africa bike touring: top ten myths about cycling in africa

After cycling 40,000 kilometers through Africa, we can assure you these commonly held beliefs are purely fiction.

Africa is a dangerous place and its people are inherently violent.
Although there certainly are pockets of violence and no-go areas on the continent, cycling in rural Africa is as safe as cycling in rural areas in Europe or North America.  In most areas, you can leave your bike outside shops, have a stroll around the village and even hike up to see a waterfall and when you return your bike and belongings will be there when you return. 

Some African mega-cities such as Dakar, Johannesburg and Lagos live up to their reputations as dangerous places and you certainly wouldn’t want to plan a tour through conflict zones such as Somalia or Eastern Congo. 

Fortunately, with a little planning these places are easily circumnavigated.  In most African capitals, keeping your street-smarts suffices to stay clear of harm’s way.  During the two years we spent cycling around the continent, most Africans we encountered were gentle, humble and hospitable.  They warmly welcomed us into their villages and shared generously of all they possessed.

African roads are so bad they’re impossible to cycle on.

Perfectly smooth!While it is true that Africa lacks a comprehensive paved highway network, that’s part of the fun. 

Bouncing along on a narrow track waving at giggling toddlers, exchanging greetings with kids trudging off to school, stopping to chat with villagers on their way to the fields—the back roads are the best way to discover the real heart of Africa. 

Roads can be rough, especially after heavy rains, so you may not be able to cover as much distance in a day as you would in other parts of the world.   With a little practice, though, you’ll soon become a pro at cycling through seas of sand, navigating rock-strewn roads and navigating through muddy, rutted tracks.  And for those of you with overly-sensitive bums, don’t despair.   You can cycle almost 12,000 kilometres all the way from Cairo to Cape Town on smooth tarmac with less than a thousand kilometres on unpaved roads.

Africa is too hot for cycling.

The African continent stretches 30 degrees north and south of the equator and thus varies greatly in terms of climate.  The only region where it’s really hot and sweltering all year round is the narrow band of lowland tropics that straddles the equator.  Cycling through Namibia in July (the southern hemisphere winter) will mean frost on the tent, you’ll encounter snow on the high passes in Lesotho in August and the highlands of Ethiopia are refreshingly cool year round.

Africa is full of ‘dangerous’ wildlife.

Viewing wildlife is the number one reason most people jump on a plane and shell out thousands of dollars for a safari.  But bicycle touring in Africa doesn’t mean being constantly on the lookout for charging herds of elephants. 

In fact, on most of the continent, the encroachment of human means you’ll have to go out of your way to see wild animals. 

That said, one of the best biking spots for wildlife viewing from the saddle is in Botswana.  We whizzed by zebras, elephants, and mating giraffes on the main highway.  Mikumi National Park in Tanzania is also a great ride for wildlife viewing.  Riding near the NamibRand reserve in Namibia is a good  place to spot gemsbok, mountain and plains zebra, springbok and kudu.

Most wild animals aren’t really dangerous as long as you don’t do something really stupid like the guy in Sudan who keet moving closer and closer to get shots of those cute hyenas.  The word on the overland trail is that he got eaten and all that was left was a pile of bones and some nice close-up shots of hyenas.

What are Africa's most dangerous animals?  Here’s the top 10 list of Africa's most deadly animals (meaning any living thing): the hippo, lion, crocodile, mosquito, black mamba, great white shark, buffalo, elephant, puff adder, and of course man himself. 

After the mosquito, a cyclist’s biggest worry will be staying clear of the elephants and buffalo. 

Africa is very corrupt and I will have to pay many bribes.
Just another friendly border official in Africa!You’re highly unlikely to encounter any type of corruption in East Africa or Southern Africa.  Minor corruption in West and Central Africa, on the other hand, is quite common.  We were regularly asked to pay miscellaneous ‘processing fees’ at border crossings and police checkpoints and sometimes asked to make a contribution towards a beer, soft drink or fuel for the generator.  By standing firm, remaining friendly and being patient I never ended up paying and bribes or extra fees except on one unlucky occasion in Equatorial Guinea.

I will have trouble finding food if I cycle through Africa.
Sudanese cuisine--looks tasty,doesn't it?Food shortages do occur in Africa, but as a cyclist with money to spend you are unlikely to be affected by them.  We spent two years cycling through Africa, including some very remote stretches where most of the local population was living off food relief provided by international aid agencies, and we were always able to buy food locally.  Markets may not be overflowing, but you’ll find enough staples to fuel you on to your next biking destination.

Africa is full of scary diseases and I’ll probably fall deathly ill.
Alright, this one is partly true.  There are lots of nasty diseases bouncing around the African continent.  The more common diseases in Africa include Malaria, Aids, Lassa Fever
Bilharzia, Cholera, Diarrhoea, Amoebic Dysentery, Hepatitis A and B, Rabies, Typhoid, Yellow Fever and E-coli. 

The trick to staying healthy in Africa is to get all the necessary immunizations and taking the right anti-malarials.  Then the chances of falling ‘deathly ill’ and needing to be repatriated are greatly diminished. 
And while malaria can be life-threatening, we’ve both survived two bouts of this common disease without complications.  With malaria, you’ve got to remember to get treatment quick--as soon as the first symptoms occur.

 Be proactive with your healthcare while in Africa and the worst thing you’ll probably come down with is a case of the traveller’s runs (or maybe a mild case of malaria--it’s not that bad, really!).


Africa is poor and therefore filthy.

Tidy villages in Africa.Africa is surprisingly clean and litter free.  The African continent is litter free because the people are so poor.  Everything is reused.  Children and even adults will be begging you for your precious plastic bottles, empty jars and used tires.  Piles of roadside rubbish so common in other parts of the developing world are rare in Africa.


Africans know nothing about personal hygiene.  Off the beaten path I’ll never have the chance to bathe.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Africans are fastidious about personal cleanliness. 

 Water for bathing is a standard part of hospitality in Africa. In more than two years biking through Africa, there were only a handful of days when water for bathing was unavailable. 

 Somebody may have to trot off to the river a fill up a bucket so you can have a shower, but Africans understand the importance of keeping clean.


The water in Africa is not safe to drink. 

Just a joking! This is not my idea of safe drinking water.NGOs throughout African have made a massive push to supply safe drinking water in rural areas.  According to the WHO, 64% of Africans have access to improved drinking water sources (i.e. piped water or boreholes).  

 If in doubt, you can always buy bottled water, which is widely available throughout Africa.  A more cost-effective and environmentally friendly option is to purify water using a small pump. We use a First Need XL portable water purifier from General Ecology, Inc.


If you enjoyed this post, you'll like these posts, too:

Staying Healthy
Dealing with Malaria-practical advice from someone who's a two-time survivor

Getting Started
Tips for Choosing Travel Insurance>> We recommend World Nomads

Staying Healthy
Safe drinking water on your cycling tour

  If you enjoyed this post, please share it with others via Twitter.

What are your experiences biking in Africa?  Ever debunked any myths about cycling in other parts of the world? 
Please share in the comments section below.

Get World Biking Newsletter 

Support our fundraising efforts for World Bicycle Relief

Follow World Biking on Twitter

check out more photos from our trip

contact us at: