Tag Archives: Black Mamba

“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?

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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.

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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!

*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!

(✿◠‿◠) SheCyclesNairobi Digs HeCycles

14 Feb

There is a certain magnetic appeal, maybe even an athletic apeal to the guy who whizzes past you on a fixed gear bike (Black Mamba), using nothing but muscle power without the benefit of multiple gears, often having to push his loaded bike uphill and is overtly confident on a bike in cycle-unfriendly Nairobi.

He hurtles down Haile Selassie avenue, coat flapping behind him in the wind into the city, no peddling, on his pimped out blue and white or grey or green Black Mamba. Negotiating the roundabout as if he is a motor car, shoulders slightly hunched, no hand signals.

Pimp my Blackie in Thogoto, Kikuyu.

Pimped out Blackie in Kiserian Town. Notice the curly extentions on the handle bars and brakes and sturdy rear carrier...

Totally dig that!

Pushing a loaded fixed gear Black Mamba bike uphill in Thogoto, Kikuyu.

Then there is his amateur cycling enthusiast counterpart, who dares to make cycling part of his daily way of life in this city. One thing is for sure, he is fitter than the average Nairobi chap, dependable chap at crunch time… he can keep going, and going, and going (*insert catcall*). Need I say more? *wink*

She digs that he doesn’t pay heed to old wives’ tales about the link between male cycling and low sperm count, but is smart enough to alternate between cycling standing up and sitting when cycling long distances and for long long hours… He balances like an acrobat at the traffic lights just rearing to go.

The bicycle repair garage on Magadi Road near the Police Station in Ongata Ronkai.

She digs the bike repair guy who can sort you out in a minute in an emergency, using tools that should really be for plumbing or carpentry; a hacksaw to scrape the tire inner tube in readiness for patching, hammer to release the rusty fork for servicing, a chain whip improvised from a wooden block and old bike chain…

She digs the professional cyclist who does not have the benefit of a special training regime or tailored diet plan, yet he wins the race, or at very least makes a good showing.

SheDigsHeCycles

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There is this guy I used to admire back in Uni, mostly for his cycling ways as we hardly spoke. He cycled everywhere, his long curly hair chasing after him in the wind. A true renegade. He was almost always fully kitted out – cycling pants with the padded crotch, spiked cycling shoes, fingerless cycling gloves, cycling shirt, cycling goggles sometimes and a cool aerodynamic helmet… and that disarming smile.

His bike was one of those light-weight aluminium road bikes that look like you can lift them with your pinkie.

We would acknowledge each other from a distance, and he never went by on foot or on wheels without a wave. In retrospect, I was never quite sure if he was in Uni or not. He always seemed to be on the go. A guy in cycling gear and a bike has that effect on people, they seem always ready to leave. Not a good impression on girls I am afraid; we see you that way and we fear we can’t keep up with you.

Sometimes he would zip through my hood leaving me wondering if it was serendipity or on purpose that he just seemed to be everywhere I happened to be… Even then, we never really exchanged more than a “Hi.”  or just a wave.

I settled for the harmless thrill of watching his tight behind ride off into the sunset once in a while… I could not keep up. I could never keep up, not on in-line skates.

Sigh.

Wonder where he is nowadays.

Happy Valentines!! Happy Cycling in Nairobi!!

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This post is dedicated to all the HeCyclesNairobi out there: The fixed gear bike rider going about his business, the amateur cyclist cycling to and from work for the heck of it, the professional cyclist who lives to race and the industrious, dependable bicycle repair guy on the corner in your neighbourhood.