Tag Archives: Central Business District

half-a-pedestrian in Nairobi

31 Jul

Kileleshwa Ring Road, West of Nairobi, is second to the expanded Nairobi-Thika Highway in pioneering a protected bicycle path for Nairobi. Unlike the wider bike lanes along Thika Road, those on Kileleshwa Ring Road will see cyclists pedal one behind the other with little room to overtake if you are on a bike that is faster than the fixed gear, slower “Blackie”, that is common in Nairobi. The protected bike path has been heralded as the best design as it recognizes the “wheeled-pedestrian” and helps avoid situations like this in New York where Casey Neistat received a court sermons for not keeping to the bike path, despite pointing out the obvious reasons.

I tried the left bike lane on the way home one evening, nervously. The pedestrians were having a field day spread out over both the pedestrian walk-way and the cycling lane,  a quick, polite tweak of my dinky bell let them know they were in my way, and they politely obliged. Some glanced briefly over their shoulder, and obstinately continued to walk on the bike path.

Riding on the motorway has its dangers, but after having travelled that way for almost two years now, I know that motorists simply want to get along and avoid the cyclists as much as they can – they are going somewhere. The Nairobi pedestrian, however, has many faces besides that of one that is actually going somewhere; the idler, the lay about, the heckler, the bully, the occasional mad man/woman… I could go on. The new cycle path puts me too close to pedestrians. Uncomfortably close. I am now placed closer to the jeers, cat-calls and cheers alike.

I had an altercation with a group of men, who were spread five deep across both the pedestrian and cycle paths, after I tweaked my dinky bell to let them know I was coming up behind them. One of the men shot me an angry look and gestured to the main road, “Si upite huko!” (“Just use the motorway!”). On the inclines cycling down, it gets worse, with some wearing their earphones on so loud they cannot hear the dinky bell ringing as they walk along the cycle path.

The softer inclines on the new Kileleshwa Ring Road will still give you a great workout without causing too much pain, with fewer trees and foliage – unfortunately – and extreme alternates of fast-moving motor traffic, slow traffic in the mornings and traffic-free late afternoons and Sundays.

The rather narrow cycle path is not the only design flaw I noticed. Some of the lanes narrow out  in sections to give way to a bus stop or disappear entirely where road reserve appears to run out. In the latter case the pedestrian cabro paved section is given priority forcing the cyclists to find his/her way back onto the main road or negotiate with pedestrians for room on the foot path. This, in my opinion, would land the cyclist in hot soup as he/she would be forced to break the one cyclist city by-law that prohibits “propelling on foot paths”.

Failure to mark the cycle lanes with the characteristic “cyclist” symbol that would quickly serve as pedestrian education on the new infrastructure, is likely to cause cyclist-pedestrian conflict in the beginning, especially since the pedestrian traffic is higher than cyclist traffic on this road, at the time of writing this post. Currently pedestrians think that the extra paved path is also for the “walking nation”. Someday the city of Nairobi will look like this with complete cycle streets.

Until protected cycling infrastructure is set up continuously across Nairobi to allow “normal cycling”, and we put our roads on a diet your intuition, not your helmet will save you when cycling, and every day on your bike could be your last as Velma, one of our bloggers, can attest on page 43, Edition 6 of Kenya Yetu and on Smart Monkey TV:

Pedestrians: Every pedestrian is a potential crash; they ruin your precious momentum at every opportunity – crossing between cars, hesitating in the middle of the pedestrian crossing, crossing at a leisurely pace as you approach on a climb, stepping onto the road at a moment’s notice without looking, and walking along the tarmac road along the curb to avoid the dusty, unpaved foot paths. They respond surprisingly well to the bicycle bell, my thumb is always half-on it.

DEAR PEDESTRIAN: If you wear your ear phones at high volume and walk on the road along the curb, you put both you and I in danger.

Motorists: All Nairobi drivers looking at you from the safety of their metal chariots either think you are a maniac or brave cycling in this city. They are probably right on both counts. Hopefully, you have been a driver and know that Nairobi drivers like to multi-task – mobile phone while negotiating a junction or a roundabout with one hand, newspaper on the steering wheel – who is crazier now?

The matatu driver is not a motorist: You may not have been a matatu driver but have ridden in one several times, enough to know that they hoot unnecessarily using altered car horns and other noisy devices (I am pretty sure the latter are illegal).  I thought they would be a major challenge to me as a cyclist; believe it or not, they are surprisingly pleasant if you make eye contact and indicate in good time. Their brakes are accessories though. You have been warned.

