Spare moments in February were spent scouting for a central spot that the ladies could meet without much hustle. The Sunken Car Park in the Central Business District of Nairobi seemed like a nice enough spot. I had initially considered the Nyayo Stadium parking lot, but the weekend soccer games schedule would have clashed (probably literally) with our activities. I also considered the Central Park Processional Way and dais area.
This past Sunday I left home for the Sunken Car Park in the centre of Nairobi, not knowing what to expect. I had no confirmations from any of the ladies; the lady security guard was not picking her calls, neither was my potato lady from Wakulima Market (Farmers’ Market) and my stylish used clothes dealer had text messaged saying she had unexpected guests. I will follow up with both of them and show them the other videos of the learners (which I did not post at their request) to psyche them up for the next clinic in April.
On different occasions, I observed how the car park was being utilized by Roller Skating Kenya learners and tutors; the Harambee Avenue corner was used by a crew of in-line skate hockey players; the section close to Kenya Re building was for the little ones learning to skate around obstacles; and the vehicle path was for the pros and advanced learners.
Incidentally, I also skate. However, I would never dream of commuter skating to work. I lack the amount of combined skill, leg power and control required to skate, not to mention the mainly unpaved or dug up paved side walks, no designated “propelling lanes”, and the Nairobi City Council By-laws that prohibit propelling on any foot path.
Roller Skating Kenya have been using this park for more than 6 years every Sunday. I know Mwas, a Kenya Pro Skater and skating team leader. I was sure I could convince him to share the space. He and my pal C pretty much introduced me to skating almost 7 years ago.
After circling the parking area, I settled on the width closest to the Kenya Re building.
My first learner was a young skater. She was a little small for the huge Ironman, but determined to give it a go despite unsuitable foot wear – slip on sandals – on metal mountain bike pedals.
Samson Gichuru arrived on time and gave the ladies some pointers. As I caught up with Samson, my phone rung. It was Juliet letting me know that she had just returned from her ride from Nairobi to Thika, fifty plus kilometres away, and back! She had been inspired by our ❤TheMightyA2 ride. Though she and I have never met, I know that she commutes to and from work daily.
The second learner, Z, was quick off the bat after changing at the nearby Iko Toilet (public toilet). As she worked out how to stay the bike upright and pedal, Kinja and the entire Safari Simbas cycling team from Kikuyu arrived in a blaze of wheels and vivid color. Kinja had mentioned that he was going to come along with the Safari Simbas team from Kikuyu, but I did not believe him until they showed up fully kitted in their cycling glory.
At this point I should mention that we had expected to have four bikes, but ended up with just three; my heavy Ironman and two light racers from the Safari Simbas. My cycle pal with the fourth bike could not make it. The program relies fully on volunteers and their bikes. We hope that as the ladies get confident, they can purchase their own used bikes and we can hold the lessons on rotation in the neighbourhoods where they live. Hopefully, I can convince them to stay on and teach other ladies.
The parking lot circuit was too small for the Safari Simbas fast pace, but I figured a brief display would draw in the crowd of curious people. A quick chat with Mwas, the Roller Skating Kenya team leader, got the Safari Simbas cyclists doing a 20-minute chase-around.
Kinja stood by barking out directions in Kikuyu as usual, and Samson joined the team. The beautiful spectacle the racers created was being undermined speed-wise by the tiny parking circuit. See the video.
As the beautiful Safari Simba’s display ended, my third learner arrived. Once again, both Samson’s and my bike were too big for the young, confident teen. But she mounted and did her best after I lowered the seat post to the maximum point.
AG, a cyclist and photographer of note, on his way to a photo shoot for a local artiste in the CBD, dropped by to raise morale.
I will keep using the corner of the Sunken Car Park for the rest of the year, to get these four or five women ready to confidently navigate Nairobi on a bike.
The skater guy in this video entertained us by skate-jumping over my Ironman. Impressive! He requested that we bring a bigger bike for him to jump over next time. Funny chap.
The main challenge, as with any propelling sport, was balance. With swimming, you have to learn to stay afloat first, and then propel. The second challenge is convincing the new rider that the best way to stay upright is to pedal forward (not backwards) as this article has tried to explain, albeit technically.
My intention is to have these ladies navigating Nairobi before Christmas, if they will stay the course. Hope to have more bikes to teach at the April clinic. We may move the clinics to their neighbourhoods once they get their own bikes.
Happy Cycling in Nairobi and beyond! ❤ Nairobi! ❤ Cycling!