AssumeTheDriver’sCrazy

22 Jan

Being a driver in Nairobi for over ten years has made me a better cyclist; ability to know how Nairobi drivers think and in some cases predict their behaviour (with the exception of the erratic matatu and taxi cab drivers) has helped me survive this long, as a daily cycle-commuter. The only cyclist I knew of when I turned to cycling, gave me two major tips: “Keep to the left of traffic” and “Look over your shoulder to see what’s happening” (Thanks for the encouragement Allan G.). After  a few months of cycling I have some more survival tips to share: About drivers:

  • Drivers always underestimate your speed (2o-30km/hr depending on terrain gradient, your strength and stamina) approaching a junction and may cut you off as they turn left, leaving you in a heap, or worse, crashed by the next car. You need to show the driver coming up behind you, early, that you do not intend to turn left into a junction, just in case he/she does. It may be difficult at first controlling the bike with one hand while signalling… practice, practice away from traffic.
  • Some drivers may hoot as they come up behind you, mostly because they are nervous about your riding skills. Stay calm.
  • Listen to the sound of the engine as a vehicle approaches behind you to determine the size of the vehicle and prepare to make more room for the trucks, large SUVs and buses if the road is a narrow two-way. For the large SUVs and small canter trucks you need only hug the curb tighter with the left pedal raised to avoid scrapping the curb block and getting thrown off balance. For the large trucks, 62-seater buses and lorries, you may need to get off the curb side and onto the pedestrian footpath completely, especially if the oncoming traffic is busy. The sound of the engine can also tell you if the driver is speeding or slowing down. If they are slowing down, it may be because they are finding you unpredictable, maybe wobbly, as you navigate the ruts in the road. In this case you may need to encourage them to overtake you by gesturing with your hand in a “come” signal.
  • For the point above; note the sections in the curb of your regular route (s) that can allow you a quick escape when you need to. Be prepared to request the driver to slow down to give you time to move, by making the “slow down” hand signal.

Over taking a slow driver or riding through slow traffic: Cyclists in Kenya are expected to be riding along the left, near the curb. In Kenya, this is the driver’s blind side, they will not be expecting you to be there if they haven’t yet seen you as they came up behind you (assuming it’s in slow traffic and you are moving faster than the cars). The first rule is: Always assume the driver is using his/her mobile phone as they drive (nowadays). This means they are distracted and may begin to “hug” the curb as you come along on the left.

  • Look through the rear windshield or rear passenger door window (which is hopefully not tinted) to see what is happening in the car before you overtake on the left; is it an animated conversation, is driver looking back into back seat at a passenger as they converse, is the driver on his/her cell phone (not on hands-free mode), adjusting the radio?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Once, along Dennis Pritt Road (a very narrow two-way), as I came down a gentle incline on the left behind a blue Volkswagen Golf in slow morning traffic, it suddenly started to list towards the curb, I braked suddenly and nearly hit the said car’s left tail light with my aluminum, right handle-bar. Upon over taking the female driver, on the right along the yellow line, as there was no room on the left, I looked in through the driver’s window to see her talking to a toddler in the passenger seat, too small for me to have seen through the rear wind shield!
  • The matatus (public transport vehicles) leave the most room on the left for cyclists in areas with a high curb, always ready to overlap on the wrong side even on a narrow two-way road. Never ever ever overtake a matatu in slow traffic on the right along the yellow line, this especially if the oncoming traffic side is clear.
  • On the main highway, ensure that you do your best to get to the traffic lights whenever the flow of traffic is stopped, by cycling between cars on the white lines, staying as close to the left lane as possible. Look out for pedestrians crossing randomly between cars, motor cyclists also moving between the lanes and passengers alighting from stationary buses, matatus or personal cars and the odd truck driver urinating by his truck (I kid you not!).

Road use:

  • Beginner: The best roads to cycle along as a novice commuter, believe it or not, are the main roads and the highway; the lanes are wider so you have more room on the left. The start-stop movement gives the cyclist opportunity to move further forward. Ensure that you are visible by wearing reflective clothing and be predictable. One of my favourite roads is the lower section of Ngong Road (Nairobi Baptist – Adams arcade). When I mentioned Ngong Road to a visiting German friend, “But it’s so p’lluted!” she exclaimed. I pointed out the spaces in the paving blocks that help me escape when things get hairy.
  • Beginner: Sunday Mornings and bank holidays are the best to venture out and build on your commuter confidence as traffic is low or at least sparse.
  • Navigating roundabouts the first time can be daunting. To begin with, stay behind the trailer truck at the head of traffic as it will very likely go straight along the left lane, where you already are. Use the truck to shield you as the traffic lights go green. The motorists on the left approach to roundabout are least likely to dash across if a truck is coming up, giving you time to get used to the roundabout. This article outlines how to deal with large vehicles. You are on the left lane and the driver nearest to you and behind you are likely to be turning left, ensure that you hand signal to indicate that you are going straight, so that the driver behind you gives you time to go forward. If it is a large truck stay behind it to allow it to turn left or go straight before you.
  • Matatus (public transport vehicle), as earlier indicated, are driven erratically and recklessly, and we are all aware that their driving can inspire even the most pious amongst us to let out choice expletives at the driver. If you ride along routes with heavy matatu and mini bus presence, be patient and friendly. Insulting a matatu driver could land you in casualty.

