Tag Archives: amateur cyclist

“I Am Afraid I Left My Bomb At Home Today”

25 Sep

Never thought I would be writing a post about bombs and cycling in Nairobi. If you have followed this blog, you know I like to show folks who want to cycle, how “easy” and “safe” it is to just get on with it.

I work in the larger vicinity of the Westgate Mall and cycle by once a month to pick items that I cannot find at the other supermarkets, from Nakumatt Westgate. This mall is also one of the few establishments that has (well, had) a secure bicycle parking, and I mentioned their parking in an earlier post. Before you get to Westgate Mall coming in from Waiyaki Way, there are two other options for shopping at the inter section of Waiyaki Way and Chiromo Road – Naivas Supermarket and Uchumi Supermarket – both located smack in the hubbub of Westlands roundabout area, but both without bike parking. There is also the Uchumi Supermarket at Sarit Centre, where ornate bike racks are provided, but no Nakumatt Supermarket :/

Pedalling up the little climb to the parking ticket stand and barrier, as fast as I can to clear it to the top and scoot around the metal bar, the all-male security guards always shout cheerfully for me to stop for the mandatory security check. They fumble not knowing how to handle me – female, bulging cross-body bag and all – men in this city have a healthy fear of women’s handbags. On several occasions I have jokingly said to  them,  “Oh, I am afraid I left my bomb at home today” or “I think I left my bomb at home,” “Ahhh, leo nimeacha bomb nyumbani,” as I pretend to grudgingly open my bag for one of them to take a quick peek and find no bomb, of course. Not much of a check up. Sometimes they stop me as an excuse to chat me up, asking me how far I cycle and how far I am going, or why I haven’t got a carrier seat in back for a passenger.

On Monday, as the images and videos of the Mall attack were aired, I found myself squinting hard to see if I could spot any of the charming, all male security guards at the car parking entrance. Had any of them survived? Had I “attracted” this misfortune to Westgate Mall with my loose remarks about bombs?

I suppose there is so much more danger I face daily as a commuter cyclist in a cycling-unfriendly city, that bombs are the least of my worries. So much so that I can mention them in jest. I am so so so sorry.

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

A pair of  trusty ‘Black Mamba’ / ‘Blacke’ fixed gear bikes parked at the basement bike racks at Westgate Mall, Westlands. Where are their owners after the attack on Westgate Mall?

Nairobi-20120907-00283

The well thought out and designed bike stand (pictured above), that can take up to five bikes, is in the basement parking to the immediate left of the entrance, by the stair well entrance. Every single time I have been there, there are at least three other bikes parked; nothing fancy, just a pair of the popular ‘Black Mamba’ and a Dutch-style, well-used, single-speed, complete with a carrier and bungee, rear blinky light and numerous reflectors. The owners park the bikes respectfully, leaving the nearest spot empty for anyone else who may not stay long. I never spend more that 30 minutes in the supermarket being a thrifty shopper… and I cannot carry much by bike.

On Monday, as the images and videos of the Mall attack were aired, I wondered if the owners of these three bikes survived?

Some of them may belong to the security guards at the entrance. The ‘Blackie’ is a strong symbol of poor man’s mobility in Nairobi, second to walking. While the world and Kenyans focused on the wealth and opulence the edifice that is Westgate Mall represents, these bikes stood in the dark corner out of sight, like their socially invisible owners.

On Monday, as the images and video footage of the Mall attack were beamed across the world, I had a poignant feeling that those bikes will never again be powered up the hills of Nairobi from home to work and back.

As I prepare to leave the basement on my bicycle, I ride around to the left side and onto the middle track facing the exit to gain enough momentum to clear the climb out of the basement parking. Flipping the mountain bike gears quickly to ease the pedalling. Whizzing past the security check again, this time without much fun fair, the smartly dressed guards wave and call out their fare wells.

On Monday, as the images and video footage of the Westgate Mall attack were aired, and the roof collapsed, I knew I will never hear those cheers again.