To a Nairobi cyclist the road signs, pedestrian crossings and traffic lights, even the traffic cop are merely advisory, pedestrian beware. The cyclist in Nairobi has to stay ahead of traffic to stay alive.

I am “half-a-pedestrian”, so, I will use the side-walk when the two-lane, two-way road turns into a three-lane road at rush hour as motorists overlap and a special matatu lane is created. I am however grateful when “the walking nation” politely part and give me path while the County Council of Nairobi demonizes me with that by-law prohibiting “propelling on footpaths” instead of putting up cycling infrastructure. Thankfully the Chinese road contractors – though the design is questionable – recognize this as evidenced by the protected cycle lanes along Kileleshwa Ring Road.

Learner driver should be overtaken on the right over the yellow line, remember to signal the cars coming up behind you about to do the same or end up as road kill. Cyclists who choose to overtake along the curb are rushing to a date with death.

Speaking of which. You will feel empathy for road kill, just don’t dwell on it too long or you will be next.

Kileleshwa Ring Road cycle path in pictures:

Step one in the making of a Nairobi cycle path along Kileleshwa Ring Road

Step 1 murram: The making of a Nairobi cycle path along Kileleshwa Ring Road

The cycle lane narrows out as it gets "chocked" by the pedestrian foot path and road on Kileleshwa Ring Road

Some sections of the cycle lane narrow out as it gets “choked” by the pedestrian foot path and road on Kileleshwa Ring Road. A sign that the cycle path is not taken very seriously as part of urban infrastructure.

A finished cycle path on Kileleshwa Ring Road approaching Raptor Road

Step 3 gravel: The making of the cycle path along Kileleshwa Ring Road, approaching Rhaptor Road, Westlands.

That drainage ditch ensures the cyclist and motorists never meet along Kileleshwa Ring Road

Stage 4 Oil: That drainage ditch ensures the cyclist and motorists never meet along Kileleshwa Ring Road

The pavement warriors - bollards - prevent motorists from accessing the pavement, but create an obstacle for cyclist wanting to get back onto cycle path at a crossing.

The pavement warriors – bollards – prevent motorists from accessing the pavement, but create an obstacle for cyclist wanting to get back onto cycle path at an intersection/crossing. See how pedestrians spread out over both foot path and cycling path on the evening trek home.

The contractor saw that putting a cyclist sign was sufficient in letting folks know that there is a cycle path. Observe the roadside hawker occupying the pedestrian path and the pedestrians in turn over running the cycle path at a junction. It slows the cyclists momentum having to negotiate with pedestrians for path.

The same section now completed: The contractor saw that placing a cyclist sign was sufficient in letting folks know that there is a cycle path. Observe the roadside hawker occupying the pedestrian path and the pedestrians in turn over running the cycle path at a junction. It slows the cyclists momentum having to negotiate with pedestrians for path.

Even with a sign, the path needs paint markings that designate it as a bicycle lane. Saves everyone the trouble.

Even with a sign, the path needs paint markings that designate it as a bicycle lane. Saves everyone the trouble. Photo courtesy of Biciz.

Where the pedestrian & cyclist paths intersect, the pedestrian path is given priority as the cycle path (tarmacked portion) ends abruptly. The cyclist would have to disembark and assume pedestrian status by pushing bike onto cycle path to avoid breaking exisrting city by-law prohibiting "propelling on pedestrian foot paths". Not very practical.

The same section now finished: Where the pedestrian & cyclist paths intersect, the pedestrian path is given priority as the cycle path (tarmacked portion) ends abruptly. The cyclist would have to disembark and assume pedestrian status by pushing bike onto cycle path to avoid breaking existing city by-law prohibiting “propelling on pedestrian foot paths”. Not very practical.

This section of pedestrian foot path and cycle lane still under construction shows the cycle lane "disappearing".

This section of pedestrian foot path and cycle lane still under construction shows the cycle lane “disappearing”.

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!

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!

❤TheMightyA2

29 Feb

Saturday evening my cycle buddy SK dropped by my place for a chat. It quickly turned into a cycling trip to Thika Town, fourty-five  kilometres away from Nairobi, the following day.

This trip reminded me once more why I need to get a better saddle. AG’s voice advising me to get cycling gloves echoed in my brain as my sore palms tingled. With my upper body weight thrown forward supported by my hands on the handle bars, the trip back was doubly painful. I was sure I would have blisters.

