes and poorly trained guides.

The Death Road | © Gatol fotografia / Flickr

Test your gear before you go

Some companies keep a bike in the shopfront so tourists can try before they buy. If possible, take a close look at the bike to ensure it fits your needs and rigorously discuss what kind of safety gear is included such as full face cover helmets and knee/elbow guards. Before saddling up at the top of La Cumbre, be sure to examine all your gear thoroughly to check for potential defects.

The Death Road | © Gatol fotografia / Flickr

Do your research and opt for a reputable company

Tour companies come and go in Bolivia due to stiff competition and a lack of government control. It’s always safer to choose an established operator who has been in the game for years, preferably with a proven track record of safety orientated service. Travel forums are an excellent place to research, just be aware of the prevalence of fake reviews. Otherwise, seeking advice from fellow travelers is a great way to obtain up to date and unbiased information.

At the top of their game is Gravity Bolivia, an old-school outfit who pioneered the route over two decades ago. Known for their strict safety standards, the company is a premium option for travelers who can afford to pay a little more.

Another excellent high-end option is Altitude, who boast first-rate equipment and a professional crew.

Of course, most backpackers want to do everything on the cheap and feel reluctant to pay those extra pesos. Plenty of more affordable options are out there, but it’s important to choose wisely.

Waterfall on the Death Road | © Gatol fotografia / Flickr

Do I need the best bike?

Most companies allow customers to choose between single or double suspension, with a considerable price difference between the two. So is that fancy dual suspension worth it? The answer ultimately comes down to your budget and riding skill.

Dual suspension makes the ride much smoother, especially considering the journey primarily covers course and rocky terrain. Effectively, this also makes the bike easier to control and consequently lowers the likelihood of coming unstuck. In summary, if you’re skint and up for a challenge, by all means, feel free to opt out.

Biking through a waterfall! | © GilCahana / Wikipedia

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