May the wind be on your back all the way to the other side   😦

Update: All the security guards survived except one.

iLearnToCycle by FindingCalm

29 May

FindingCalm was inspired by her workmates who cycled daily to and from work. She got a bike and literary taught herself how to ride, with help from said workmates. Her tips

 

Learning how to cycle when you are an adult is not difficult. There’s the frustration of not having learnt how when you were a child and the general shock from peers of your having missed out on a ‘childhood rite-of-passage’. However, learning how to cycle is easy regardless of age. All you need is patience; and if you can manage it, a fun attitude.

 

If you are fortunate as I was, you’ll have all your buddies offering to teach you. It was sweet, but they all had different approaches to how I should go about starting, and in the end, I chose to try and teach myself. It is possible to teach yourself how to cycle in under an hour.

You need to have a bicycle suitable to your height, and a bicycle helmet.

 

If you have to struggle to get on the bicycle, then it’s too big for you. It should also not be too low that you have to bend over; this will strain your back. A bicycle that you can sit on with your feet firmly planted on the ground is the ideal fit. It often is necessary, to completely lower the bicycle seat. The more comfortable you are, the better your experience and confidence. It makes you calm when you don’t have to worry about falling over.

 

The first cycling skill to learn is steering, i.e. being able to steer the bicycle along a straight line. A location with a smooth and very gentle slope is best.  The idea of finding a gentle slope is so that you will not have to propel yourself forward and instead roll down gently.

 

To start, go to the top of the top of the gentle slope, hold the bicycle brakes, sit comfortably on the bicycle, and then when you are ready, gently let go of the brakes, raise both your feet off the ground (do not peddle, just keep your feet raised above ground), and gently coast down the slope. At the end of the slope, get off the bicycle, push the bicycle back up the slope, and do it again, until you are confident that you have mastered steering the bicycle in a straight line.

 

I repeated this up to 20 times. It’s just one of those things, when you have no experience, it seems daunting, but with experience, it becomes darn easy. You’ll notice that you tend to steer towards where you are looking. So focus on what’s ahead of you to quickly get a hang of steering on a straight line.

 

When you are comfortable that you have the steering down, you can move onto peddling. Before you attempt peddling, if your bicycle has gears, adjust the gears to the lower gears (i.e. the front gear should be at 1, the back gear should be at 4 or lower). Go back up to the top of the slope, and this time, instead of coasting down the slope, try peddling down the slope, gently.

 

Your peddling should be smooth and gentle. Don’t be forceful. Breathe in, relax, and gently peddle.

 

Repeat this, until you are comfortably steering and peddling. W hen you are confident that you have reasonably mastered steering and peddling, you can then try cycling on a flat surface.

 

The more time you spend cycling, the more your confidence will grow and so will your cycling skill.

 

Cycling is such fun, and is a fun way to enjoy the “great outdoors”. Cycling opens up new opportunities, not only in fitness, but in learning about yourself. It tests your boundaries, and builds courage in facing your fears, so you also grow as a person.

This video demonstrates how an adult learns to cycle.

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!

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!

HighwayToCyclistHeaven…Almost

10 Apr

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!

Lions and ❁SheCyclists❁

27 Mar

Spare moments in February were spent scouting for a central spot that the ladies could meet without much hustle. The Sunken Car Park in the Central Business District of Nairobi seemed like a nice enough spot. I had initially considered the Nyayo Stadium parking lot, but the weekend soccer games schedule would have clashed (probably literally) with our activities. I also considered the Central Park Processional Way and dais area.

This past Sunday I left home for the Sunken Car Park in the centre of Nairobi, not knowing what to expect. I had no confirmations from any of the ladies; the lady security guard was not picking her calls, neither was my potato lady from Wakulima Market (Farmers’ Market) and my stylish used clothes dealer had text messaged saying she had unexpected guests. I will follow up with both of them and show them the other videos of the learners (which I did not post at their request) to psyche them up for the next clinic in April.

On different occasions, I observed how the car park was being utilized by Roller Skating Kenya learners and tutors; the Harambee Avenue corner was used by a crew of in-line skate hockey players; the section close to Kenya Re building was for the little ones learning to skate around obstacles; and the vehicle path was for the pros and advanced learners.

