Bike wheels in Ethiopia

In 2002, Grethe Petersen and Owen Barder spent two weeks cycling in Northern Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is an amazing country. It has beautiful and dramatic scenery, and an extraordinarily rich history and culture; the people are intelligent, welcoming and proud.

It is fairly unusual to go on cycling holidays in Ethiopia. We planned our own route and made our own arrangements partly to give us flexibility to combine cycling and sightseeing. There are few organised cycling tours, and so we thought we should record our experiences for other people who may be considering doing something similar. See our notes about cycling in Ethiopia, and more general practical information for tourism in Ethiopia.

Map of our routeOur itinerary

We flew to Addis Ababa, and cycled from there through Debre Birhan, Debre Sina and Kombolcha to Dessie. From there we drove to Lalibela, and then flew to Bahir Dar. We drove south from Bahir Dar, and cycled from the Blue Nile Gorge through Debre Markos back to Addis Ababa.

We timed our trip to coincide with the Great Ethiopian Run, which takes place in late October or early November. We left Addis the following day – this timing ensured that we were cycling after the rainy season had finished, but before the very hot weather had begun.

Our full route description is here. We wanted to combine our cycling holiday with meeting up with Owen’s non-cycling sister, Virginia, who travelled by plane to Lalibela and Bahir Dar. We thought it was particularly important not to miss Lalibela (described here), even though it is not easily accessible by bike – and with hindsight, this was absolutely the right decision.

Our experience

This was the holiday of a lifetime. We fell in love with the country and the people. Cycling through Ethiopia was the best way to see the country. By air, you do not see rural Ethiopia between the big towns. By car, you go past too quickly. But by bike, you have a chance to savour the sounds and smells of the country, to stop at the roadside and meet people, and begin to get a feel for the country. Of course, a short visit is always too short to get a real feel for any country or people.

Running in Ethiopia

We wanted to see Ethiopia by bike to cover as much distance as possible during our two-week holiday. But as keen runners we decided to take our trainers and got some wonderful experiences while out running.

We timed our trip to arrive the day before the Great Ethiopia Run, a 10km in Addis Ababa. Our experiences are described here.

While we were in Lalibela, we ran to a monastery at the top of the hills behind the village. As we ran, a group of school children joined us. They broke the ice by calling Owen Haile (as in Haile Gebreselassie) and by calling Grethe Deartu, (as in Deartu Tulu). These runners are household names throughout Ethiopia – even to children living in a remote village without television or radio and which has had electricity for only seven years. Running is a very important part of the Ethiopian culture.

More information

As well as our route, we have included some information about cycling in Ethiopia, some practical information, a short history of Ethiopia, and an FAQ.

We would like to encourage everyone to consider visiting Ethiopia, and for those of you lucky enough to be able to cycle, we recommend cycling there. If you would like any more information about our trip, please do not hesitate to contact us.

39 Responses to Cycling in Ethiopia

  • Hi,
    we just returned from our cycling tour in Ethiopia. It was the same route only in the other direction. We cycled through many countries before and always enjoyed it, but not so in Ethopia. Here are the worst children we ever met, especially on the China road. They are throwing stones, running behind you and try to stop you, crying “money” … And this in some regions every few kilometers. Sometimes it was really dangerous.
    It’s a pity. The country and the people are so nice, but because of the hazards with children I would not recommend to cycle in Ethopia.

    • Hi guys I totally disagree with your assessment of the children. I have ridden from Adiss to Lalibela 5 times as I take people on bike tours there. There is the occasional issue and nothing dangerous. The children are wonderful but yes are everywhere but only an occasional stone thrown. Its not like they are lining up on the streets to get you and pretty much anywhere in Africa the children will run after your bike–never found that dangerous [I have ridden in several other African countries]
      I find that it really depends on the riders attitude on how the children react to you. Acknowledgement of them goes a long way.
      I highly recommend Ethiopia to ride–it is a bikers haven and many of the roads now paved so easier for the less hardcore riders–stunning scenery and nice people

  • dear cyclists, I believe that there are some bad childrens and because of those childrens you dont have to say no biking or cycling in Ethiopia. I am the only guide who is passionate to do the cycling tour and I cycled with Germans and Italians to The Bale mountains, to the south and southwest of Ethiopia and last Jan from Addis Ababa to Lalibela through a new route. What I will say is better not to be judgmental cause during our tour we didint encounter such problem, but who knows who is bad in the others case, the tourists or the children?

