Travel | Mountain Biking in Ethiopia

November 9th, 2015

By Andrew Dodd in Features

Could Ethiopia be your next MTB epic?

Words: Dain Zaffke | Images: Dain Zaffke and Dan Milner

Ethiopia has really big mountains. So it must have really great mountain biking, right?

No one really knew, because no one had ever really brought mountain bikes into Ethiopia’s Simian highlands. That was enough of a reason to go mountain biking in Ethiopia…

mountain biking in Ethiopia

Remote locations are becoming increasingly popular for adventure cyclists. The mountain bike is such a versatile tool as you can travel further in a short amount of time than you can by foot, and you don’t need to rely on roads to get there.

We went on an expedition – with pro riders Sarah Leishman and Kamil Tartarkovic – to find out whether the land famous for being the ‘cradle of mankind‘ could someday be a mountain bike paradise.

mountain biking in Ethiopia

Ethiopia doesn’t conjure up images of cliff edge riding on rocky, high alpine trails – but it has it all there. Amazing riding, staggering scenery.

I had never been any place quite this remote. The evening before our departure, we huddled around a map and got a briefing from our British guide, Tom.

“I will have a first aid kit and a satellite phone. In case of a life-threatening injury, I can call for a ‘chopper with the sat phone, but keep in mind that the heli-service is based in Addis Ababa, that’s about a four-hour flight from where we’ll be.

And the heli-pilot is based in Nairobi, which is a six-hour flight from Addis. So it’ll be about a day before the chopper comes to our rescue.

So let’s stay safe!”  Tom Bodkin, Secret Compass

mountain biking in Ethiopia

Dain had a big OTB in Ehiopia, and split his chin open. He learnt the hard way that you really don’t want to be injured somewhere this remote – the doctor that treated him stitched his chin up with thick yarn, in a room so dirty there was blood from the previous patient on the floor. Not good!

Over the course of eight days our crew circumnavigated the Simian Mountains national park, traveling rugged footpaths created in the sixth century.

With no roads, no running water and no electricity, the crew fell into a simple routine: wake up, break camp and spend the day riding remote trails.

mountain biking in Ethiopia

With no light pollution, camping under the stars was incredible. Mountain biking in remote locations is incredible – and something all mountain bikers should try.

mountain biking in Ethiopia

Kamil Tartarkovic has got serious skill when it comes to negotiating rugged, unridden terrain. He scans the ground and adapts to it so naturally – he’s a pleassure to watch, and an awesome riding buddy to have on trips like this.

The riding was rough.

Every five minutes of fast, flowing single track was met with ten minutes of hike-a-bike, over – or around – unrideable ledges and rock piles.

The route skirted a 6,000-foot-deep canyon; summited a 14,930-foot peak and covered stunningly diverse scenery with everything from highland tussock grass to tropical lowland forests.

We met countless welcoming locals and encountered hundreds of gelada baboons – fierce looking apes with thick coats and walrus-like teeth.

Giro 1
Was it a mountain bike paradise?

It probably depends on who you ask. It’s not in the way that Whistler, Queenstown or Moab are considered paradise.

mountain biking in Ethiopia

It may not be everyone’s idea of the ultimate MTB destination, but Dain loved the rugged and raw appeal of Ethiopia.

But there were so many moments of staggering beauty – frantically excited children; the power of the Simian scenery; attempting to learn how to dance like a local and the incredible food.

This expedition was truly a trip of a lifetime for us.


Have you been on an MTB epic anywhere interesting? 

We’d love to hear about it – let us know in the comments below…




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