Incidentally, I also skate. However, I would never dream of commuter skating to work. I lack the amount of combined skill, leg power and control required to skate, not to mention the mainly unpaved or dug up paved side walks, no designated “propelling lanes”, and the Nairobi City Council By-laws that prohibit propelling on any foot path.

Roller Skating Kenya have been using this park for more than 6 years every Sunday. I know Mwas, a Kenya Pro Skater and skating team leader. I was sure I could convince him to share the space. He and my pal C pretty much introduced me to skating almost 7 years ago.

After circling the parking area, I settled on the width closest to the Kenya Re building.

My first learner was a young skater. She was a little small for the huge Ironman, but determined to give it a go despite unsuitable foot wear – slip on sandals – on metal mountain bike pedals.

Samson Gichuru arrived on time and gave the ladies some pointers. As I caught up with Samson, my phone rung. It was Juliet letting me know that she had just returned from her ride from Nairobi to Thika, fifty plus kilometres away, and back! She had been inspired by our ❤TheMightyA2 ride. Though she and I have never met, I know that she commutes to and from work daily.

Samson Gichuru ready to roll.

The second learner, Z, was quick off the bat after changing at the nearby Iko Toilet (public toilet). As she worked out how to stay the bike upright and pedal, Kinja and the entire Safari Simbas cycling team from Kikuyu arrived in a blaze of wheels and vivid color. Kinja had mentioned that he was going to come along with the Safari Simbas team from Kikuyu, but I did not believe him until they showed up fully kitted in their cycling glory.

At this point I should mention that we had expected to have four bikes, but ended up with just three; my heavy Ironman and two light racers from the Safari Simbas. My cycle pal with the fourth bike could not make it. The program relies fully on volunteers and their bikes. We hope that as the ladies get confident, they can purchase their own used bikes and we can hold the lessons on rotation in the neighbourhoods where they live. Hopefully, I can convince them to stay on and teach other ladies.

The parking lot circuit was too small for the Safari Simbas fast pace, but I figured a brief display would draw in the crowd of curious people. A quick chat with Mwas, the Roller Skating Kenya team leader, got the Safari Simbas cyclists doing a 20-minute chase-around.

Kinja stood by barking out directions in Kikuyu as usual, and Samson joined the team. The beautiful spectacle the racers created was being undermined speed-wise by the tiny parking circuit. See the video.

As the beautiful Safari Simba’s display ended, my third learner arrived. Once again, both Samson’s and my bike were too big for the  young, confident teen. But she mounted and did her best after I lowered the seat post to the maximum point.

AG, a cyclist and photographer of note, on his way to a photo shoot for a local artiste in the CBD, dropped by to raise morale.

I will keep using the corner of the Sunken Car Park for the rest of the year, to get these four or five women ready to confidently navigate Nairobi on a bike.

The skater guy in this video entertained us by skate-jumping over my Ironman. Impressive! He requested that we bring a bigger bike for him to jump over next time. Funny chap.

In Pictures:

These agile skaters zipped around the parking lot as I waited for the ladies and Samson to arrive.

The Safari Simbas on arrival from Kikuyu to Nairobi city centre.

Safety first. David Kinja in the back (left) chatting up a cycle buddy. Samson in the back (right) giving learning tips to one of our lady learners.

The youngest leaner mounting the old formidable Ironman Triathlon Pro.

The main challenge, as with any propelling sport, was balance. With swimming, you have to learn to stay afloat first, and then propel.  The second challenge is convincing the new rider that the best way to stay upright is to pedal forward (not backwards) as this article has tried to explain, albeit technically.

The youngest learner almost working out the balance part of cycling. Still looking at her feet on the pedals as most first-timers do. Look up and ahead. A young skater in the background.

The determined ladies on the Pro-Lite bikes from the Safari Simbas team. Haya twende!

My intention is to have these ladies navigating Nairobi before Christmas, if they will stay the course. Hope to have more bikes to teach at the April clinic. We may move the clinics to their neighbourhoods once they get their own bikes.

The Safari Simbas get ready for the brief display around the parking lot.