I met a European guy at a bike repair shop who had been a cyclists in Nairobi for about six months. He had recently been hospitalized for a broken rib after being involved in a bike crash… He did not want to go into the details of the accident with me. Talking to the bike repair mech, who had overheard our conversation,  I found out that the rider had a habit of having altercations with matatu drivers, and got swiped by one.

  • Note the flaws in the paving blocks along the curb, they can be the only thing between saving your life and a crash in case a vehicle is overlapping on the wrong side as another comes up behind you. A simple thing such as an inadvertent gap is sufficient to keep you moving as you escape, try try not to stop. Now that Nairobi is getting a road networks facelift, I am going to miss the flaws in the paving that have been very convenient so far.
  • Look back over your right shoulder from time to time to see what’s happening behind you. It takes a bit of practice to stay your course while glancing over your shoulder.

In case of an accident: The bicycle has no clearly demarcated place on Kenyan roads (with the exception of Thika Road, at the time of writing this), you make your place by being respectful and mindful of other road users, being predictable (hand signals) and wearing clothing that keeps you visible as you go.

  • In the event of a crash, depending on how alert and injured you are, you are likely to be robbed of your possessions including your bike. always have your identity document preferably in a pocket in your clothing.
  • Your bike may not be insured, make sure you have an idea of how much it would take to replace it.

Update  July 2013: In Australia, the Victoria authorities introduced a new guide for road sharing, it can work here too.

~ __0 _-\<,_ (*)/ (*)  Enjoy the ride!!  ❤ Cycling! ❤ Nairobi! and beyond!

CyclableWalkable…Nairobi not so bad

15 Jan

So last week there was all this hooha about an article that outlined, albeit shallowly, that “Nairobi is the 2nd Worst City To Live In Globally”. I followed the tweets under the theme #whynairobiwasranked2nd and found most dismissed the article as propaganda, while many others pointed out in jest, the quirks about the city and its inhabitants that could have been responsible for Nairobi ranking so low. Few if any suggested how to improve on what was wrong, content  instead, to tweet about being stuck in traffic jams and others having a field day on one-time public transport commuting, simply for fun.

Based on most commentaries on social media on this topic, the point missed was the difference between Standard Of Living Vs. Quality Of Life; as the article states “Standard of living is somewhat of a flawed indicator”, and the latter is more subjective and intangible, with a combination of the two contributing to a measure for well-being.

I would like to see a debate on the status of Nairobi residents’ well-being instead of simply dismissing articles such us these as propaganda. For instance, I will be well at ease knowing that in the event that a matatu (public transport vehicle) swipes me, I won’t die a Jane Doe at Kenyatta National Hospital Casualty.

From a Nairobi commuter cyclist point of view and a quality of life perspective, Nairobi is great! I picked a few from the list that I think apply to my cycling lifestyle:

  • freedom from slavery and torture

Nobody has stopped me from cycling. Most of my relatives and friends got over the initial shock and now just watch me pedal off, one aunt even refers to me as “The Special One”. The only torture I get is the rough, patchy, shoddy tarmac road surface in most of Nairobi, even on State House Avenue. Some rough sidewalks make for a smoother commute – the State House avenue sidewalk (closest to statehouse and the Deputy Vice President’s residence) is particularly smooth and well kept, thanks to the ladies who sweep away fallen leaves every morning. I used to complain about the curbside debris, but have learned to appreciate the smooth ride it provides especially in wet conditions. I am a total slave to cycling!

  • equal protection of the law

There are no laws or rights for cyclists in Nairobi, except that city by-law that prohibits “propelling on the pedestrian foot paths”. That’s easy to keep to, especially since most pedestrians occupy the tarmac to avoid the dusty/muddy unkempt sidewalks in Nairobi anyway.

  • freedom from discrimination

I get equal opportunity alongside the motor cycle guys at the sole bicycle parking in the Nairobi Central Business District.They heckle me sometimes and one of them has taken particular interest… I think we are “seeing each other” but I am unaware… If it’s full, mainly with motor bikes, I hook it up to the pavement barriers. With motorists, I get privileges (maybe because I am a girl), as they idle in traffic and notice me coming up on the left along the curb, they create room for me to get through. No road rage in Nairobi towards cyclists at all. Now imagine if the equal opportunity was extended to include bike lanes?!!

  • freedom of movement

Need I get into this one?

I never get caught up in traffic, I mean ever. Unless the Big Men are passing through in their sleek black motorcades. They should use the unfinished bypasses, maybe they will be completed faster. In Nairobi, the cyclist negotiates with motorists for room, it’s a boon to the cyclist when traffic is at a standstill.