I have used Thika-Nairobi Highway many times;  my parents and I used it when my father moved his practice to Nairobi from up-country, in my youth to visit family up-country and back, in a funeral convoy to bury my fallen uncle, in the recent past to “get a wife for my cousin” from Nyeri, to visit my uncle and his family in Thika, on the way to a hiking day-trip up Mount Long’onot… all by car.

As a child, I remember sitting in the back of the small family car with my younger sister counting cars as they whizzed past us on the two-way road. The floating feeling as we descended and climbed out of the Thika Road Drift, just before the General Service Unit Barracks signalled the Nairobi city limits. The king of the road was the speeding Toyota Hilux pick-ups, hauling khat from Meru to Nairobi. Only an accident could stop them. They rarely caused any.

“Yangu! Yangu” (“Mine! Mine”) We screamed in turns at the cars going in the opposite direction, until one of us fell asleep or we disagreed on whose car the last one was.

We would stop at the old toll station, pay and continue. Scream out of the window at the River Chania below. Stick our cheeky tongues at the road-side fishmongers. Admire the neat pineapple farms on either side of the highway. Stop in Thika for pineapples by the road-side.

As I grew older and more discerning, I noticed that each trip to and from up-country grew bumpy-er. The toll station was no longer there. Signs indicating that “This road is maintained from the fuel levy fund”  announced that, someone, somewhere had hung his coat on the back of his chair and left for the day.

The number of accidents reported on this highway grew as every year wore it down. The missing sections of dented railing along escarpments bore testimony to the deaths. Paint markings meant someone else had lived to die another day. The numerous Traffic Police roadblocks along the section between Kahawa and Jomo Kenyatta University (gangsters’ paradise) did not deter the armed highway robbers.

That’s the old Thika-Nairobi Highway.

The old two-lane highway has now been replaced by the much acclaimed six-lane “Super Highway”. Drivers have taken this seriously and cruise at equally super speeds”. This site documents the progress well and indicates someone is in-charge and present.

There are no rough road shoulders for a quick stop. If your car stalls suddenly the likelihood of being rammed is very high. It’s no wonder the  life saver triangle has been made a must-have for every vehicle in Kenya. There’s a hefty fine for not having a pair in your car.

As I descended into the Chania River Valley, a terribly strong gust wind carrying dust and grit, swept up and out of the Valley onto the road. Threatening to push me into the center of the road. Had to keep steering left to stay on the shoulder as cars whizzed past me. I could feel the wind catching on my helmet visor trying to yank it off. Shutting my left eye and squinting my right kept the gravel and dust from totally blinding me. Another reason why cycling glasses come in handy. Mental note.

The  drifts on Thika road are a lot less deep than they used to be. They have claimed many lives in the past. You don’t get the floating feeling in your stomach going down and up any more.

The Chinese tamed Thika Road for sure.

I found it’s safer to cycle on the outside side lanes to avoid getting hit by cars exiting onto or off the main-road. If you choose to use the main lanes stay alert and give your hand signals early.

While you were away, things changed.

In pictures:

Leaving the Central Business District via the Old Nation – Nairobi Fire Station roundabout. Not too busy and chaotic on a Sunday morning. It’s a nightmare for a cyclist on any other day. Use with caution and wear reflective gear. I am not sure if it’s that the building perimeter wall on the left it has eaten into road reserve or not, but it’s terribly flash to the road leading to the Globe overpass.

The view of the Globe Roundabout from the Globe overpass. On the left the the road leading up to University way. That U-turn spot is still operational. This railing is extravagantly used on all the overpasses. I suppose it has a lightning arresting property to it. Or perhaps to hold the concrete together better in case of an earthquake…?

A lone cyclist on the Globe Roundabout overpass. He smiled and waved back.

Though the traffic was thin, both lanes were in use and a cyclist could squeeze alongside the cars with plenty of room left. The traffic here on weekdays is not so fast, making it safe to cycle.

The Public Service Mini Bus had just stopped to pick up two pedestrians. Saw a couple of pedestrians approaching just as the mini bus took off and asked them if they knew it’s illegal to walk on the over pass. They denied any such knowledge. I suppose being a slow traffic Sunday allowed them to venture.

Ngara Market area: The paving blocks are high Keeping pedestrians same from notorious overlapping Public Service Vehicles, and a neatly paved side walk is coming along nicely. In some places the blocks are not yet properly installed and protrude dangerously onto the road.

The pedestrian walkway and drainage (left) look they will last a loooong time. Unless some “bright” soul comes along an digs it up to lay cables or something not fore-planned like that. This design beats those ugly bollards any day!! 