David Kinja (Right) watching the Safari Simbas circling the Parking lot, as the skating tutors set up the obstacles for the tiny skaters. Thank you Roller Skating Kenya for letting us share the parking lot with you.

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

WaterWaterEverywhere _ Murang’a

22 Mar

Many times when you take a trip out-of-town you rarely get the view of the back-end unless you are visiting family in your home village. As a guest in a new town, you will most likely find yourself in the hub or the town centre. Close to the tarmac.

I have driven through Murang’a town a couple of times. This time I got a rare view of the countryside behind the township. This area is not only famous for the mighty Sagana River (Thagana), it is also the birth place of the tough, female Gikuyu colonial chief Wangu wa Makeri.

We crossed a little rope and wood bridge over the Sagana section of Tana River into Murang’a from Kirinyaga on light mountain bikes, hired from Savage Camp. The “Thagana” is the lifeline of this area of Murang’a; fishing, watering fish farms, watering livestock, washing, and water sports.

Just a couple of years ago, there were no farming activities in this particular area of Murang’a, just dust, occasional flash floods as water made its way from the Kiambicho Hills into the Thagana, taking all the rich soil with it and dumping the rest on the foothills.

Now with a community irrigation scheme up and running, families are now growing rice on previously un-farmed land. We cycled past the paddies where they were planting as the piped water from the Thagana lapped gently in a trench on the roadside.

The thirsty and dry countryside, roads covered in loose deep dust that caused the bike tires to lose traction, lie in high contrast to the green paddies. Water well harnessed makes a huge difference.

Today is World Water Day. As a cyclist water is the second most crucial item to have. The first is a bike puncture repair kit; pump, patches, adhesive and a tire lever. Even on a short commute to work. On long rides, a water pack is necessary. However, as K pointed out the other day, with mobile money you can “refuel” anywhere along the way these days.

My birthday falls in mid March. As a child I remember it would always rain or threaten to rain on my birthday. I would pray ( I was a deeply spiritual child and would say several Hail Marys and Our Fathers on the Rosary) that the rain would hold so that I could have the neighbourhood kids over for a floodlight party in the back yard. The last decade or so, no rain has fallen in mid March. The rain falls later, and later in the month. More in April than in March these days.

Since I began cycling, I take water consumption very seriously. Water plays a major role in regulating your body temperature and keeping you energized. Every morning when I wake up between 6:00 and 7 am, I drink at least 1 litre of water before breakfast. On arrival at my destination, I empty half of the one-litre bottle. In between I will take at least another litre.

At the end of the day, I take another two litres before dinner and bed time. It’s great for your skin and flashes out the lactic acid build up after a punishing ride. In the cooler weather I probably will consume half that. These are great tips on how to stay hydrated as a cyclist, especially in the dry heat of December to March, and some  hydration mistakes that cyclists make.

After along ride, I take up three litres in 4 hours, before dinner. Just sip slowly.

The path out of Camp Savage on the banks of the Sagana River (Tana River).

It’s rather dry now in Murang’a. A quaint little church.

The last El Niño rains ate a section of the road leaving this amazing formation.It’s like a mini Grand Canyon (USA).

Alone school girl on the way home. I offered to teach her how to ride. She said she is afraid to fall off.

The dry season. A view of the valley below.

A partially built red soil brick house.

The rice paddies of Murang’a.

The 2 inch deep fine soil made for difficult cycling.

Now if the woman on the left had a bicycle, she wouldn’t have to break her back carrying the firewood. The man was carrying hay in a sack. Hmmm…

The small canal running off water from the paddies.

Motorcyclist and cyclist.

Goats browsing along the road. The soil gets deeper up ahead as we leave this nice hard surface. Had to cycle close to the centre of the road to avoid slipping from loss of traction.

This section was more fine soil. Less deep than before though.

A lone cyclist pushing a fixed gear Black Mamba bike up a gentle climb. It was hot as hells kitchen.

Pushing through a technical section. Did not come up fast enough to take the rocky section. It got worse ahead. Narrow ridges and steep drops.

Battle wounds from Murang’a ride. I attempted a technical section on a bike I had not used before. Grazed my right calf on the crank chain. Ow!

