Tag Archives: Thogoto

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

~ __0
(*)/ (*)  Enjoy the ride!!  ❤ Cycling! ❤ Nairobi! and beyond!

*iPant* up Thogoto

21 Mar

It’s easy to blame it on my eighteen-plus-kilogram, Ironman Triathlon Pro with its fixed suspension. The truth is that the Kikuyu-Thogoto climb was a testimony to how far from fit I still am.   Mak10 had said that the route was punishing, I did not take him seriously. Me, of the four-minute Mbagathi Way hill climb fame.

Just as you finished one climb another one came up on the bend.

We met at the usual spot in Westlands at 8 am. Lead by the garrulous, larger-than-life Shariff, we made our way down Peponi Rd to Lower Kabete and on to Gachie, and then up the long climb towards Kikuyu Township. This was the easy part.

Along the way I noticed different members took different roles; Shariff- The Sheriff the no-nonsense team leader, R – Mr. Fix It helped fix punctures quickly; N- The Yoda always hanging back to encourage the slow-mos; K- The Spokesman spoke up to remind us to keep the bunch to get more respect from motorists; Me- The Team doctor with nothing but a jar of  sun-melted Vaseline to  massage the kinks out of the thighs; J and B were the long distance pros on two of the heaviest bikes in the team, a sexy pair of black Travel Masters.

As we turned into long climb up Thogoto, we were joined by David Kinja’s team of DHL Boys in training. Jessie and Chi rode with the slow riders as the older boys went ahead. They said that the Thogoto uphills are amateur climbs for them. They train on the steeper Kiambu road climbs.

Where the tarmac ends at the top of Mangu Road in Thogoto we turned back and were joined by Kinja. He led the DHL boys in an up and down hill training session. Barking out orders in Kikuyu and the boys behind him getting into fluid formation.

Samson Gichuru also turned up and rode a short way with us.

The downhill was less hectic on my gluts. The heavy Ironman between my legs was finally doing what it was built for – downhill. Weeeeeee!

The ride in Pictures:

Meeting the team at Westlands in Nairobi. Shariff briefs us on the route.

Through green leafy Spring Valley. The roads were nice and clear for the Sunday morning ride.

Entering Gachie. The road is two way with little room on the shoulder enough for a cyclist to squeeze in.

Juma on the uphill towards Kikuyu Campus. The road in this section has little anti-skid bumps at intervals but on a busy traffic day the shoulder space is sufficient for a cyclist.

SK and Juma. in Kikuyu town. The road is a little wider with more room on the shoulder for a cyclist and a donkey cart.

Turning uphill into Thogoto. Cyclist pushing his loaded fixed gear Blackie. The entire road climbs up into the highlands,

Bus stop along Mangu Rd. in Thogoto... up, up, we go.

We are joined by the DHL boys on the climb...

We are in Donkey-pulled cart country.

Approaching a road-side goat & doper herder. It's the dry season but the well endowed Kikuyu highlands still still offer some brush for the small flocks of livestock.

On the uphill, a donkey-pulled cart loaded with napier grass and another carrying water in a giant drum. These donkeys are made of tough stuff for this uphill road.

Up, up, up. Just when you are done with one long climb another one shows up around the bend. It helps to look out into the horizon on the climb. Thank god it was a traffic-less Sunday morning. Lovely Kikuyu highlands are still green in the dry season.

This guy, perhaps in his fifties, flew by us on his Blackie with a wide semi-toothless grin.

David Kinja to the rescue to fix J's broken crank chain. Don't you just love his aerodynamic helmet. He looked like a comet riding effortlessly up and down with the DHL boys in an amazing display of colour, speed and team discipline.

A road side bike garage. there were three others along the way. "Sasa fundi!"

The Southern By Pass road is coming up pretty well. This will run from Kikuyu to Mombasa road via Ngong road & Langata road. From what I hear, it's not a busy road and thus not yet secure to use. Kinja's place is up ahead.

An interesting name for a church. Near David Kinja's home.

B's sturdy Travel Master. She and J have done over 2000 Kilometres of travel in Kenya. This bike is one hefty mama. Impressive!

N gets solicited by a Maasai elder selling Maasai wooden clubs. He and J each got one.

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

Getting Down and Dirty

13 Feb

Today we get a little, … well, a lot bike techie… A girl should know how to fix it when it’s broken or at least know what it takes to keep it running smoothly.

