Tag Archives: fixed gear

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

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

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 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.

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”.

She❤NairobiCycling

15 Feb

Since I began cycling in November 2011 there are things I have come to appreciate about cycling in this motor-crazy city, even though the city plans do not appear geared towards accommodating cycling:

1. The brave Black Mamba cyclists who wear neither helmet nor reflective gear.

2. The polite truck drivers on Ngong Road who hoot gently. #iCanHearYou 🙂

3. The awesome footbridge with a rump on Mbagathi Way. Pangani-Ngara area will need one or three of these.

4. The pedestrians who give way on the pavement.. You don’t need a bell, they just part and let you through. Ahsante {:)

5. No road rage from motorists towards cyclists.

6. The conscientious lady drivers. Special thanks to the Vitz girls, they know what it’s like being bullied on the road.

7. The industrious corner cycle repair guys in the Nairobi neighbourhoods.

8. The readily available second-hand quality bikes.

9. The friendly and supportive news-stand guys, security guards, shoe shiners and taxi rank guys.

10. The fact that in Nairobi, traffic light rules don’t apply to cyclists. Yay!

11. The creatively pimped out Black Mambas across the country.

12. The malls and buildings that accommodate bike parking.

13. The supermarkets that readily pack your groceries in a small box to go on the rear carrier.

14. The fact that the city has a bicycle parking.

15. Weekend cycling in a pack with supportive cycle-pals.

16. The downhill rides in the traffic-free suburbs on Saturday morning.

17. The adjustable strap messenger style cross-body purse or handbag (no back pack for this stylish girl-cyclist).

18. Slim trousers and skinny jeans for stylish cycling in Nairobi.

19. The wide well paved pavement on Mbagathi Way that can accommodate, cyclists and pedestrians.

20. The gaps in the pavement blocks on Ngong Road that allow rain water to drain (no Splashing) and cyclists to avoid road hogs.

21. Clean city public toilets for freshening up before a meeting in the Central Business District.

22. A cosy nook for my bike under the stairs. No parking woes in my building.

SheLovesNairobiCycling

Happy Nairobi Cycling!! ❤ Nairobi! ❤Cycling!

Nairobi in February 2012. Clear blue skies. Taken from KICC building in the CBD.

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This post celebrates love for Nairobi from a cyclist’s point of view in this season of love. LoveNairobi. ❤Nairobi.

Tips for our city fathers:

 Ten lessons from the great cycling cities. 

http://daily.sightline.org/2012/01/23/two-wheels-and-high-heels/

(✿◠‿◠) SheCyclesNairobi Digs HeCycles

14 Feb

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

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

Pimp my Blackie in Thogoto, Kikuyu.

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

Totally dig that!

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

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

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

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

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

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

SheDigsHeCycles

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

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

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

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

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

Sigh.

Wonder where he is nowadays.

Happy Valentines!! Happy Cycling in Nairobi!!

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