This section just after Ngara is very dangerous. I noticed that both sides of the highway were two way, drivers were making dangerous U-turns.

The road opens out. It’s safer to cycle on the outer lane (left) until it rejoins the highway.

It’s roomy on the left on the main highway. The  metal barrier is still intact and un-dented, for now. Unmarked lanes made for a lot of irritated hooting.

A motorist going the wrong way on the service lane on the left. Tsk tsk.

A pedestrian footbridge under construction. I noticed the gradient on the rump part is softer than the Mbagathi Way one. Will be back to check it out on completion. I hope the sides will be open with “No Posters” for user security.

Another pedestrian footbridge: It’s not immediately clear why all the steel is necessary. There are these large loopy ribcage-like steel extensions on either side of the landing. Perhaps the ribcage is to hold up the large directional highway signs. Let’s wait and see. 

It appears there will be a pedestrian bridge here judging by these strange obelisks sticking out of the earth.

We arrive in Thika. The shoulder has some cycling room.

Thika town has narrow roads and unpaved side walks. At this intersection we squeezed through the slow Sunday traffic.

Thika Town: An interesting feature in an intersection triangle island allows the cyclists to navigate the junction safely, like a pedestrian. Traffic moves very fast along the main Road entering the town.

Lots of cyclists in Thika Town. The one in front had a sassy Dutch style bike with a cute, front, wire basket carrier.

Thika town: Cycling on the wrong side.

Plenty of cycle room. No pedestrian pavement though.

Nyeri Town?… maybe next time.

Pineapple patrol: You haven’t been to Thika if you haven’t had a juicy pineapple.

Nairobi here we come. Back onto the open road. The journey back was a climb out of the Chania River valley. My heavy bike saw me get left behind by SK most of the return journey. Waaaait up!!!

A woman and child get a ride on the back of a fixed gear bike, on the service lane. “Usitupige picha we mzungu!!” (“Don’t photograph us you white girl!” – I’m black by the way) 

The road markings end just after the Thika town turn off.

Pushing a fixed gear bike uphill on the wrong side of the highway. Notice the surviving factories, in the once burgeoning industrial town that Thika once was, in the background. It’s slowly returning to its former industrial glory. This highway will make sure of it, I hope.

Motor cycles are popular in Thika, as they are everywhere else in Kenya. Noticed lots of  bicycle tire tracks on the upcoming pedestrian pavement.

Thika town was once a prosperous industrious town. This appears to be a power plant or leather tannery. Not sure which. Thika hosts a leather processing plant among other industries.

This spot looked like a disaster waiting to happen. People crossing over the metal barrier across the road. I noticed a lot of shuttered glass on the tarmac as I cycled past, that confirmed my fears.

The underpass leading back into the Central Business District. Very dark in there. The lights should stay on day and night for better safety. It’s not safe to stop, but the entering the tunnel bumps slowed the traffic enough to allow us to jump onto the drainage cover.

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

Bwana Mayor! Two-Wheel Parking Woes

8 Feb

One of the most important things I never gave  much thought to – which is well pointed out in this article that indicates that neither do planners – as I opted to begin cycle commuting, was parking and security for my bike when in the Nairobi Central Business District. The first time was when going to Times Tower where security had been stepped up such that even the space up front where motor cycles parked was clear and cordoned off. Just few feet away is the National Oil petrol station and a courier van. I toyed with the idea of requesting the courier guys to watch it for me but changed my mind when I noticed the newsstand guy sitting on a box on the pavement just outside the perimeter metal barrier.

Perfect!

Good thing he remembered me from some time past when I had been forced to leave him with a package I was carrying because the security at Times Tower wouldn’t allow me in with it. He moved his box for me to chain the bike to the metal perimeter barrier behind him. Gave him thirty bob for the trouble even though he did not ask.

The second time was when I went to see my tailor on Biashara Street. I found a very cheerful guard at the entrance. After watching me, chain in hand, trying to figure out how to secure it to a Nairobi City Council trash bin or the telegraph pole, he gestured towards the wall and moved his tomato crate seat for me to lean the bike against the wall.

“Hapo iko sawa.” (“It will be just fine there.”)

Gave him twenty bob for his help, voluntarily. As I left the tailor’s pushing my bike along the pavement, I noticed Black Mamba Bikes secured creatively; chained to a metal security door just next door, chained to a telephone line pole and just outside City Market chained to a disused door.

Brilliant!

In pictures:

On Biashara Street

On Biashara Street 2

Outside Kenyatta Market. Love the front carrier :).