The bicycle itself is a symbol of freedom; you control how far you go and how fast. You own your destiny. I enjoy all this amidst a raging debate on women under siege in India, Cairo, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and right here in Kenya… I cannot be more thankful for being born in Nairobi and being free to cycle through a city that does not frown upon the freedom of women, getting instead high-fives from the newspaper vendors, the bus conductors, the gate keepers who want to test ride my bike. Can you imagine being snatched off your bike by gang rapists?

  • presumption of innocence unless proved guilty

No I did not run the red light… OK well, I did. In Nairobi the cyclist is always presumed not guilty for trying to stay ahead of the traffic to stay alive. When traffic stops the cyclist does not; you weave between the cars, avoiding side mirrors and hoping passengers won’t door you as they alight in traffic. The cops at the traffic lights don’t know whether to stop me or not. I have to move faster than the slowest car when the traffic lights go green, as a result I have built so much quadriceps-power in such a short time, those Thogoto Hills will see me again soon, ngoja. A German pal, and a daily cyclist back home, had a hard time keeping up with me here in Nairobi, I had not realized how much stamina I have built over the past year and a couple of months trying to outpace motorists.

  • right to be treated equally without regard to gender, race, language, religion, political beliefs, nationality, socioeconomic status and more

Cycling has no race, no gender, language (is the dinky bell), no religion, no political affiliation, or nationality … save for a few folks howling “Jambo!” (the Mzungu tourist greeting) and some street kids calling me Mzungu (white person), I am Black by the way.  I suppose these reactions suggest that only a crazy Mzungu would cycle in Nairobi. The rest watch me through their tinted windows, from the buses or matatus in the Nairobi traffic gridlock thinking I must be poor because I don’t drive a Vitz instead – that covers socioeconomic status.

The bicycle in Nairobi, well in Kenya really, is associated with low-income earners; the bread delivery guy, the watchman, the milk delivery guy, the newspaper vendor. This, despite the fact that few watchmen can actually afford the Blackie (common single speed).

  • freedom of thought

I am writing this and you are reading it…

  • free choice of employment

I cycled to a job interview once, and got to the final two in the interviewees listing simply because I stated that I cycle to the first interview panel. Turns out the job would be an out of country job in a multi-island African nation, where on some islands cycling is the best way to get around. I took the other job, it’s great to keep cycling in Nairobi.

  • right to fair pay and equal pay for equal work

My current employer does not pay me any less than agreed because I cycle to work. In fact, I get access to a fuel card for when I need to drive as part of the job perks. Being a cyclist, nowadays I get sick less which means I am nearly 100% available to my employer.

****

The point is, though it’s crazy cycling in this city, certain things that would be seen as peeves are a blessing to me. It would improve mine and other Nairobians quality of life if we had more and better options for transportation. Heck, even the pedestrian, the lowest on the traffic strata in Nairobi – either by choice or circumstance – has no footing.

I will be well at ease when Nairobi is a Walkable and Cyclable city … Someday soon.

Update January 14, 2014 : Nairobi Is No. 3 Best City To Live in Africa-Forbes Ranking

~ __0
_-\<,_
(*)/ (*)  Enjoy the ride!!  ❤ Cycling! ❤ Nairobi! and beyond!

“BackItUp and ParkElsewhere!”

4 Oct

I find it interesting that twelve months into my commuter-cycling in Nairobi, I still get warnings like these, mostly from security guards:

“Usi-park hapo, Kanjo wataibeba” (Don’t park there, the City Council officers will confiscate it)

or

“Park pale kwa piki piki, hapo itabebwa” (Park near the motor cycles, if you leave it  there it will be confiscated)

I wonder about them Kanjos. With only one designated bicycle parking spot in CBD, why begrudge me my bike security ingenuity when I hook it up to a pavement rail or a post? Especially since I occupy very little space that THEY don’t have!!

In the latter situation, the motor bikes simply stand in an empty parking space with no railing in sight to secure a bicycle! I touched on this topic earlier in my blog. In the former, perhaps they are warning me of their own ill motives.

These days I am impervious to the threats disguised as cautionary advice, I simply shrug or pretend I have not heard. Sometimes, I just smile knowingly and proceed to chain my bike on whatever permanent-looking, preferably metal pole, post or railing. I once chained it to a giant padlock hanging from a collapsible grill door on Biashara Street, even though the watchman at the door said that the Asian lady shop owner would be trouble. She turned out to be congenial, wanting to know how far I cycle.

City Hall is proposing new time based parking fees in Nairobi, I wonder if there will be a commensurate proposal to enable city commuters more options for travel, including cycling, which would require the least space for parking and be able to accommodate several bikes in a small spot. The simplest and cheapest is bike parking based on this model.

Currently, the city has no shortage of posts seeing as headless, former parking meter posts remain standing along the Nairobi pavements, that can easily be converted into bike parking hoops. With the addition of pavement trees, these poles are a nuisance to the ever-increasing pedestrian traffic in the Nairobi Central Business District; you often have to dodge a tree and then a headless post as you get around the CBD, avoiding to step up onto the protective blocks around the base of the pavement trees, lest you get arrested by a council officer. They serve no purpose at all! Let’s face it, we are not as privileged as these guys, so it would be great for The City to give incentive to new buildings coming up that have parking levels built-in; make it better for the residents of Nairobi, not worse, in the interim.

