Cycling up and down Uhuru Highway was supposed to be the most daunting ride in my cycling-unschooled mind. Turns out it’s much easier than riding on any other road in Nairobi.
Why is it easier?
It’s smooth surfaced, has wide lanes, has relatively slower traffic and long stopping intervals to allow a cyclist to get to the head of traffic, has a great side-walk that is hardly occupied by pedestrians for when things get a little crowded (except in the early morning and evenings), there are no bus stops so no matatus (Public Service Vehicles) making sudden stops to drop and pick passengers, in wet weather the better (and I mean “better”tongue in cheek) drainage on Uhuru Highway ensures rain water does not sit along the curb/gutter (hate truck/lorry splash) and there is little tire-unfriendly gutter debris.
Made it sound good, eh. Wait, wait…
Some bright soul dug up the lovely freshly laid pavement blocks/tiles (by the Chinese) 4-5 years ago. The piles of soil make it particularly difficult for pedestrians to navigate especially in wet weather...On a mountain bike it's relatively easy, to escape traffic and get to the head of traffic. Incase you are wondering why there is so much road and curb side debris, it's because this section of the highway has Marabou stocks inhabiting the Acacia thorn trees above... Watch out for thorns.
Cyclists in Nairobi don’t have the luxury of designated cycling infrastructure – separate lanes, lights, parking options, etc. The average cyclist has to ride along the gutter. Hugging the curb as tightly as possible along some narrower roads. One skill that has come in handy is flexing my pedals parallel to each other to avoid scrapping the left pedal on the curb paving block.
On Uhuru highway, the downsides include, numerous trailers on the left lane, deeply set manholes/drainage holes that you have to scoot around as quickly as possible as cars rush past at over eighty kilometres per hour. Ole wako (Woe unto you) if it’s a giant bus or trailer on the down hill decent towards Bunyala Road.
A quick glance over the shoulder helps to gauge how far, how big and fast the other vehicle coming up behind you is, as you slow down approaching a deep-set manhole. I relax if it’s a motor bike and tense up if it’s a sixty-two sitter bus or a trailer. Another great relief is the hand cart pullers who use the highway; they slow down traffic on the left lane enough to allow me to safely over take the handcart.
Uhuru Highway in Pictures:
Not sure what the digging of the side-walks/pavements was to achieve, but in the wet weather it allows rain water to collect making the gutter area temporarily flood. It doesn't help matters that the drainage manholes are often blocked while the drainage troughs are silted and filled with debris. Motor cyclists never follow the rule that says they must take the lane like other motorized vehicles... SMH.
The nasty blocked drainage manholes make the curb side a tight squeeze for a cyclist. It gets worse in wet weather when they fill up with muddy rain water. Heavy trucks splash through them and onto pedestrians. If not moving too fast I ride through the less deep one, standing off my seat. Ouch!
This one is a nightmare. It's deep, stays wet for days after the rain and this section of the Uhuru Highway is flat so speeds are pretty high making it harder to scoot around quickly enough to get out of the way of traffic ...
Nyayo Stadium roundabout entering Mombasa-Nairobi highway can get hairy. When using this section, if the traffic is at a standstill I weave my way through traffic to the head of traffic and pick my lane depending on the direction I want to take. If turning into Nairobi West, I take the third lane from left. The trouble is on the fourth lane (inner most) there will still be some idiot motorist planning to go straight onto Mombasa Road... I always look at the tail indicator lights of the car slightly ahead, and for any indication that the car may turn towards Mombasa Road. All this time I am frantically indicating with my right hand that I intend to turn right to Nairobi West... This is the second most scary roundabout after the Haile Selassie/Railways one where all the traffic rules go out the drivers' windows - parking on a roundabout, stopping, changing lanes, picking and dropping passengers, you name it and the Matatu drivers do it.
Another nasty, gaping, blocked manhole approaching the Uhuru Highway / Mombasa Road roundabout. This one is by far the largest of them all. What makes it less harmless is its location at the filter lane to Lusaka Road, as cars slow down here. At night however ...
The handcart pullers provide relief from the fast traffic on the Bunyala Road decent of Uhuru Highway. There's a little room on his right to over take as I listen to hear the vehicles behind me slow down. The dust and gravel on the curb side turns to muddy sludge that gets splashed back as the wheels turn... mud guards necessary.
Happy Cycling in Nairobi and beyond! ❤ Nairobi! ❤ Cycling!