Tag Archives: helmet

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”.

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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!

Helmet Hair ~~8-O

15 Mar

I like hats, and recently started collecting fedoras in different colours… really looking for a red and a yellow one right now. Managed to convince my tailor to make me different bands in African print for my black fedora. Now I have a three-in-one fedora. Currently, I have a love-hate-relationship with my helmet, another type of hat; I love the respect it gets me from motorists, but hate the plastered hair.

For some time I couldn’t quite reconcile with the fact that after a six-kilometre-plus ride from home to work, my hair would not be the same as it was when I left the house, no matter how I wore it. You get to your destination and your fringe is plastered to your forehead. It did not help that it was February on the Equator and hot as Hells Kitchen.

My cute neighbour on the fifth floor, he thinks I look cute in the helmet (◡‿◡✿). That’s enough to keep me wearing it. Last week a Nairobi City Council worker on road works duty in my neighbourhood stopped to look at me approaching:

“Madam, sitaki hiyo baiskeli, nataka tu hiyo kofia”. (Madam, I don’t want your bike, I just want that helmet.”)

After getting the bike and telling AG about it, he kept asking if I had got a helmet, when all I wanted to talk about was how I managed to get through another nerve racking commute. I ignored him. Rode helmet-free for  a couple of months until Samson Gichuru (pro-cyclist) told me a short horror story about a guy who fell off his bike in Karen, and died two days later from internal bleeding from a head injury after cracking his skull on the tarmac. What was even more scary was that no second party or other vehicle was involved in this case. He just fell. Got my Raleigh helmet that same afternoon.

AG also has a horror story of his own related to a split helmet in a crush with Mak10, coming down Mt. Kenya. They each claim it was the other’s fault. Bottom line is: A helmet WILL save your life.

Every weekend I wash and treat my hair . It’s natural. By Wednesday every week, I want to wash it again but don’t have enough time to dry it during the week (wet hair needs to dry well before you sleep or it stretches and breaks). Being on the street daily on a bike, exposed to car fumes, dust mixed with beads of perspiration, especially in the December to March heat, makes things under the helmet a little extra grimy. Throw a helmet into that mix… It’s better in the cool of June to August when most girls braid their hair.

I still can’t get over how motorists now give me a lot more respect with my helmet on. No more impatient hooting. Last week a matatu (Public Service Vehicle) driver slowed down to let me pass with a smile. It tends to make you appear to know what you are doing, even though half the time I am concious that anything can happen, especially on the roundabouts… my heart in my mouth.

A good helmet is ergonomically built and is very well ventilated, so excessive heat  should not be a problem. Those sold in the local supermarkets are no good – they over heat in the December to March sun and are not built for a crash – so get a proper one from the cycle marts or on-line. Most good helmets come with an adjustable inner fitting, but the best protection is a well fitting helmet.

The general rules for bicycle helmets in relation to hair are 1. The less hair product you have on the hair the better, no matter the hairstyle. It tends to stick to the padding/lining on the inside of your helmet, which also needs gentle cleaning using your regular conditioner or shampoo or any mild soap in warm water regularly  2. The less bulk, in terms of hair styling, the better.

Ghanian” braids: Those (lines) don’t work with the helmet, they interfere with the recommended fitting for safety by bulking up under the helmet, putting you at risk in the event that you fall off. You could try not to have the bulky ones that make your head look like “Brain” from “Pinkie and The Brain” so that your helmet fits safely. You could adjust the helmet, but make sure the under-chin strap is firmly on.

Natural/Semi-natural Afro: For short and semi-processed (“texturized”). It’s all matted against the scalp when the helmet comes off and a wide toothed comb to pick it back up is enough as you freshen up in the office bathroom. Wearing a cotton scarf under the helmet helps reduce frizz. This blog has some great tips for natural hair care.

Bald: This is the best hairstyle …well… hairless-style. I’ve seen my male cycle buddies tie a bandana or cotton hankie to absorb perspiration under the helmet. This article also recommends that.

Dreadlocks and braids: They are the most versatile, the trick is not to use too much moisturiser in hot weather or not use one that is heavily scented. If they are long wear them in a low pony tail at the nape to allow helmet to sit comfortably on your head. Wash and treat dreads weekly and don’t keep your braids on longer than two weeks. One word: “Heff”. I use olive oil mixed with water in a sprizz bottle daily. I use a hair spike.

Hair Spikes from Smoto in Nairobi. Great for tacking braids at your nape and off your neck in this March heat.

Perm/Relaxed: This tends to just spring right back up on demand, especially if it’s a fresh wash and set on a Monday. Just carry your tail comb to pick up your do. By Thursday it may begin to succumb to frizz, but it will survive. Or you can just get one of these.

Weave or Wig: From conversations, I have heard that having a wig under your helmet feels like you are wearing two helmets. Just like with the “Ghanian” braids (lines) it can bulk up underneath the helmet a little. In the event of an accident, the weave or wig can be a good or a bad thing; it provides that much extra padding beneath the helmet, but it is bulky enough to make sure your helmet does not fit well, not a good thing.

Or you can just get the Swedish designed Invisible Helmet that will not ruin your hair!!

P.S. Just in case you are wondering what that symbol in the title of the post is: the text icon for “Bad Hair Day”. 

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