Tag Archives: mountain bike

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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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!

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!

✿ DelicateMatters ✿

22 Feb


In slow traffic, some male drivers slow down, roll down the passenger window and give me a thumbs up or an approving nod or a smile. Female drivers mostly ignore me and concentrate on not running me over by giving me a wide berth in traffic ❤. Taxi drivers in my hood flash their headlights in approval as I approach. Matatu conductors hang half out of the window with a blank stare as the matatu overtakes me in traffic, I just smile and wink if I recognize the conductor from my public-transport-commuter days. The City Council parking attendants nod and say “Hey”.

There have been times I’ve been peeved by lewd sexist remarks. All from men. All of them pedestrians. Never the male cyclists. I ignore them. It’s good for your heart, to ignore them, that is. Wave back to the positive ones.

One time, a matatu driver slowed down alongside me so that his male passenger, ridding shot gun, could make a sign at me that signified giving oral sex to a woman. I 凸(¬‿¬) welcomed him to try. Promises, promises.

In Industrial Area cycling near some road-side motor garages: “Tete is tete, Madam!” (Not sure if this is positive or not)

In Nairobi West, Birongo Square cycling past the car-wash guys: “Madam si utapanuka sana?”  ό,ὸ  (reference to my private parts expanding from cycling)

Road-side critic in Nairobi along route number eight in Kibra: “Madam si unaharibu mambo?” ⊙_☉  (Reference to damaging my private parts)

A pedestrian in Industrial Area: “Madam si umeiva?” (positive: Referring to my being with it.)

A pedestrian on Ngong Road: “Madam si unipee lift” (Jokingly requesting a lift on the rear carrier)

A pedestrian crossing between cars: “Yeah Baby! Uko poa!” (“Yeah Baby, you’re alright!”)

A male pedestrian’s approval on Uhuru Highway: “Eeh Madam” (Yes, Madam”).

Others make cat calls and kissing sounds or blow me a kiss.

The positive comments mostly outweigh the negative ones. I guess there is a genuine thrill they get seeing me cycle.

The comments directed at my ✿ lady bits ✿ are somewhat troubling to me. I find they are morbidly at home in the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) debate. There is a strange obsession with womens’ sexuality, in most African cultures, that is very misplaced. Now, I find it linked to female cycling. This blog sums it up nicely.

FGM is about curtailing, inhibiting, preventing and controlling women’s expression. Riding a bicycle for me is about freedom, confidence and movement. It’s an antithesis to FGM, to me.

Riding a bicycle in many African cultures is seen as a male activity. No eyebrows raised at a man cycling. Women are rarely encouraged to take up cycling. Fewer try to, save for those in some urban areas where the gender bias on many levels is narrower, only slightly. Even fewer women own a bicycle.

I find the ease with which my privates are up for commentary by total strangers, quite frankly, annoying. It reminds me why there were few male voices in the anti-FGM movement despite it’s obviously retrogressiveness, even with all these road-side motor mouths. Without the external parts of my lady parts, as happens in infibulation, none of the lady saddles ever designed would make riding comfortable.

Even with all the nonsensical comments by road-side obstetricians, on-line articles on cycling saddles raise issues with cycling discomfort and temporary troubles for men, that can turn permanent. The discussions about female saddles mainly point to mere discomfort that can be resolved with adjustments to seat post height and and saddle angle.

A quick search shows that the on-line articles on women’s seats are more than those on men’s. Not to be confused with the issue of ergonomics and design for comfort, the larger debate on women’s seats is mainly driven by aesthetics and the importance given to providing a wider variety, in different colors. Some of which are exorbitantly priced and come in vagina colours – pink and red. Others in white with blue or pink highlights. Of course there are ergonomics concerns in women’s saddle discussion, just not related to adverse health implications.

A quick google search revealed as follows:

“Men’s Cycling Saddles” – 1,210,000 hits

“Women’s Cycling Saddles” –  1,380,000 hits

To some extent, the Kenyan road-side gynaecologists  are both right and wrong.

Perhaps what these crude, rude critics mean is the fact that cycling results in a rush of endorphins (feel-good-chemicals), and a higher sex-drive. That comes with any good work out, as with cycling. It is something they cannot reconcile with.

The painful truth is, when you start cycling, there will be slight discomfort, not only in the region of your privates, but your gluts and thighs too. This goes for both male and female cyclist beginners. Like any form of exercise, the new positions, new use of muscles and the resulting pressure WILL cause some pain.

The discomfort for women is not permanent, no matter what you have heard or read, and can be remedied… 

There are adjustments to your seat and handle bars that you need to make. These adjustments are peculiar to your physical build – mainly your height. If you cycle regularly and the discomfort subsides then returns it means that the correct adjustments to your seat were altered.

I learnt from my cycle buddy FR that the seat should be higher than the handle bars to make the most efficient use of your energy. The top of the seat, however, should reach mid hip when standing next to the bike. This advise works, but may actually be harmful to your nether regions.

If you can afford it, when cycling long distances, wear the proper cycling kit – the pants or shorts with a padded crotch. You could also get a proper, ergonomically designed  racing saddle. These are available second-hand, as good as new. Your regular workout or work clothes will do just fine.

Saddles for women have a wider groove or centre cut-out than those for men, to accommodate a wider pelvic girth. The heavier you are the longer the discomfort takes to wear off. I will get a nose-less saddle for women one of these days. This buyer’s guide is useful when making choises.

You and your hand tonight Ma!

Like all muscle aches, a massage in the shower between cycle trips helps.

Yes, a massage, stop looking at the screen like that. Acting all coy, as if you don’t know how to do it. There are muscles there too. And every bit of muscle plays a big role in your cycling comfort.

So when the aches begin, use your head, ermm… your hand. Just as you would for other aching muscles.

Happy Nairobi Cycling!!! ❤ Nairobi! ❤ Cycling!

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“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a  feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”                                        

– Susan B. Anthony

About Susan B. Anthony: http://susanbanthonyhouse.org/her-story/biography.php

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My cycle buddy AG shared these tips with me:

“Beginner technique: How to set up your mountain bike”: http://www.bikeradar.com/fitness/article/beginner-technique-how-to-set-up-your-mountain-bike-22707

“Beginner’s guide to mountain biking”:

http://www.bikeradar.com/gear/article/beginners-guide-to-mountain-biking-part-1-23675

Something on male cycling and sexual health:

“A Delicate Matter” http://www.livestrong.com/article/130600-cycling-male-fertility/

Something on female cycling and sexual health:

“CYCLING & MALE FERTILITY” http://www.womenscycling.ca/newsletter-august-september-06.htm#delicate

and

“The Agony of de Vagina” http://www.womenscycling.ca/newsletter-august-september-06.htm#agony

” Cycling May Diminish Sexual Pleasure in Women, Lead to Numbness of the Genitalia” http://medicaldaily.com/news/20120515/9894/relationship-exercise-cycling-bicycle-women.htm