The headless former parking meter poles.

With bike parking, just as with car parking, the owner would want to park nearest to their destination, if not right outside or within the building they are visiting or working in. However, bike parking is more versatile and occupies less space than car parking. For instance, in a space that can park a single car, you can park eight to twelve bikes!

Smart, sustainable cities of the future have a policy for bike parking and bike transport.

The various types of bike racks can also serve as new revenue earners for the city and like I stated, by converting the existing parking meter posts, bicycle parking need not occupy much space. This one is a cute work of art that will look good even after the bikes are all removed.

Now, Nairobi does not have crazy bike theft statistics as some cities around the world do judging from this article and this one  that gives tips on how to avoid bike theft in a city that has a huge cycle-commute culture. That does not mean there is no bike theft. Most modern bikes come with quick release wheels; the rear wheel is sometimes a fixed wheel. To ensure you find your bike where you left it, secure it correctly, preferably with two U-locks, on whatever permanent spot you can find – avoid the dustbins as that could really land you in trouble with Kanjo (City Council officers).

In Pictures:

About to use the metal frame of security doors outside a shop on Koinange Street

Fortunately, most malls in Nairobi are ahead of the pack in factoring in bike parking for customers:

In Pictures:

A bunch of Black Mamba fixed gear bikes parked at the basement bike racks at Westgate Mall, Westlands.

 

This set up wastes space but is nonetheless provided at Junction Mall on Ngong Road. The rail is solidly set up to prevent cars crashing the bikes. I suspect it was an after thought as a large “Zambarau” tree prevented turning it into a car parking spot.

The bike racks at the basement parking of Prestige Mall on Ngong Road. These are also not a great use of space, but they allow you to lock the bike in multiple ways, which is great.

It made more sense to occupy a parking spot at Green House on Ngong Road, where it could be secured to the railing, than to just stand the bike with the motorcycles in the corner.

A Blackie fixed gear bike on Tabman Road chained to a shut collapsible security grill.

Bikes chained to the railing at parking spots Magua Center. The motorist folks here are congenial and if they find a bike already parked they leave room.

Some spots the City Fathers could consider setting up bike racks. This will be updated as Shecyclesnairobi identifies new spots:

In Pictures:

Extended pavement on the corner of Moktar Dada Street/ Moi Avenue is ideal.

That spot next to the trash bin across the road is great for say two or three racks.

This island at the top of Kimathi Street near the Jamia Mosque has lots of poorly used space; a sign post, a lottery/sweepstake booth, a planter, a public bench… If rearranged it can accommodate all these and at least 5 bike racks.

This spot is just outside the CFC Stanbic Bank on the corner of Kimathi Street/ Kenyatta Avenue. The curve enclosed by the pavement railing creates a dead zone that is hardly used even by pedestrians.

The ample space beneath the obelisk on Kenyatta Avenue near ICEA Building is a good spot for say, 4 bike racks.

Along Kenyatta Avenue, the little island with the yellow curb at the traffic/pedestrian crossing is ideal for say, 3-4 bike racks

…and this one also on Kenyatta Avenue opposite Housing Finance House.

This one is by far  one of the most ample  and strategically located (on the most accommodative street in Nairobi) on Koinange Street. It’s location on a non crossing zone for pedestrians reduces likely hood of interfering with pedestrian traffic. It can host up to 10 bike racks, and  will enable cyclists hop on and off the pavement as they leave on join the Koinange Street traffic onto Kenyatta Avenue.

The best for last:

The large Island opposite the Hilton Hotel and The KenCom bustop is the most poorly utilised space in CBD Nairobi…

The large Island opposite the Hilton Hotel and The KenCom bustop: Pedestrians prefer to walk alongside it instead of across it with all the security measures that the Hilton has put in place hindering human traffic.

The large Island opposite the Hilton Hotel and The KenCom bus stop: The space is enclosed by the pavement railing to prevent dangerous crossing by pedestrian, but instead it has been rendered a dead zone. I see opportunity to park 100 bikes here between the planters and along the railing, probably at a fee!

The back ways and alleys off Biashara Street and Tabman Road are urinals. Adding a bike parking rail along one wall would change that…

The photos in this post are taken using a Blackberry 9220.

~ __0
_-\<,_
(*)/ (*)  Happy cycling in Nairobi!!  ❤ Cycling! ❤ Nairobi! and beyond!

SheCyclesInStyle: Handbags VS Backpacks

27 Sep

On weekends I use back packs, that, I have to admit are more practical for longer rides and carrying purchases when making a super market stop over. But the sweat patch in the Dec-March heat is unsightly when you arrive at your destination. I have a collection of three packs; Small, smaller smallest.

The assortment of back packs that just won’t cut it in this heat of Nairobi. Also they don’t transition well into the work place… I am tired of being the “weird bike chick” who lags a back pack even in exec dress.

