[xls]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.


always cycling · December 20, 2010 at 3:27 pm

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.

    scotty robinson · April 5, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    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

Abita · March 9, 2011 at 6:32 am

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


Al · May 26, 2011 at 12:14 pm

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?

Ran · May 8, 2012 at 8:39 am


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


Eric Mathurin · November 22, 2012 at 12:49 pm

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.

    Yusuf · December 20, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    Hi Eric

    I lived in Ethiopia myself for roughly about 3 years and the people are really amazing and great! They use the term “Farenji” for all foreigners. Everyone who’s not locally from Ethiopia particularly to a white person lol. But they are very kind and friendly people.

    The Amharic language is also somehow easy to learn and will be very useful during trips.

Charles Turner · February 14, 2013 at 11:19 pm

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? 

    Abita · February 15, 2013 at 8:40 am

    Yes you can Charles.
    Good Luck

      Jeff · February 19, 2013 at 9:31 pm

      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!

        Abita · February 21, 2013 at 2:30 pm

        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.
        Tsegaab Getachew Adane (abita)

        scotty robinson · April 5, 2013 at 10:58 pm

        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

Abita · February 21, 2013 at 2:35 pm

You can contact me with my email
Abita (Tsegaab Getachew Adane)

    scotty robinson · April 5, 2013 at 11:00 pm

    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

Rick · May 23, 2013 at 8:47 pm

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,

    scotty robinson · May 27, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    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

      Rick · May 27, 2013 at 7:35 pm

      Brilliant. Thanks Scotty. Will have to up my game before I take on that ride!

Allison · July 3, 2013 at 2:07 pm

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

    scott robinson · July 5, 2013 at 1:15 am

    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

    Robin · July 5, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    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.  

Allison · July 11, 2013 at 7:01 pm

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

    Robin · July 12, 2013 at 2:02 am

    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. 

Jeff · July 12, 2013 at 1:19 am

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.

    Robin · July 12, 2013 at 2:33 am

    Finding a cycling community to ride with would be awesome.  

scott robinson · July 12, 2013 at 1:52 am

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

scott robinson · July 12, 2013 at 2:11 am

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

David · July 17, 2013 at 2:40 pm

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

Allison · July 19, 2013 at 9:00 pm

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.

    Joy · August 19, 2013 at 9:15 pm

    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?

      Allison · August 22, 2013 at 4:24 am

      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

Don't forget me guys :) · August 20, 2013 at 6:12 pm

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

Me · August 22, 2013 at 5:29 am

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.

Joy · August 22, 2013 at 2:39 pm

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.

    Terry · November 24, 2013 at 10:17 am

    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

      Allison · November 24, 2013 at 2:07 pm

      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.

        David · March 21, 2014 at 7:07 pm

        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

      Charles · November 24, 2013 at 2:19 pm

      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

Tsegaab/ Sunny Land Ethiopia Tours · November 24, 2013 at 5:31 pm

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 🙂

    Terry · November 25, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Is your company in Addis?  Can you send me phone/address?  Also, what is the price range for your bikes?

      Tewodros Girma · October 5, 2015 at 9:14 pm


      I have it pls call


      Tewodros Girma

      Addise Abeba

mistru · November 28, 2013 at 1:26 pm

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/

ethiopia tours · October 27, 2015 at 7:56 am

Ethiopia is an amazing place to visit. You can see Lucy
one of the oldest things in the world.
There is the wollo highlands trekking voted in the top 10
treks in the world.
Lalibella Rock-Hewn Chruches are the 8th wonder of the world.

The coffee culture is easily the best coffee in the world.

And the tribes and rich history with the ark of covenant in the oold testament here.

Sam Clarkson · March 26, 2016 at 2:18 pm

Hi, in July my wife and I are planning to cycle from our home in England to Cairo, and then down to Cape Town. We will be passing through Ethiopia, and I was wondering how safe it? I’ve been warned about bandits. We will have camping equipment, but is it easy to find accomodation? We will probably be passing travelling through Ethiopia about December, whats the weather like at this time of year?



    Yusuf · May 27, 2016 at 8:21 pm

    Hi Sam,

    I lived in Ethiopia for nearly 4 years, Ethiopia is a safe country with a pure natural beauty. People are very nice and helpful but please try to do some research on the cities and towns that you’re going to cycle through. Make sure you also take with you enough spares since its difficult to cycle on some places and it’ll be tough to find spares too. During December, Ethiopia is very hot and sunny during the day but can get very cold on nights. About the bandits, yes it is likely but please try to do some research on the routes. There has been some violence and unrest times in some parts of the country so carefully select your routs and make sure you’re in contact with someone in the country during your journey.

    Wishing you a very safe and exciting journey 🙂



    annick · August 16, 2016 at 10:34 am

    good morning,

    i plan to visit Ethiopia cycling

    i would like to have some information about the roads, people…thank you very mutch

Taddese Atlaw · May 26, 2017 at 3:10 pm

Anyone who want to join our Ethiopia biking tours in November? It is 15 days the best biking tours in Ethiopia. Contact us for more details and route.

sisay sahlu · December 1, 2017 at 1:59 pm

thank you for your interesting view to our country Ethiopia and i am happy to heard that you spent an interesting vacation specially at lalibela which is my home town and we Ethiopians are always welcome guest from any corner of the world and ready for help when you stay here in Ethiopia!!!!!!!!!!!
best wish!

cassandra · February 26, 2018 at 12:27 pm

Hi all,

I live in Addis. Currently training for a half Ironman and looking to ride around the city (maybe outside of the city). It would be great to have a ridding buddy to join me. To be honest I am very new at riding in the city and I need some guidance on best routes.

Let me know if you’re interested. My email is cassandra.chaire@gmail.com

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