Cycle Smart!

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

*iPant* up Thogoto

21 Mar

It’s easy to blame it on my eighteen-plus-kilogram, Ironman Triathlon Pro with its fixed suspension. The truth is that the Kikuyu-Thogoto climb was a testimony to how far from fit I still am.   Mak10 had said that the route was punishing, I did not take him seriously. Me, of the four-minute Mbagathi Way hill climb fame.

Just as you finished one climb another one came up on the bend.

We met at the usual spot in Westlands at 8 am. Lead by the garrulous, larger-than-life Shariff, we made our way down Peponi Rd to Lower Kabete and on to Gachie, and then up the long climb towards Kikuyu Township. This was the easy part.

Along the way I noticed different members took different roles; Shariff- The Sheriff the no-nonsense team leader, R – Mr. Fix It helped fix punctures quickly; N- The Yoda always hanging back to encourage the slow-mos; K- The Spokesman spoke up to remind us to keep the bunch to get more respect from motorists; Me- The Team doctor with nothing but a jar of  sun-melted Vaseline to  massage the kinks out of the thighs; J and B were the long distance pros on two of the heaviest bikes in the team, a sexy pair of black Travel Masters.

As we turned into long climb up Thogoto, we were joined by David Kinja’s team of DHL Boys in training. Jessie and Chi rode with the slow riders as the older boys went ahead. They said that the Thogoto uphills are amateur climbs for them. They train on the steeper Kiambu road climbs.

Where the tarmac ends at the top of Mangu Road in Thogoto we turned back and were joined by Kinja. He led the DHL boys in an up and down hill training session. Barking out orders in Kikuyu and the boys behind him getting into fluid formation.

Samson Gichuru also turned up and rode a short way with us.

The downhill was less hectic on my gluts. The heavy Ironman between my legs was finally doing what it was built for – downhill. Weeeeeee!

The ride in Pictures:

Meeting the team at Westlands in Nairobi. Shariff briefs us on the route.

Through green leafy Spring Valley. The roads were nice and clear for the Sunday morning ride.

Entering Gachie. The road is two way with little room on the shoulder enough for a cyclist to squeeze in.

Juma on the uphill towards Kikuyu Campus. The road in this section has little anti-skid bumps at intervals but on a busy traffic day the shoulder space is sufficient for a cyclist.

SK and Juma. in Kikuyu town. The road is a little wider with more room on the shoulder for a cyclist and a donkey cart.

Turning uphill into Thogoto. Cyclist pushing his loaded fixed gear Blackie. The entire road climbs up into the highlands,

Bus stop along Mangu Rd. in Thogoto... up, up, we go.

We are joined by the DHL boys on the climb...

We are in Donkey-pulled cart country.

Approaching a road-side goat & doper herder. It's the dry season but the well endowed Kikuyu highlands still still offer some brush for the small flocks of livestock.

On the uphill, a donkey-pulled cart loaded with napier grass and another carrying water in a giant drum. These donkeys are made of tough stuff for this uphill road.

Up, up, up. Just when you are done with one long climb another one shows up around the bend. It helps to look out into the horizon on the climb. Thank god it was a traffic-less Sunday morning. Lovely Kikuyu highlands are still green in the dry season.

This guy, perhaps in his fifties, flew by us on his Blackie with a wide semi-toothless grin.

David Kinja to the rescue to fix J's broken crank chain. Don't you just love his aerodynamic helmet. He looked like a comet riding effortlessly up and down with the DHL boys in an amazing display of colour, speed and team discipline.

A road side bike garage. there were three others along the way. "Sasa fundi!"

The Southern By Pass road is coming up pretty well. This will run from Kikuyu to Mombasa road via Ngong road & Langata road. From what I hear, it's not a busy road and thus not yet secure to use. Kinja's place is up ahead.

An interesting name for a church. Near David Kinja's home.

B's sturdy Travel Master. She and J have done over 2000 Kilometres of travel in Kenya. This bike is one hefty mama. Impressive!

N gets solicited by a Maasai elder selling Maasai wooden clubs. He and J each got one.

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