At this point I should mention that I don’t wear specialized cycling clothes, just regular cotton tees and pants rolled up or long regular shorts. When I started cycling to and from work, I discovered that my choice of handbags was narrow in relation to my new lifestyle. All my handbags were short-strapped and best hand-held or carried in the crook of my arm 50s style. Note that though comfy to carry when riding, back packs, if not properly weighted can be a danger.

So I went out looking and paid a local wardrobe stockist called Closet 49 on Ngong Road, Nairobi a visit and found some cool bag options for female cyclists.

In pictures (Closet 49):

Closet 49: This one’s good for quick runs that don’t require a change of clothes.

Closet 49: Lovely leather trimmed vintage, good for non-clothes changing trip. Although a more sporty look is best.

Closet 49: This one can take an iPad, phone some cash… again to a destination that won’t need you to change clothes.

Closet 49: Now this one is a carry all. The trouble with it is the shape. Not ideal for when you hop off and onto the saddle at traffic stops. Especially when loaded, even with the long adjustable strap.

I should go back there see if they have any cycle-friendly handbags now.

My sister happened to have a lovely cross-body messenger-style handbag, with a long adjustable strap, that could carry all – a pair of heels to change, my wash cloth, a fresh top or dress, moisturiser, deodorant and basic make-up… I quickly appropriated it.

After a couple of months of using it daily use, the poor pleather (fake leather) bag became visibly worn, especially along the strap where the buckle grazed along during the multiple adjustments. I got a great leather bag maker to take the good parts and refurbish it in leather; he recycled the zips, the buckle, and the great lining onto new leather.

While he worked on the new bag, I got a rear carrier installed so that I could strap down my hand-held bags with a piece of car tire inner tube (bladder). It worked, but the vulnerability I felt, knowing all my valuables were in the bag behind me left me an easy, and unable to concentrate on cycling safely. I kept glancing over behind me to see if it was still secured, which is bad especially in slow traffic in case a pedestrian crosses between the cars, or the car in front suddenly stops.

Now, all girls reading this know that your handbag is only “safe” (relatively so) when it is next to your body, preferably hooked over your shoulder and tightly clutched by the strap in one hand.

I dug into my travel bag & suitcase, that are in storage, and found my passport holder that hangs from an adjustable strap. For sometime, this worked well as it could hold my phone, money, and bank cards while my bag was strapped to the rear carrier holding less valuable stuff. On weekend riding trips I hooked the camera case to the passport holder strap for easy and quick access when taking photos as I cycled.

Until…

One early morning, on my commute to work, the long-suffering passport holder strap gave way as I cycled between cars in traffic along the highway, making my way to the head of the traffic at a roundabout between the left and the second from left lanes. I watched it slip over the crossbar, tangle briefly on the pedal arm and crush onto the tarmac in what seemed like in slow motion. The traffic cop had just let the traffic on my side of the roundabout through. It had dropped just past the broken line and I hoped the motorists behind me were not changing lanes.

I glanced back in panic. The traffic cop saw my hesitation and yelled, “Proceed!” The driver to my left had seen what had happened and looked out his window waving at me frantically, probably thinking I was unaware. I quickly cut in front of the slow-to-take-off trailer on the left lane and hopped onto the pedestrian walk at the traffic lights. Watching to see if my phone in the passport holder would be crashed.

After what seemed like an eternity the traffic cop stopped the flow of traffic and I dashed in to pick it up. Inside the phone was crashed to near-pulp. The plastic all cracked and stuck together.

So much for keeping my valuables safe eh? Got this BlackBerry Curve 9320, it takes great photos so I no longer need the little point and shoot camera. Depending on the distance and what I am going to do at the destination,  my new bag (below) holds my phone, a change of clothes (bottoms, jacket and tee or a dress and jacket), some fresh undies, a wash cloth, a pair of flats, basic make-up and my net book + charger.

Other bags that have come in handy are those small purses that come with a very long strap, sometimes with a strong chain interwoven with the fake leather. I use one of those on days that I am wearing shoes that work for work and for cycling, on cute-flats-day, as I won’t need to carry a change of shoes. I am slowly collecting those in different colours and shapes.

If your bag strap is adjustable, adjust it to the last buckle hole so that it’s close to your body and does not touch your lower body. If it’s a small cross-body purse without the adjustment option, tie a knot at the top of the strap to a length that suits you. This works best with the bags that have a chain interwoven with the strap as they bounce back to normal when you untie the knot.

In the cool of June and July the back pack is tolerable. It gets less hot and sweaty on your back, and you can carry everything without worrying too much. Only trouble is the cyclist reflector body cross won’t fit over the back pack, you may have to wear the sleeveless reflector jacket instead which goes over your back and back pack, keeping you visible to motorists.

Some inspiration from far, far away:

I would love to get one of these. Works well and is waterproof. This blog has some interesting shots of how women on bikes handle their handbags. These guys thought like a thousand women on bikes to create this bag. But these ones are after my own heart with women’s leather bike hand bags wow!!

With this design below, the closer to your upper body the bag is, the more comfortable you will be while riding. It’s better than risking having it snatched off your rear carrier.

