Tag Archives: Cycling

TheNairobiFilmFestival by bicycle

1 Feb

Shecyclesnairobi often gets queries via e-mail, on how to navigate from a particular residential area, to a workplace, from mainly foreign nationals moving to Nairobi to work, and hoping to keep on commuting by bicycle here, as they have been for years in their home countries. We try to be honest with them; the dynamics will be significantly different here, as there is very limited to no separation for Non-Motorized Transport (NMT) in Nairobi and Public Service Vehicle motorists rarely follow conventional traffic rules. However, it’s rare for cyclists to get crashed by motorists, but the numbers of such crashes are low, largely due to a low number of commuter cyclists.

A couple of weeks ago, I got an invitation to join, Shorts on Wheels on January 29, 2017. A bicycle tour segment of the ongoing Nairobi Film Festival 2017. Riders who did not own bicycles and helmets were suitably supplied by Baiskeli Adventures, who also helped map out the route to each film venue. Participation was free, with the exception of the bicycles and helmets at Ksh 400 per set.

Cyclists and some motor cyclists gathered at the Goethe Institut Nairobi on Monrovia Street. Baiskeli adventures assigned suitable bikes and helmets to attendees and Goethe Staff handed out goodie bags containing an apple, a banana, some roasted peanuts and a large bottle of water for an energized ride ahead.

Start: Goethe-Institut Nairobi Auditorium

The group walked in through an orb-shaped hut video installation built for a collaborative showcase by artistes Sam Hopkins and John Kamicha. Beyond the installation the room was set up with benches for movie-goers to watch “The Bike Gang” by the same artistes; a series of short films on the bicycle sub-culture in Nairobi.

PAWA 254

The group of riders snaked up Monrovia Street, onto Muindi Mbingu Street onto University Way and down the Uhuru Highway onto Valley Road, up Milimani Road onto State House Avenue into Statehouse Crescent to PAWA 254. Everyone sunk into the plush, comfy auditorium seats for “Flight Path“, a short film by Cinematographer Willie Owusu. The story told as a monologue, spoke to the hardship of immigration and a sense of uprootedness one feels when elsewhere.

The Elephant

The ride to the next venue started along Denis Pritt road, onto Olenguroine Road onto James Gichuru Road and on to Kanjata Road. Mostly a smooth downhill. At The Elephant, famed for the monthly live music event, “Live At The Elephant“, the cyclists were welcomed to food & drink by Fresh and More, and sat beneath the shade on the expansive back lawn to eat, get acquainted and recap the morning’s experience.

In an upper room set up theatre-style, the group of nearly one hundred riders watched Finnish filmmaker Laura Horelli’s, “The Terrace“. This film is a memoir in photographs, voiced over by the filmmaker herself, of her early childhood living in Nairobi and returning to retrace her steps. One thing that struck me about this film, especially in the current atmosphere of curriculum review in Kenya, was that she went to a public nursery/kindergarten in Nairobi, as “the education system in Kenya in the ’80s was very good…”.

That was quickly followed by “Yellow Fever” by Ng’endo Mukii, a multi-award winning, animated drama that explores colorism and identity crisis that fuels the skin bleaching industry in Africa.

End: The Alchemist Bar

The group trundled along Muthangari Drive onto St. Michael Road onto Rhapta Road onto Kileleshwa Ring Road and across, the now closed, Westlands Roundabout and up Parklands Road to The Alchemist. The Alchemist is a small creatively set up, oasis in the hubbub of the Westlands commercial area. It features several food outlets, shops, a bar and little halls for hire.

The cyclists huddled into a small darkened room where the film “Wada” by Khaled Mzher was projected onto a wall.  At eleven minutes, the shortest film on the tour was “Sea of Ash” by Michael MacGarry, described as “A poetic re-imagining of Death in Venice, featuring a West African immigrant to Italy who embarks on a journey from the Alpine mountains to the seaside and ultimately, on a doomed voyage home”.

I have to say that the routes and rides were hustle-free mainly due to the low motor traffic on Sundays. Volunteers in the group, helped hold up traffic for the group to cross at roundabouts, which helped dispel fear amongst the large number of commuter cycling novices.

The program was organised and curated by the Goethe-Institut Kenya, Mbithi Masya and Sheba Hirst. Additional support was provided by Baiskeli Adventures, Critical Mass Nairobi and The BUS.

Along Uhuru Highway to PAWA 254

Along Uhuru Highway to PAWA 254

 

Up State House Avenue to PAWA 254

Up State House Avenue to PAWA 254

 

Weeeee! Down and up Olenguroine Road towards The Elephant

Weeeee! Down and up Olenguroine Road towards The Elephant

 

Approach to The Elephant

Approach to The Elephant

 

Along Rhapta Road to The Alchemist

Along Rhapta Road to The Alchemist

 

The group at The Alchemist

The group at The Alchemist

“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.

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”.

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

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(*)/ (*)  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
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(*)/ (*)  Happy cycling in Nairobi!!  ❤ Cycling! ❤ Nairobi! and beyond!

“B”ACyclystInGermany

5 Jul

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

She says:

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

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

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

In Pictures:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A family cycling through the farms in Geldern.

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

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

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

SheFallsOff…

5 Jun

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

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

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

CyclistsByTheSea: Malindi – Mombasa

9 May

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

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

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

In pictures:

Motorcycle taxis by the roadside at a small shopping centre.

A Tuk Tuk ahead…

Cycling the wrong way on off the tarmac.

Cycling off the tarmac.

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

 

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

A partially built home on the road side.

Cycling on a flat tire…

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

Narrow street in Malindi.

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

In pictures:

Approaching Nyali Bridge.

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

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

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

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

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

Oh Look! A she Cyclist in Voi!!!

Two Cyclists and a trach in Makindu…Yikes!!

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

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