Saturday evening my cycle buddy SK dropped by my place for a chat. It quickly turned into a cycling trip to Thika Town, fourty-five kilometres away from Nairobi, the following day.
This trip reminded me once more why I need to get a better saddle. AG’s voice advising me to get cycling gloves echoed in my brain as my sore palms tingled. With my upper body weight thrown forward supported by my hands on the handle bars, the trip back was doubly painful. I was sure I would have blisters.
I have used Thika-Nairobi Highway many times; my parents and I used it when my father moved his practice to Nairobi from up-country, in my youth to visit family up-country and back, in a funeral convoy to bury my fallen uncle, in the recent past to “get a wife for my cousin” from Nyeri, to visit my uncle and his family in Thika, on the way to a hiking day-trip up Mount Long’onot… all by car.
As a child, I remember sitting in the back of the small family car with my younger sister counting cars as they whizzed past us on the two-way road. The floating feeling as we descended and climbed out of the Thika Road Drift, just before the General Service Unit Barracks signalled the Nairobi city limits. The king of the road was the speeding Toyota Hilux pick-ups, hauling khat from Meru to Nairobi. Only an accident could stop them. They rarely caused any.
“Yangu! Yangu” (“Mine! Mine”) We screamed in turns at the cars going in the opposite direction, until one of us fell asleep or we disagreed on whose car the last one was.
We would stop at the old toll station, pay and continue. Scream out of the window at the River Chania below. Stick our cheeky tongues at the road-side fishmongers. Admire the neat pineapple farms on either side of the highway. Stop in Thika for pineapples by the road-side.
As I grew older and more discerning, I noticed that each trip to and from up-country grew bumpy-er. The toll station was no longer there. Signs indicating that “This road is maintained from the fuel levy fund” announced that, someone, somewhere had hung his coat on the back of his chair and left for the day.
The number of accidents reported on this highway grew as every year wore it down. The missing sections of dented railing along escarpments bore testimony to the deaths. Paint markings meant someone else had lived to die another day. The numerous Traffic Police roadblocks along the section between Kahawa and Jomo Kenyatta University (gangsters’ paradise) did not deter the armed highway robbers.
That’s the old Thika-Nairobi Highway.
The old two-lane highway has now been replaced by the much acclaimed six-lane “Super Highway”. Drivers have taken this seriously and cruise at equally super speeds”. This site documents the progress well and indicates someone is in-charge and present.
There are no rough road shoulders for a quick stop. If your car stalls suddenly the likelihood of being rammed is very high. It’s no wonder the life saver triangle has been made a must-have for every vehicle in Kenya. There’s a hefty fine for not having a pair in your car.
As I descended into the Chania River Valley, a terribly strong gust wind carrying dust and grit, swept up and out of the Valley onto the road. Threatening to push me into the center of the road. Had to keep steering left to stay on the shoulder as cars whizzed past me. I could feel the wind catching on my helmet visor trying to yank it off. Shutting my left eye and squinting my right kept the gravel and dust from totally blinding me. Another reason why cycling glasses come in handy. Mental note.
The drifts on Thika road are a lot less deep than they used to be. They have claimed many lives in the past. You don’t get the floating feeling in your stomach going down and up any more.
The Chinese tamed Thika Road for sure.
I found it’s safer to cycle on the outside side lanes to avoid getting hit by cars exiting onto or off the main-road. If you choose to use the main lanes stay alert and give your hand signals early.
While you were away, things changed.
Leaving the Central Business District via the Old Nation – Nairobi Fire Station roundabout. Not too busy and chaotic on a Sunday morning. It’s a nightmare for a cyclist on any other day. Use with caution and wear reflective gear. I am not sure if it’s that the building perimeter wall on the left it has eaten into road reserve or not, but it’s terribly flash to the road leading to the Globe overpass.
The view of the Globe Roundabout from the Globe overpass. On the left the the road leading up to University way. That U-turn spot is still operational. This railing is extravagantly used on all the overpasses. I suppose it has a lightning arresting property to it. Or perhaps to hold the concrete together better in case of an earthquake…?
