Sri Lanka is similar to other Asian countries which have high population densities, congested cities and where everything that can move usually ends up on the roads. This presents challenges to people who have been riding in western countries.
The cliché ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ is particularly relevant when motorcycling in Sri Lanka. Please keep this foremost in your mind when riding in this country.
Why should you listen to me?
This is a very valid question since I have been living in Australia for 27 years and before that I lived in America for four years. That’s 31 years since I lived in the country of my birth!
Seriously, what advice can I give you about riding in Sri Lanka?
Well, I was born in Sri Lanka and completed my schooling there. After that, I worked for eight years before I went overseas in 1984.
For about six years I rode a motorbike to many places in beautiful Sri Lanka. The only areas I didn’t ride a motorcycle were in the north of the country. Concurrently, I also drove a car for about 11 years to most parts of the island.
There are some very important lessons I learned while driving and riding in Sri Lanka. These have helped me escape serious accidents and injuries in America, Australia and Sri Lanka and I want to pass these on to you as well.
This is sometimes not considered a fashionable subject but it needs to be discussed. We don’t rent our bikes to people who just walk off the street. We rent them to motorcyclists who respect motorcycling.
Sri Lanka is a tropical country which experiences monsoonal weather so be prepared for rain when you ride. It is not pleasant to ride in the rain but I always remember the motorcycling quote: ‘If you don’t want to ride in the rain, then don’t ride.’
The island is divided into two distinct zones – the south-west parts of the island which receive the “South-West Monsoon” and the north-east which receives the “North-East Monsoon.” The South-West Monsoon blows from May to mid-September while the North-East Monsoon is from mid-October to mid-January. In between monsoons, there may be scattered inter-monsoon rains.
There is generally a drought in the north-east parts of the island when the South-West Monsoon is active but the south-west areas too receive some rainfall during the North-East Monsoon.
Sea bathing is best off the north-east during the South-West Monsoon while the opposite applies when the North-East Monsoon is blowing. In fact, it is inadvisable to get into the sea when the monsoon is active in that particular section of the island.
Sri Lanka has an extensive road network connecting all parts of the island. But all road widths and surfaces are not the same.
In many respects Sri Lanka is similar to other Asian countries with heavy traffic of all types – buses, trucks, vans, cars, tuk tuks, motorcycles, scooters, bicycles and even bullock carts. And they appear to move as if there are no traffic rules; but there is a method to this perceived madness.
Stopped by the Police
The police, and sometimes the military, often pull over vehicles to check drivers’ licences, registration and insurance. Don’t be alarmed if you see them signalling you to stop even if you haven’t done anything wrong. These are routine checks, particularly as the country has only recently emerged from a near three decades long terrorist war.
Asking for Directions
Road maps, Google maps and GPS systems provide valuable information but these are not easily accessible to motorcyclists and are not always reliable. There is nothing like getting correct information from people who know the local roads.
Sri Lanka is a small country, about the size of Tasmania. But don’t think that the short distances between places, as indicated on maps, equates to short travel times. This is because the island is heavily populated and traffic generally moves at slow speeds.
Riding in Traffic
Travel Insurance and Medical Expenses
It is very important that you take out travel insurance when travelling overseas. Make sure you know what it covers and what is excluded.
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