It is commonly believed that bicycle tourism in Sri Lanka is merely a few decades old. However, in Around the World Through Japan by Walter Del Mar (1904) there is a recorded a lengthy bicycle excursion almost a century old.
To place this in the context of the history of the bicycle, Penny Farthings were in common use in the 1870s and ‘80s, the chain drive was invented as late as 1885, the pneumatic tyre 1888, and gears in the next few years.
“We met an enterprising couple who had bicycled from Kandy (to Anuradhapura) in two days, riding only in the cool of the mornings and evenings,” writes Del Mar. “They left Kandy one evening and bicycled the seventeen miles to Matale, from whence they started the next morning at 7 and did the twenty-eight miles to Dambulla by 10.45, having walked up all the hills. The next morning they were off at 7.15 and arrived at Tirappanai, about twenty-five miles, at 10.20. Leaving the same afternoon at 4, they did the remaining fourteen miles to Anuradhapura by 5.45 pm.
There are plenty of good bicycling roads in Ceylon, in fact the surface of the roads is everywhere good, but there are plenty of long grades to surmount.
A good brake and ‘tropical tyres’ are necessary , while a low gear is a the most satisfactory.”A splendid feat, even if they walked rather than rode up the hills.