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Cycling up the west coast of Sri Lanka.

Cycling Sri Lanka.

I have just spend the past 10 weeks in Sri Lanka. Most of the time I have been tour cycling around the island. This is my second time in Sri Lanka cycling. And here are some advice about cycling in Sri Lanka, based on my own experiences here.

The roads in Sri Lanka.

A quiet road on the west coast.

A quiet road on the west coast.

Roads in Sri Lanka vary quite a bit. It’s a country where you have a few bigger roads connecting the main cities. And then a lot of tiny secondary roads with only local traffic. But even the bigger roads have been quite ok for me to cycle. I am ok with a fair bit of traffic, as long as there is a shoulder for soft traffic. And you do have shoulders on pretty much all main roads in Sri Lanka. The smaller roads are really good for cycling. Just make sure no to go there with a racing bike. They are often unpaved and a little rough. But they are mostly very good for tour cycling.

Nice dirt road in central Sri Lanka.

Nice dirt road in central Sri Lanka.

Traffic in Sri Lanka.

Roads can be a little congested in the towns.

Roads can be a little congested in the towns.

I find that when compared to traffic in most other Asian countries, then Sri Lanka is quite ok. There is a lot of congestion in the big cities. And it can be very chaotic at times. But most drivers are quite considerate. I have had very few encounters with cars in Sri Lanka, where I felt it was a problem. And i have never come across a driver there who acted aggressive towards me cause i was a cyclist. Only thing I can complain about in Sri Lanka are the busses. And by busses, I mean those to coney the main towns and cities. These gifs must be working on commission. Cause they drive like maniacs. They are totally irresponsible and almost all of them should not be permitted on the roads. They never slow down, not even when driving through villages, or past schools, where the streets are full of children. But these bastards are the only aggressive drivers I have come across while cycling Sri Lanka.

Bicycle mechanics and bicycle shops in Sri Lanka.

Giving my bike a total makeover for less than 10€.

Giving my bike a total makeover for less than 10€.

Quite a few Sri Lankans are cycling. Both as a way to commute to work and school. But also as a leisure activity.  fair number of Sri Lankans like to get on their racing bike in weekends and go for a little race. All that means that you have a fairly decent supply of mechanics. Many of them are tine little shacks by the side of the road. But they have always been good at fixing my problems when I had any. And they are cheap. Like 30 cents for fixing a flat tire. There are also a few shops that are fairly well equipped. But they are only in the more populated cities. One place that I have used a lot is Sugath Cycle that is located in between Colombo and Negombo, on the main road between the two cities. They actually have two shops there. One that sells bikes and spare parts. And one that does repairs only. I have used them both with great satisfaction. I have also once been supplied with a cardboard box for my bike, when I was flying out of the country after cycling Sri Lanka.

Sugath bicycle shop.

Sugath bicycle shop.

there are quite a few bicycle races in Sri Lanka

there are quite a few bicycle races in Sri Lanka during weekends.

Getting my bike fixed again.

Getting my bike fixed again.

Dog chases in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is full of dogs. I have been to very few places in the world, if any, that has more dogs than Sri Lanka. Good thing is that most of them just want to eat and sleep. Dog chases are very few when you consider that they are everywhere. Some are stray and some are owned by people. The few that might chase you are guard dogs that are owned by people. But I have never had a dog chase that was so aggressive that it worried me. I usually use my old trick when I see them come chasing. I get on my bike and shout at them and pretend to pick up a rock. That has so far send all Sri Lankan dogs running a mile. Be ware though, that there is the occasional outbreak of rabies in Sri Lanka. And if you are bitten then you are obliged by law to get a rabies vaccination from a government hospital. The shots are free for Sri Lankans and very cheap for foreigners. Especially when you consider that this is a really expensive vaccine to buy. The fee can very. But you will mostly pay somewhere between 10€ and 50€ to get treated if you are bitten. And make sure to get the jabs if you are bitten. If rabies breaks out, then you can not be treated and will die a very painfull death,

Most Sri Lankan dogs are sleeping the day away.

Most Sri Lankan dogs are sleeping the day away.

Best and worst parts of Sri Lanka for a cyclist.

