The place where you want to be tooted

For the past 10 days I've been hooted at constantly while cycling ... and it hasn't bothered me one bit.

Ride a bike in Sri Lanka and you'll soon learn to accept – even appreciate – a cacophony of vehicle horns. It's not a demand that you get out the way, but instead a friendly heads-up: I see you, I'm coming past, hold your line because I don't want to hit you.

Most importantly, it's not a treatment saved for cyclists – as in many other Asian countries I've visited, everybody hoots at everything, all the time.

And boy, there are a lot of things to hoot at. Trucks, buses, cars, tuk-tuks, motorbikes, cyclists, pedestrians, cows, dogs, monkeys, each with their own particular speed and movement idiosyncrasies. (It's probably best not to hoot at the elephants.)

Cycle touring here is perhaps described as engaging, if that's the word for a road culture where overtaking in the face of oncoming traffic is an expected manoeuvre if traffic is backing up behind a slower vehicle.

There's one thing that makes it all a lot easier, however - a noticeable lack of road rage.

People do some of the cheekiest, craziest things imaginable – driving side by side, blatantly pushing in, sneaking along the breakdown lane, squeezing big trucks up narrow roads and jamming the cars coming the other way, all to a cacophany of blaring horns – and yet no one appears to lose their temper or take it personally.

They slow down to avert disaster, they give way even if they have right of way, and then just get on with their journeys. It's an enviable attitude.

Also admirable is the cycling culture itself. I spent my first few days in the coastal town of Negombo, just north of Colombo, and delighted at the sight of people getting around on two wheels. All ages and sizes, dressed in their regular clothes, without hi-viz or helmets, perhaps dinking their sweethearts or offspring on the crossbar, cranking away on rusty old single-speeders with tyres sometimes in crying need of a few bars of air. So many bike riders, yet not a "cyclist" among them.


Or so I thought. On my third day, as I made an early start to a gruelling 105km leg to Kandy, I squinted into the rising sun and my eyes fastened on a familiar fabric ... Lycra!

Some 20 blokes in cycle kit were standing along the tree-lined edge of the road, bikes at the ready.

The reason for the hiatus was quickly apparent. As I reached the head of the line, the last few of the group were spilling out of a roadside food venue.

(Typical cyclists, clogging up the cafes in their activity-specific gear and tip-tap shoes, outrageously bringing income to the proprietor!)

Was this the Negombo equivalent of the famous Bar Coluzzi ride in Sydney, or Melbourne's Beach Road crew?

I got over to the side of the road and snapped them with my phone as they came past. One rider had a geared racer with caliper brakes, but the rest were on single speeds – lovingly repurposed vintage street bikes, with brakes operated by metal levers (not cables), "sit up and beg" handlebars, seriously short top tubes and head tubes with a rake so lazy they were trending to 45 degrees.

Surprisingly, I soon caught them, and they waved me up the line. What, on a pannier-laden tourer? Was I getting sucked in to something? We bantered a bit as I moved to the front at a leisurely 25km/h. Maybe these are those urban legend riders who only roll to the corner cafe to be seen, then go straight back home, I chuckled to myself.

Hardly. Their post-breakfast warm-up done, the riders formed into a neat peloton and flashed past me in style, legs pumping in a uniform cadence, with some resting their elbows on their handlebars to effect a "drops" position.

I was saddened I hadn't got to the roadside shop a bit earlier. Would I have found out if Sri Lankan cyclists have an equivalent for an espresso? If I'd told them I was from Australia, would the talk have turned to Cadel Evans, not the traditional "ah, Michael Clarke" response?

A kindly but ear-splitting hoot from a red Tata bus interrupted my reveries. "There had better be a Strava segment for this," I muttered as the road to Kandy stretched out in front of me.

What's the most exotic place or country in which you've ridden?

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