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A 1,580-Kilometre Off-Road Trail Lures Cyclists to See Uganda by Bike

By Adam Marsal

Looking for an adventure that combines breathtaking nature, extraordinary wildlife, and cultural immersion? Look no further than Uganda’s 1,580-kilometre off-road cycling trail. This unique trail stretches from the country’s southwest to the far northeast and takes you through many local tribes, each with its own language, fashion, and customs. Cycling off-road is the perfect way to get as close as possible to the jungle and its primate inhabitants, such as gorillas and chimpanzees. We’ll introduce you to one of the most exciting cycling trails in Africa.

Cyclists searching for undiscovered trails are exploring new continents every day, and one of their latest finds is Uganda’s 1,580-kilometer cycling adventure. The trail is divided into four main sections, with only 15% of it being paved. Its creators claim that it’s long but easy and safe.

Initially, the trail was tested on old-fashioned Roadmasters, the typical single-speed village bicycles commonly used in Uganda, to show that even cheap bikes are good enough to complete the route. “I can tell you straight away, it was the greatest adventure of my life,” says Alexander Bonger, a cycling pioneer of the local bike trail. Accompanied by a local guide, he travelled through the jungle, savannas of the national parks, and the desert, passing both the equator and the Nile. With red dirt roads and English-speaking locals, Uganda has everything any cyclist needs to arrange a perfect bike trip. Alexander advises mastering basic service skills since bike repair shops are becoming rare outside the capital city of Kampala.

Choosing old and heavy Roadmaster bikes started as a bit of a joke but turned out to be the right decision. Since Uganda is a mountainous country, heavy steel bikes were too difficult to climb up the steep routes. However, sometimes Alexander and his mate got off and walked instead of cycling, giving them more time to appreciate their surroundings. They usually completed the daily trip of around 70 km before the afternoon. “In the end, riding Roadmasters was fast and comfortable,” Alexander says.
The guys slept in all kinds of places, including cheap hotels along the road and luxury lodges. Sometimes, they were invited to stay overnight by local people. Riding Roadmasters proved that no matter its length, Uganda trails are easy to cycle on any kind of bike.

The trail stretches from the gorilla-inhabited highlands to Lake Victoria up to the 4,321-metre Mount Elgon on the Kenyan border. Every two or three days, the country completely changes. Since Uganda is the most ethnically diverse country in the world, cyclists proceeding through the trail can meet dozens of tribes, each with its own language, fashion, and customs.

The trail was designed by the Red Dirt Uganda tour operator, which offers tourists unparalleled cycling experiences in Rwanda and Uganda. “The cycling route can be found online and downloaded for free,” says Thies Timmermans, owner of the travel organization Red Dirt Uganda. Back in 2016, he saw potential in designing a trail dedicated to cyclists who wanted to see Uganda from a different perspective. Over the years, Red Dirt Uganda has built many trails in close collaboration with the Dutch government and Dutch-Ugandan companies.

Cycling enthusiasts put one trail into another and created a massive infrastructure with many routes incorporated into the Uganda Cycling Trail. The map shows suggested roads, hotels, activities, restaurants, and bicycle repair shops in the area. Local people believe that after the trail becomes famous, more and more tourists will come to check it out. “Uganda’s safaris are beautiful, but we have so much more to offer,” locals say.