The build of the new bag (below) with an adjustable strap allows it to sit on the small of your back while still keeping you cool, unlike the back pack. Being a cross-body style, the weight is distributed diagonally across, and the size limits the amount of stuff you carry to make for a comfortable ride. You must make sure the weight in your back is properly distributed to keep the bag behind you and the strap is adjusted short enough so that it does not bump onto your saddle when you hop off the bike at the traffic stops.

Real Leather: The long strap with lot’s of eyelets makes for ease of adjustment from shoulder bag to cross-body bag. Extra pockets for small items. It can hold my net book, a rain hood, a light change of clothes – usually a fresh tee, undies, pants and a jacket/ a simple dress. Stiff base keeps bag’s form regular and keeps stuff from shifting inside.

Happy cycling in Nairobi!!  ❤ Cycling! ❤ Nairobi!

GreatForSocializing

19 Sep

I got into cycling, because of the guys I work with. Initially I found it odd that they use bicycles to commute. Especially in this city, where drivers are mad, not to mention the erratic matatu drivers. But after sometime, I began to think it was cool. While I was walking to the bus stop to pick a mat (public transport vehicle), these guys would just whoosh-by on their way home, and would definitely get there before I did.

It’s how I commute now. It’s such fun. Once you get the bug, you just want to do more of it. Over the weekends I try to do a long ride to the outskirts of the city. I love these rides –  the fresh air, scenic roads, and sparse traffic and you can go really fast – get to use the hard gears.

There’s this cycling norm, where you all say “Hi” to each other, and if you are going the same way, you pace one another – this really helps if the route has a lot of climbs. Cyclists are friendly, never met one who wasn’t. Through these interactions, your skill improves, you discover new routes, and in this sense your world broadens just a little, every time. Lovely bicycle has a different take on socializing on a bike and the pace as she tries to keep the bunch, while CYCLISMESPANDELLES, in a few words, admits to being an anti-social cyclist.
Came across this awesome video, a positive manifesto on living based on cycling.
Happy Cycling in Nairobi and beyond! ❤ Nairobi! ❤ Cycling! HugACyclist!

TheNBOHills: ValleyRoad

29 Aug

One important thing I did not give much thought to, and no one mentioned to me before I started cycle-commuting, is the hills of Nairobi. I am talking the areas of Nairobi within a 5-10 kilometre radius of Nairobi Central Business District, which form part of my daily commute. As a motorist you hardly notice the inclines, as a pedestrian working in CBD Nairobi, at the end of a long work day, it’s the first of arduous tasks before you can lay your tired head down.

I took Valley Road numerous times when going to school as a child; often down-hill very fast as my dad drove like mad when we missed the JIMCY school bus, or uphill onto Valley Road in the old JIMCY school bus from Uhuru Highway.

Valley Road’s steep gradient is best experienced on a bike; the painful uphill and the gleeful downhill, hugging the curb along the white line WEEEEEEEEEEE!!! Cars and 24 or 62-seater buses zip past at crazy speeds, even on the curve at the Milimani Road Junction. Watch out for the deeply set random manholes on Valley Road!!

Something about this road says ROAD RESERVE STOLEN!!! The walls and gates are flash right against the road you wonder how those who live or work in those compounds access safely, especially on the descent side of the road, and more so at night.

So, when my pal who is recovering from surgery and cannot wait to ride again told me she is excited to be getting a single speed Dutch bike  brought in to commute in Nairobi, I quickly burst her bubble by counting out  the climbs in Nairobi. Dutch country is mainly flat, so single speed riding is a breeze. Not so in Nairobi, you just need to check out the Black Mamba riders pushing their fixed gear bikes uphill even in sections that look flattish to get what I mean.

In Pictures:

The roundabout at the top of Valley road near the Silver Springs Hotel.

Entering Valley Rod from the top.

The puddles on the side-walk are a result of buses creating a non-existent bus stop at the top of Valley Road.

Scary big hole along the curb along DOD fence… On-going construction.

….eeeeeeee! There’s a the official bus stop just under the pedestrian fly over. It can be a dangerous spot considering the downhill speeds. A few reckless drivers come out of Ralph Bunche Rd on the left to join Valley Road. ….eeeeeeeeeeeeee!!

….eeeeeeee!!! The manhole covers are a menace. This one is flat  set, so no problem here.

Ack! another blocked drainage manhole… This one needs one of those fibre glass covers.

Had to swerve closer to the curb to miss this one… tire shredder!!!

The final descent… phew! a flat-set manhole cover.

It flattens out approaching the Processional Way exit from main road.

Slow down as the buses change lanes approaching the GPO Roundabout. Notice the leaning guard rails on the left. Watch out for the mini bus side mirror!

It can get really tight. Slow down and stay left as close to the curb as possible, between the car in front and the one the one behind you.

This last picture was the scene that was nearly the death of me in Live To Die Another Day.

Happy Cycling in Nairobi and beyond! ❤ Nairobi! ❤ Cycling!

Image

Nairobi Cyclathon 2012!!