The third time was at a bank on Kenyatta Avenue. Just outside the bank there were three Nairobi City Council Officers, two uniformed and the third plain-clothed, busy looking out for motorists running the red light.

As I leaned my bike against the wall outside the bank, I looked at one of them and asked if it was within the City By Laws to leave it there briefly. One of the uniformed ones feigned deafness as the plain-clothed one assured me it would be fine.

The fourth time was at one of the posh old buildings on Wabera Street as I went  to a stock brokerage that I had visited numerous times before. The security guards looked down their noses as I parked the bike against the wall at the entrance, took off my helmet and walked over to the lifts in the ample lobby.

“Madam, unataka kuacha hiyo hapo?” (Madam, are you leaving that there?”)

Ummm… Let me think …Yes I am going to leave it there. As if I am going to take it with me in the lift six floors up.

“Tafadhali enda u-park pale kwa parking ya piki piki. Hapo Kanjo wataibeba.” (“Please go park it at the motor cycle parking. If you leave it there the Nairobi City Council officers will carry it away.”)

I obliged and pushed it over to the motor cycle parking. As I stood there, chain in hand, once again eyeing a City Council trash bin, a taxi driver at the taxi rank nearby offered that I chain it to the pavement railing. Sharp!

Choices for secure bicycle parking in CBD are few, but the helpful nature of people makes it easier. This is not to say that the City which has a smoking booth, tidy shoe shine stands, neat dustbins, clean and functioning public toilets has no designated bicycle parking…

It does…

Nairobi’s sole bicycle parking spot.

Nairobi’s bike parking on Koinange Street. Notice the mangled metal bicycle stands at either end.


This bicycle parking (pictured) spot is at the bottom of Koinange street outside the public toilet, adjacent to the public smoking booth and a church; this is perhaps the most accommodative street in CBD Nairobi – also hosting Casinos, an eclectic traders market, hair salons, print shops, stationery stores, hardware shops, restaurants for all pocket sizes, university colleges, mid level technical colleges, banks, and a haven for twilight girls after sunset .

The bicycle owners secure the bikes to the metal stands sticking out of the ground. Some of the stands are mere twisted metal in the ground from being repeatedly ran over by passing heavy vehicles over the years.

How to secure your bike in Nairobi.

For now this will have to do.

It can get better and neater though; it would be great to have something like this, that allows you to wait out the rain, while the city can earn from a fresh branding space! How about these ideas from Cycle Hoop that could see those headless, former parking meter poles turn into bike parking. Some day, hopefully in my life time, there will be a map of Africa like this one that details commuter cycling infrastructure.

Some suggestions to the City Fathers to make some money:

From: http://www.cyclesafe.com/Lockers.tab.aspx

Or to save space and accommodate more bicycles in a smaller space the stackable bike rack:

From: http://www.parkabike.com/stack-rack.html

Happy cycling in Nairobi and beyond!!!!

Live to Die Another Day

7 Feb

I love entering Valley Road from Community hill alongside the NSSF building. There is a nice rush when the traffic is let through and you hurtle down onto Valley Road, no peddling. This morning it went well until an MOA Compliant bus (Grrr)  decided to suddenly change lanes as we entered the GPO roundabout. The curb is rather high at the traffic lights so there was no way for me to escape onto the pavement.

I stiffened my arms to keep the handle bars and steering stable and gripped the bars tight and stared at the front wheel, willing it to stay straight. The side of the bus was a mere fifteen centimetres away, and if the bus had touched my pedal I would have fallen to my left and gone under the rear wheels. The temptation to remove my feet from the pedals as I slowed down was intense.

With my heart thudding in my throat I navigated the roundabout and concentrated on getting past the bus stop before the convoy of City Hoppers, Kenya Buses and a Double M onto Kenyatta Avenue. At the Kimathi Street-Kenyatta Avenue traffic light stop I pulled up next to a City Hopper near the traffic light island, I was planning to push the bike across with the pedestrians and find a spot to recover from the near-death miss. The City Hopper bus driver leaned out to look at me.

“Madam, huogopi kufa?” (“Are you not afraid to die?”).

I put on my bravest mug and shrugged, my heart having dropped back into my chest.

“Kweli ukona roho…lakini usitamani sana kuendesha baiskeli city centere.” (“I have to hand it to you, you’ve got heart…but don’t take too much delight in cycling in the city centre.”)

He has a good point.

The streets in the Central Business District are way too narrow to accommodate a cyclist on the left. It’s best to take the lane like other vehicles, or simply park your bike and walk.