    Thank you

    Abita(Tsegaab)

  • Hi Owen. Great site. Doing a similar cycle is something we are looking at. Can I ask how much it cost you to hire the support vehicle? Would you recommend any books on cycling in Africa/Ethiopia?

  • Hi,

    Looking for Ethipian local bike guide to the North Gondar – Lalibla areas for a week in October 2012.
    Pls email to ganorbikes@gmail.com

    Ran

  • I just came back from two weeks of cycling in the Oromo region of Ethiopia (passing through big towns like Bedele, Bako, Ambo, etc.) but staying mostly in villages. I didn’t have a single rock thrown at me the entire trip and, for the most part, the kids were great with only a one or two memorable instances of kids dogging us for money or pens. (And mostly memorable because we were climbing the mountain up to Gedo and couldn’t get away.) In fact, for most of the trip we didn’t even get called “farenji” except when we were within 100km or so of Addis.

    I think smiling and waving and a good sense of humour about it helps.

  • I am going to Gondar next month to supervise university students. I am keen on cycling. Do you know if it is easy to take my bike by plane to Gondar without losing it in Addis when I sop overnight? 
     
    Charles

    • Yes you can Charles.
       
      Good Luck

      • Abita,
        Are you guiding cycling tours?  I am relocating to Addis in the next few months and would like to arrange a bike tour…after the rainy season of course!
        Jeff

        • Dear Jeff,
          How are you doing? Hope well and good.
          Yes I do arrange biking tours here in ethiopia and all kinds of tours as well. And am happy that you are going to stay here in Addis Ababa so that I will have a friend who do biking. You can contact any time.
          Regards
          Tsegaab Getachew Adane (abita)

        • Hey Jeff enjoy the riding there–I have run several bike tours there out of Toronto and I love riding there–we just did a 6 part tv series riding across Ethiopia and into the Danakil Depression[that was the crazy part  and brutal but such an incredible experience—-cheers–scotty

  • You can contact me with my email
    sletabita@gmail.com
    Abita (Tsegaab Getachew Adane)
    sunnyabita@facebook.com

    • Hey Abita check out my website  as I may need a guide like you to help me run bike tours there, we just did a wild tv series riding across Ethiopia and the Danakil Depression-we hope if show is successful to run many tours there in the future and I need a great local operator to work with me-email me at  flywitheli@gmail.com
      Ch

  • Hi,
    I will be moving to Addis for a few years from the UK. Do you have any advice about getting a bike into the country?
     
    Many thanks,
     
    Rick

    • Shipping your bike there is fairly easy but at immigration they may ask you if you are going to sell your bike there[which if a nice bike nobody can afford so usually makes no sense] This could be your only sticking point but if you show them you are going there for work and have the paper work to prove it it should be no issue. On a few tours i ran there only a few riders ever had this problem and i showed them we were running a bike tour and they let us pass.
      Hope that helps–scotty
      p,s enjoy the riding there–ride from Adiss to Lalibela if you ever get a chance it is a spectacular ride

  • Hi…I am moving to Ethiopia from Toronto for my work. I will be there a year. Clearly there is some good cycling but I am really interested in weekend trips from Addis Ababa. Are there groups that head out? I am trying to decide whether to bring my bike. I am sure you have some thoughts Scotty. Allison

    • Hey Allison—wow a wild but cool move–I am here in TO as well and would rather be in Ethiopia. As far as I know there really are no groups that go out and there is very few places and roads to get out of town that go anywhere for day rides. Try checking into the bike club there as some local kids do have a team and do some rides and good kids. Unfortunately the great riding is outside of Addiss and into the Highlands or South into the Omo Valley region or Gheralta[really cool cliff churches there if every get a chance–highly recommend it and stay at Gheralta lodge and do some rides out of it–go to Abune Yemata church–one of great experiences of my life but also the ride to the end of the road is excellent
      Have u seen my cycling show we did in Ethiopia–is online now–Offbeat Roads—-cheers–scotty

    • Allison, 
      I may be moving to Addis Ababa in September from Seattle and I am also planning on bringing my bike.  If it all works out the way it seems to be right now, I would love to have a cycling partner for weekend rides.  
      Robin

  • Hi Robin
    Which bike? I ama roadie and it sounds like mountain is the way to go. will bearriving in Sept also. 