14 Aug

Join in to make Nairobi a cycle friendly city… Some day! ❤NBO❤

Statement from organizer:

Innovent Africa Limited (IAL) is an organization dedicated to developing creative and exciting ways to engage our population in becoming environmentally conscious. We aim to provide new avenues to our demographic while encouraging them to play an active role in climate issues. Our Inspiration is a quote by US President Barack Obama on rebuilding our world:

“The Critical Truth is, the Nation that leads in the creation of a clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the 21st Century’s global economy.”

Even though our continent is the lowest contributor of substances that are causing a shift in climate, we are the most affected by these changes. IAL’s Eco-Green planned initiatives revolve around:

  • Creating a new platform to inspire new green conversations
  • Investing in green socio-economic projects
  • Communicating green living options, green values and green inspiration
  • Inspiring Africa’s youth and young adults to play an active role in environmental conservation
  • Informing without causing paranoia or fanatical behaviour
  • Providing Eco-Green impact for Kenya and Africa

THE EVENT

The Nairobi Cyclathon 2012 is a road race around the state house/ UON made up of a 3 lap, 9 km circuit, and a chance for you, your team and your family to push yourselves to the limit in this exhilarating experience.

The participants will be from 3 categories:

Category Description
Senior Elite Over 18 and competing for prize money
Junior Elite Under 18 and competing for prize money
Fun Ride Riding for support of the cause

The winners will be from the Junior Elite and Senior Elite, both men and women and will win the following prize money:

Men and Women Senior Elite Junior Elite
1st Place Ksh. 10,000 Ksh. 8,000
2nd Place Ksh. 7,000 Ksh. 6,000
3rd Place Ksh. 5,000 Ksh. 4,000

HOW TO SIGN UP

To sign up for the Nairobi Cyclathon, visit www.innoventafricaltd.com and complete the form on the website.

Follow up with Mpesa payment to 0723 807 511 or 0720 322 840 based on the category you selected:

Category Entry Fee Description
Senior Elite Ksh. 2,000 Over 18 and competing for prize money
Junior Elite Ksh. 2,000 Under 18 and competing for prize money
Fun Ride Ksh. 1,300 Riding for support of the cause

Follow up with a confirmation text with your active email and names of the persons you have made payment for and category.

Proof of age will be required by showing a copy of your birth certificate, passport or National ID. All participants should complete the consent form and bring with them on race day.

THE ROUTE

The route planned will be a tight 9 km circuit originating at the Kenya Urban Roads Authority – Children’s Traffic Park around the general State House/UON area. Details of this will be given to the participants on the event day, for security and fairness.

“B”ACyclystInGermany

5 Jul

One of our Nairobi commuter-cyclist community members, B, was in Germany and spotted some interesting cycling themes. She tells us that there, cycling is viewed as cool and there is plenty of city support for cycling that is not just paint on tarmac. She too will soon earn her stripes as “wildlife” up from “tourist” with how gutsy she is cycling through cycle-unfriendly Nairobi daily.

She says:

The other day on one of the local Kenyan TV channels there was a feature on commuter cycling in Berlin, Germany. In Berlin alone, cycling accounts for up to 13% of all commuter traffic, with almost 200 kilometres of cycle trail, a bike sharing service and a monumental cycle trail along the infamous former Berlin Wall.

Whereas in Kenya and London it may be odd for a banker to cycle to work, in major German cities it’s perfectly normal says this blog. Like in Nairobi, safe bike parking is a headache in most German cities. Whole families can be seen taking leisurely weekend bike tours in the German countryside, and it’s not unusual to see old people in their sixties and seventies pushing along slowly either.

Knowing the rules for cycling in every country helps keep cyclists safe, the rules for Germany are listed here. In Nairobi, I have learned to adapt the driving rules for arm/hand signals; when turning left, I use my right arm to make circles in the air. Just in case drivers do not notice my hand signals I make the hand signals way in advance and repeat while moving. Usually hand signalling is risky in Nairobi, as most Kenyan drivers do not pay heed to cyclists and the roads are not built to accommodate cyclists either.

In Pictures:

Cycling through Berlin. See the bike parking on the right next to the tree?

Bike sharing/hire service in Frankfurt. How it works:

Cycling infrastructure in Frankfurt: It’s serious here, not just paint on tarmac.

Bonn: Oldie MacGoodie bike. Nice bike security infrastructure here too. The one thing I long for in Nairobi if nothing else is secure bike parking. In Nairobi, I sometimes use the pavement barrier grills where they are near a taxi rank and give the taxi drivers a cheerful wave as I walk away. So far it has not been confiscated by the City Council. They are often too busy spotting a car to tow away.

Bon: Two sets of lights (Cyclists STOP!); One for motor traffic and the other for cycle traffic… as well as safe bike parking.!!

Cyclists Stop (see the red light?) Bike lane at a junction in Bon.

If you need to replace a tire tube, there are tire tube vending machines in Bon. Too smart!!

Sign in Bonn: “Cyclists and pedestrians have equal rights” in this zone.

A family cycling through the farms in Geldern.

