Photos: Etienne van Rensburg, Igor Schifris, Mike Blewitt

What do you know about Sri Lanka? I knew very little, save for seeing photos from friends who had been riding there for the Rumble in the Jungle mountain bike event, and the fact that it produced a lot of tea. That’s it. But as an honest believer that one of the best ways to learn more about a country is from the seat of a bicycle, I found myself signing up for the 2018 Rumble in the Jungle – to race, to ride and to discover the island that’s had many roles through history.

What’s a Rumble in the Jungle?

The Sri Lankan Airlines Rumble in the Jungle is a 5-day stage race that is run by MTB Worldwide, the same event team who run The Yak Attack, and Pokhora IV. Their events are known as challenging and adventurous, and draw mountain bikers from across the globe. These events are very different to many of the events we have in Australia, as the courses move away from the manicured trails of mountain bike parks and club trails, and the routes traverse mountain ranges and cross valleys, using trails made by animals, early explorers, or the people who have lived in the area for centuries. Some people sign up to tackle the race and aim for the top step or a personal best – but others use it as a way to explore a new country.

Accommodation is in nice hotels with breakfast and dinner provided, routes are GPS plotted so you can have your GPS device guide you (although the routes are marked), and there are feed zones, bike mechanics and a masseur. In this regard it’s just like any other mountain bike event – but Rumble in the Jungle is in a country that you might not know a whole lot about. And that was one of the big motivators when I signed up – I wanted to experience somewhere new.