There is nothing easier on the gluts and thighs like a freshly serviced bike. Finding a trustworthy bike mechanic is not easy in Nairobi, even though every neighbourhood on this side of the tracks has at least one.

The best way to get one that works for you is through referral,  simply stop another cyclist and ask him or her where to go. Whenever I use my neighbourhood bike service guy, I make sure it’s a free Sunday afternoon so that I can perch on a rock next to him as he works.

However, it’s great to have that trusty mech who can pick it from your work place in the morning and have it back by 5pm. One of my cycle buddies, AG, introduced me to Samson Gichuru, a professional off-road cyclist. His slight frame befits his status as a former junior champion cyclist, now ranked top 3 in the off-road category.

Another cycle buddy SK, introduced me to the guys on Enterprise Road, in Nairobi’s Industrial Area, adjacent to Tetra Pak Industries Limited. They sell great used bikes too.

Samson owns a bicycle garage in Thogoto, Kikuyu Town. A man adept at anything bicycle-related, he comes in riding his own bike and cycles off steering mine alongside him. After handing my bike over to him several times for tune-ups, he indulged my curiosity in knowing how to fully service a bike.

Generally, Samson advises that you have your bike serviced every six months if you cycle daily on smooth urban terrain, and every two to three months if you cycle on rough terrain. If you do not service it regularly parts wear out unevenly, you will over exert yourself and the creaking will drive you nuts.

Between services, I scrub down the cassette and chain with soapy water after a dusty, off-road ride on Langata Road and oil it with light machine oil or mineral car lube.

In pictures:

Samson Gichuru and his tool box.

Unbolting the pedal arms with a box spanner and adjustable spanner and adjustable spanner.

Once the pedal arms are off, use the Bottom Bracket Spanner to remove the Bottom Bracket which houses the pedal arm axle.

Look! Pedal free!

Use paraffin/diesel and an old toothbrush to clean out dirt and grime from hub shell.

Use a clean cloth to clean out residue and dry it.

Grease the Bottom bracket thread only. The upper part should not be greased.

Return the components and fasten securely.


Depending on the type of wheel – Quick release or bolt type – remove the wheel from the frame:

With a chain whip to grip the cassette, and the adjustable spanner to turn the bolt, remove the cassette. Samson has fashioned his own whip with a block of wood and an old piece of chain.

Rear Wheel: Remove rear skewer and clean with diesel/paraffin.

Remove the ball bearings and clean them by rubbing them together in a cloth.

Rear wheel: Wipe away any grime with just a cloth, grease the bearing housing and replace the bearing. Keep them in place with lots of grease as you reconnect the parts. Do the same to the bearing set on the other side of the wheel.

The headset:

Head Set: Remove the headset lock.

Remove the spacers, clean them with a clean cloth and grease them. 

Head set: Beneath the spacers are the head set ball bearings. Remove the ball bearings and clean by rubbing together in a clean cloth. Wipe away old grease and grime. grease the housing and replace bearings. Detach the fork to reveal the second set of ball bearings and clean & grease these as well.


Chain: Mix some detergent in water and scrub up the chain and cassette, removing all the old grease and grime.Once dry use machine oil to lubricate both the chain and cassette,


The wheel balancing machine is mounted on the edge of the table. Spinning the rim, with the tire and tube removed, along the lower arm extension determines which spokes need to be loosened and which need to be tightened to allow the wheel to spin evenly along the arm.

The spoke nipple adjusting key. Note the four grooves to fit different spoke nipple sizes. LOL! @ “nipple” 

Wheel balancing: Using the nipple adjuster key to adjust the spoke nipple on the rim.


Worn out brake pads: Check your brake pads for wear. Bald brake pads can damage your rim or slip against the rim metal when you brake. When going down hill and you want to stop, stop peddling and use your rear brakes to stop to avoid flipping forward and off the bike.

Good brake pads: They do not need to be replaced often. Check level of wear at each service.

Banana break: Fresh ripe bananas from Samson’s garden.

Now I can safely say SheCyclesNairobi and SheCanService a b-b-bike!!

So next time you are in need of a tune up. Samson is your man.


You can build your own bicycle repair stand. I could not help noticing it would have made Samson’s work easier: http://www.bicycling.com/maintenance/repair-maintenance/your-30-hardware-store-stand