Bonn: Good for mommy, good for me!! No need for “SlimPossible” for moms wanting to shed the pregnancy weight quickly.

Bonn:Pedestrians have right of way. Cyclists use bicycle lane.

Happy Cycling in Nairobi and beyond! ❤This Planet! ❤ Nairobi! ❤ Cycling!

SheFallsOff…

5 Jun

There are loads of reasons to pick up cycling, but the one that’s had a most profound effect on me has been ‘loosing shame’, from the numerous times I’ve fallen off the bike.

 Being a cyclist who wears protective gear draws some attention, and being a chic draws more. You become a sort of spectacle not to mention target of lewd commentaries, occasionally. I’m one of those introverted types – just want to stay below the radar and avoid drawing too much attention. So cycling was extremely uncomfortable, though the freedom of movement outweighed the discomfort.
The unease I had, reduced greatly every time I fell. The first time I fell, was during my first week as a cyclist, and it happened smack in the middle of the road, in front of a matatu (Public Service transport Vehicle). Some guys came out to find out if I was okay. Others came rushing from across the road. I was not hurt. It was just so embarrassing. I felt ashamed to have worried these good people, when it was just a silly fall. Got back on the bike, all dirty, and rode home. Bike Snob NYC, light-heartedly tells us how to take it with a pinch of salt while VeloGirls give a more technical approach to it.
Thereafter I tried really hard to avoid falling. Which is unavoidable really, it’s kinda like ‘it comes with cycling’, and these tips for falling like a pro can come in handy. Kenyan drivers do not see cyclists, and a passenger can open the door of a moving car to get off, right in the middle of slow traffic!!
The next time I fell, I was less embarrassed. The last time I fell, last month, the shame aspect was pretty much non-existent. When this fear of embarrassing yourself dies, you find that you become more confident. You can push the boundaries, you get to know your limits: how fast/far you can go, which spaces are too small to maneuver through, which climbs are falsely steep, and which flats are unrelenting ascends.
This pushing boundaries has had a profound effect on my work and personal life. After the bangs and scrapes, I find that I take more risks. Because in pushing the boundaries, do you know what lies beyond?. As a result, one grows and has more experience avenues to draw from, which comes in handy while making decisions.
I suppose, accepting that falling happens, and of those times, you got up and going again, slowly becomes ingrained in your psyche. Ultimately changing who you are, such that, the things you want to be/do, become things you can try to do, without the shame of failure seeming so contemptible, that it holds you back from making any attempts.
Author: FindingCalm

Happy Cycling in Nairobi and beyond! ❤ Nairobi! ❤ Cycling!

CyclistsByTheSea: Malindi – Mombasa

9 May

Malindi is a relatively small, sleepy, slow town northwest of Mombasa Town along the Kenyan coast. The roads are narrow. The general culture of courtesy among the dwellers allows room for cyclists to go about without fear or incident.

It’s surprising the number of cyclists we saw in Malindi. I suppose I was fooled into thinking that Malindi is a lot like Mombasa where the most common mode of short distance travel is the three-wheeled motorcycle taxi, called a Tuk Tuk.

Unlike in Nairobi, I rarely saw the fixed gear Black Mamba, and nearly every cyclist had a mountain bike.

In pictures:

Motorcycle taxis by the roadside at a small shopping centre.

A Tuk Tuk ahead…

Cycling the wrong way on off the tarmac.

Cycling off the tarmac.

A mosque under construction. The Islamic influence is visible along the coast of Kenya since the landing of the Arabs in the 16th Century AD.

 

Three on a motorcycle taxi, helmetless and moving at over 80 km/hour. We were at 80 Km/hr in a car, and they overtook us. Yikes!!!

A partially built home on the road side.

Cycling on a flat tire…

The smaller streets in Malindi are concrete block paved and rather narrow so that only one car going one way and a cyclist or motorcyclist can fit side by side. The side walks are also quite vibrant with cane juice sellers and food sellers in the evenings.

Narrow street in Malindi.

In Mombasa, there were some mountain bikes but the Black Mamba fixed gear bike is king. Here the “Blackie” is out to some heavy-duty use due to its sturdy build. Along the narrow streets of Old Town Mombasa, only one car at a time can access, with pedestrians taking up the street as the pavements are overrun with food and other wares on sale.

In pictures:

Approaching Nyali Bridge.

I wonder how far he had come and how far he had to go…

The popular Tuk Tuk taxi are more so in Mombasa..

Old Town street, Mombasa…One car at a time please…

Old Town… This one is slightly wider and can accommodate a parked car as we go past. Tuk Tuks navigate easily.

Grand, old and dignified_The Baobab, the tree of life. Lot’s of these dotted the country side as we got onto the open road, Mombasa-Nairobi highway.

Oh Look! A she Cyclist in Voi!!!

Two Cyclists and a trach in Makindu…Yikes!!

To and from Mombasa, we stopped at the Sikh temple in Makindu to fill our stomachs for free!! Yep free. We made our donations at the alms box though.

Happy Cycling in Nairobi and beyond! ❤ Nairobi! ❤ Cycling!