A lone cyclist on the Globe Roundabout overpass. He smiled and waved back.
Though the traffic was thin, both lanes were in use and a cyclist could squeeze alongside the cars with plenty of room left. The traffic here on weekdays is not so fast, making it safe to cycle.
The Public Service Mini Bus had just stopped to pick up two pedestrians. Saw a couple of pedestrians approaching just as the mini bus took off and asked them if they knew it’s illegal to walk on the over pass. They denied any such knowledge. I suppose being a slow traffic Sunday allowed them to venture.
Ngara Market area: The paving blocks are high Keeping pedestrians same from notorious overlapping Public Service Vehicles, and a neatly paved side walk is coming along nicely. In some places the blocks are not yet properly installed and protrude dangerously onto the road.
The pedestrian walkway and drainage (left) look they will last a loooong time. Unless some “bright” soul comes along an digs it up to lay cables or something not fore-planned like that. This design beats those ugly bollards any day!!
This section just after Ngara is very dangerous. I noticed that both sides of the highway were two way, drivers were making dangerous U-turns.
The road opens out. It’s safer to cycle on the outer lane (left) until it rejoins the highway.
It’s roomy on the left on the main highway. The metal barrier is still intact and un-dented, for now. Unmarked lanes made for a lot of irritated hooting.
A motorist going the wrong way on the service lane on the left. Tsk tsk.
A pedestrian footbridge under construction. I noticed the gradient on the rump part is softer than the Mbagathi Way one. Will be back to check it out on completion. I hope the sides will be open with “No Posters” for user security.
Another pedestrian footbridge: It’s not immediately clear why all the steel is necessary. There are these large loopy ribcage-like steel extensions on either side of the landing. Perhaps the ribcage is to hold up the large directional highway signs. Let’s wait and see.
It appears there will be a pedestrian bridge here judging by these strange obelisks sticking out of the earth.
We arrive in Thika. The shoulder has some cycling room.
Thika town has narrow roads and unpaved side walks. At this intersection we squeezed through the slow Sunday traffic.
Thika Town: An interesting feature in an intersection triangle island allows the cyclists to navigate the junction safely, like a pedestrian. Traffic moves very fast along the main Road entering the town.
Lots of cyclists in Thika Town. The one in front had a sassy Dutch style bike with a cute, front, wire basket carrier.
Thika town: Cycling on the wrong side.
Plenty of cycle room. No pedestrian pavement though.
Nyeri Town?… maybe next time.
Pineapple patrol: You haven’t been to Thika if you haven’t had a juicy pineapple.
Nairobi here we come. Back onto the open road. The journey back was a climb out of the Chania River valley. My heavy bike saw me get left behind by SK most of the return journey. Waaaait up!!!
A woman and child get a ride on the back of a fixed gear bike, on the service lane. “Usitupige picha we mzungu!!” (“Don’t photograph us you white girl!” – I’m black by the way)
The road markings end just after the Thika town turn off.
Pushing a fixed gear bike uphill on the wrong side of the highway. Notice the surviving factories, in the once burgeoning industrial town that Thika once was, in the background. It’s slowly returning to its former industrial glory. This highway will make sure of it, I hope.
Motor cycles are popular in Thika, as they are everywhere else in Kenya. Noticed lots of bicycle tire tracks on the upcoming pedestrian pavement.
Thika town was once a prosperous industrious town. This appears to be a power plant or leather tannery. Not sure which. Thika hosts a leather processing plant among other industries.
This spot looked like a disaster waiting to happen. People crossing over the metal barrier across the road. I noticed a lot of shuttered glass on the tarmac as I cycled past, that confirmed my fears.
The underpass leading back into the Central Business District. Very dark in there. The lights should stay on day and night for better safety. It’s not safe to stop, but the entering the tunnel bumps slowed the traffic enough to allow us to jump onto the drainage cover.
Happy Cycling in Nairobi and beyond! ❤ Nairobi! ❤ Cycling!