Sri Lanka has many good areas for cycling. I personally like the area from Negombo and north a lot. You can get away from the main road there and follow small roads along the ocean, where people are fishing from the beach and growing coconuts. The mountains in the center of the country are good too. You will have to do some climbing of course, but the roads are all in all quiet and usually well paved. Colombo is a mega city. And because of that, traffic is congested and chaotic. So this is not really the best place for cycling. The east coast of Sri Lanka tends to have more narrow roads with less shoulder. So I am a little less keen on cycling there too.

The Sri Lankan mountains are great for cycling.

The Sri Lankan mountains are great for cycling.

Accommodation in Sri Lanka.

I have mostly stayed in hotels in Sri Lanka. I am simply more of a hotel traveler than a camper. So I can not really advice too much on camping in Sri Lanka. But remember that evenings often see heavy tropical downpours in Sri Lanka. So remember to think about that before selecting a camping spot, if you are camping out. Good news about hotels in Sri Lanka is that they are cheap. They can go as low as 5$-6$ a night sometimes. But I have typically paid between 10$ and 20$ per night for a hotel room in Sri Lanka. For that you typically get a fairly decent hotel room with a private bathroom. Sometimes you will have air con for that price. But sometimes it will just be a fan ceiling. I am personally fine with having just a fan. Air cons are expensive to use, so you might sometimes be offered air con use in a hotel room for an additional cost of something like 5$-6$.

Hotel Athina in Chilaw and Hangover Hostel by Sri Lankas main Airport are good examples of bicycle friendly places that are economical.

 

Best time of year for tour cycling in Sri Lanka.

Most of Sri Lanka has dry season from november to march. Because of that, this is the best part to do a longer tour of the island. The east coast of Sri Lanka has dry season in June/July/August though. So if you plan to cycle Sri Lanka during these month, then I would recommend the east coast.

All in all, I Think Sri Lanka is an extremely good place for tour cycling. So if you are looking for a warm place to go cycling during the cold winter months in Europe and North America. Then cycling Sri Lanka is a very good choice.

Happy cycling in Sri Lanka.

Happy cycling in Sri Lanka.

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21 Comments

  1. Sounds like a great time Claus. Glad the dogs didn’t get you!

  2. Sorry that our paths didn’t cross. Just missed you. We only met one other touring cyclists in our 8 weeks on the island. Surprising considering what a fabulous cycle tour destination Sri Lanka is. It now tops our list.
    Graham and Frances

  3. Hey there, Wow! What a read!! I`ve bookmarked this article already. Riding a bike is my passion, and when I visit Sri Lanka I will follow your useful tips, thank you for sharing them!

  4. how did you deal with the visa extension or were you able to get a two month visa straight away? we’ll need a month and a week!

    • You can apply for an extension once you are in Sri Lanka, at the emigration office in Colombo. Be ware though that the lines are very long at the office and you should expect to spend an entire day there in order to get your extension.

  5. Coming from Canada, it would be more practical for me to buy or rent a bike once in Sri Lanka. Any advice on either option?

    • Hi’ Jen. I would say that if you are flying an airline that allows you to bring your bike for free (Emirates and Qatar Airways allows theis), then bring your own. Otherwise i would suggest that you buy a bike in Sri Lanka. The Colombo area has some quite good bike shops with reasonable prices.

  6. Hi Claud,

    Well done with the article, it was a great read.
    My Fiancé and I are headed to Sri Lanka shortly with our bikes for a couple of months. I was just curious to know what route you took when you did your trip?

    Cheers,

    Kyran

    • Hi’ Kyran. I mostly stuck to the coast. But I also went in to the highlands around Ella. But most roads are just fine. I have been cycling in Sri Lanka a few times and know the place pretty will. I might actually see you there, as I am flying back to Sri Lanka myself next week.

  7. cathelijne Speller

    Dear Claus, great to read your experience! We are a family of 5 (3 kids age 12-15) and Dutch so we are used to do a lot of cycling. We would love to cycle for 3 days (2 nights) from hotel to hotel in central of SriLanka around the tea plantations. Unfortunately we can nog find a route or agency that provides these kind of (short) trips. Maybe you have a good suggestion where we could go to organize this? Hope you don’t;t mind me asking you. Thanking you in advance for your reply.
    Greetings, Cathelijne

  8. Hi Claus, I have just returned from Thailand on a 4 week trip one of which was cycling with Intrepid;
    It was great and I’m planning to cycle Sri Lanka next Christmas on my own; what was your bike and how much are they to buy out there?
    Cheers, David

    • Hi David. I have been cycling around Sri Lanka 3 times over the years and have always brought my bike on the plane to Sri Lanka. When I am tour cycling, i normally use a middle of the road mountainbike, that costs me somewhere between 300$ and 800$, depending on what country I buy it in. But you can buy one out there if you like. I do not know the exact price, but it’s not crazy expensive. The bike shop called Sugath Cycle is the one you should have a look at, as they are the main bike store in Sri Lanka. Hope you will have a fantastic trip.