    • I am a roadie too.  Right now I have a road bike with was built for travel with S&S couplers on it so that I can take the whole bike apart and put it in a checked back and it flies with me everywhere. I am a little concerned about taking it though. My plan was to put some bigger tires on it (right now have Continental 700 x23c 4-season tires on it).  I was hoping that just upping that to 28c would be enough but now I am reconsidering bringing it at all and just buying a cheap mountain bike there and leaving it behind when I leave in a year.  Would love to know what others might suggest. 

  • Rick, Robin, Allison…everyone!
    Seems a lot of us arriving over the next few months…hope we can all hook up for some rides once we all get there and the rainy season is over!  I’ll be arriving next month.
    Cheers,
    Jeff

  • Wow seems  a lot of you are headed to Ethiopia for work, wish I was one of you. Love Ethiopia and the people. As you know I have ridden Ethiopia extensively both before the roads were paved and now with a lot of them paved. I personally recommend taking a 29er as great for the long climbs in the highlands but also can adjust when the roads not paved. Bring 2 sets of tires one for the paved and some semi slicks for the bad roads of just good old mountain bike tires if plan on hitting some of the really bad roads that take u to cool places–enjoy your rides there guys–cheers–scotty
    p.s if u r in Canada watch my 6 part tv show online called OFFBEAT ROADS as it all takes place in Ethiopia–highly recommend getting to Gheralta mountains area to ride to some of the cliff churches there–stunning and not tough riding

  • Lot of roads paved there now so can get away with a road bike a lot but depends where you want to go–as my earlier post from my experience a 29er is the best choice with road tires and mountain bike tires for it–cheers

  • Hi, I arrived in Addis a couple of weeks ago, and expect to live here for three years. I have a road bike – nothing special (about 20 years old) – but I’d be happy to meet up and try some local routes with folk who know their way around better than me. Who’s around now and who’ll be around from Septmber? David

  • I arrive Sept 3 and am certainly bringing my bike after this blog. Spread the word…we may get more. I am planning to get an old steel frame.

    • Hi Allison/David
      i will be in Ethiopia for the month of September. I am a keen roadie and would bring my bike if I had a group to ride with? I will be staying in the capital. Are you staying in the capital?
       
      Joy

      • Hi all…arriving Sept 3…so have no real sense yet of riding. I am bringing an old secondhand non-carbon bike because of the theft risk. I am not sure when I will be up an riding as I will have some settling in to do for my year. So, I think you will need to get some more thoughts from someone already on the ground as it may be a few weeks before I am able to ride. Allison

  • I would like to do bike riding befor the Italian big group arrive in October to do mountain biking from Addis Ababa to Lalibela so that I can be fit for the trip :)

    Considerme brothers

  • Allison why are you talking about teft risk? Ethiopia is not such a country,
    Yes if you creat the chance u can also lose ur belongings even in ur developed country.

    Please stope giving a bad image of this beautiful Country.

  • If anyone is going to be in Addis Ababa and wanting to do a bit of cycling in Sept can you email me at jmgholland@hotmail.com. I would really love to get out on my bike with some company and see more of the surrounding area.
    Joy

    • Hi,
      I will be living in Ethiopia for next couple of years.  I would like to buy a decent mountain bike.  Does anyone know a good store in Addis to do that?
      Thanks, Terry

      • Hi Terry…I have not seen a bike shop here. I am not a mountain biker but know there is an active group who ride around Addis…check out the Facebook site…Mountain biking Ethiopia.

        • Hi Everyone. Wow it’s nearly the end of the dry season and this strand went a bit quiet. Last w/e I took my old road bike up Entoto (OK, I had to walk the last 3km) then across the ridge to come down in the Yeka part of Addis Ababa. Bumpy in places but a great 50km round trip from Edna Mall area. If you’re up for it, or have other suggestions, PM me via this Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/joanna.busza

      • I spent 4 months in Ethiopia and I could not find one decent bike. Most of the bikes were pretty poor. It is best to take one with you

  • Just for ur information I have got good bikes which I bought from Matra Bikes from Belgium and if you are in need of them let me know :)

  • We proud and encourage people to explore Ethiopia with Bicycle.
    We have an expert here who can join you to the North route -Metma-Gelabt/from the gate of Sudan Border to Gondar-Bahirdar -AddisAbaba
    /from Lalibela -Dessi-Kombolcha-Debrebrhane-AddisAbaba or
    From |Bahirdar -Blue Nile falls/
     

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