  9. Hi Claus – I’m planning to cycle in Sri Lanka on my own, leaving in a week or so and cycling for about a month. It looks like you also cycle on your own? How did you handle locking the bike to stop to eat or use a toilet? That’s my biggest concern! (I live in NYC where I NEVER leave my bike unattended). Do you have to worry about the bike or things on the bike being stolen,? Will people look after your bike for a few moments if you ask them to? I’m also fine peeing outdoors, but that isn’t always advisable or permitted. Thanks for your tips, Judith

    • Hi’ Judith. Theft is not a big problem in Sri Lanka. Personally I take my money, passport and laptop with me if I go to the bathroom. But I usually leave the panniers on the bike. Often I will just ask someone to look after it. And I have never had anything stolen from my bike in Sri Lanka. And I have been cycling around Sri Lanka 3 times. I am actually in Sri Lanka cycling around right now. Hope you will have a fantastic trip.

  10. Hi Claus great article – my husband and I i looking to travel in Sri Lanka. Is it easy to hire ebikes over there

    Regards carmel

    • Hi’ Carmel. I have not seen e bikes for hire in Sri Lanka yet. And the rental bike market is not the best either really. I would suggest that you bring your own bikes if you really want to go serious cycling. Or join some tour where they include good quality bikes.

  11. Excellent article.
    Rather than dealing with the hassle of taking my bike with me, I was considering buying a second hand bike in Colombo, and selling it again before I depart.
    This gives me the option of finishing my trip somewhere other than Colombo and getting a train/bus back when my 2 weeks are done.
    Can you recommend any second hand shops, or if there is much of a market for such things?
    Does Sugath sell used bkes?
    I don’t want a great bike, but neither do I want a 3 speed pile of rust!

    • Hi’ Alan. I have not seen any second hand bike shops in Sri Lanka. But a place like Sugath Cycle usually have a few bicycle enthusiasts hanging out at their premises. And I often find that this can be the best source of information for things like that. Sri Lankan cyclists seem to be mostly in to racing bikes though.

  12. Thanks Claus, great article. I’m in the early stages of planning a slow and meandering 3 month trip once its safe to return, so I have so many questions. My aim is to buy a local new or good second hand single speed city bike (Indian Hero or similar) and do a circuit from Batticaloa up to Jaffna on an east coastal and central route and then back down the west to Negombo. Given my age, my proposed bike choice and general state I’m anticipating doing no more than 30 miles a day, with plenty of rest days. The aim is to do most in hotels, but I’m taking a camping hammock as backup

    Any advice on the following would be greatly appreciated.
    Is it easy to source panniers, racks etc in country?
    When’s the best time to avoid poor weather on both coasts and the North?
    Is wind an issue? I could easily reverse my route
    How easy is it to find hotels outside of the tourist hotspots?
    Are Sri Lankans generally OK with wild camping?
    Can you take bikes on the trains? It may all get too much on some days!

    • Hi’ Mike. I would strongly suggest that you pay a visit to Sugath Cycle if you plan to buy a bike or some bike equipment. That is by far the best equipped store in Sri Lanka. And they have a large workshop, where they can fit racks on to the bike and so on. I bought a used rack from them myself last year. Weather wise, it’s generally best in Sri Lanka from November to May. Unless you are cycling on the east coast of Sri Lanka. Then it’s reverse. Do not expect to get a bike on the trains. Trains are often very full and they are not happy about bulky luggage. It’s better to travel by bus if you are planning to transport your bike. Wild Camping is not very common in Sri Lanka. Partly because it often rains in the evening in Sri Lanka. And the rainfalls can be very heavy and flood your tent. You also have to take things like wild elephants in to account if you are wild camping. There are quite a few of them and they can get aggressive if they feel that you are an intruder. Finding hotels is not hard though. And you have lot’s of small home stays in Sri Lanka, which can be really good. And they tend to be very cheap. Have a fantastic trip mate.

  13. Pingback: I spend 2018 in 14 different countries. - Travelling Claus good travel year

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