City women shifting gears in growing motorbike culture

Grace Mwari with her bike. She rides to work every day and says it is convenient, fast and fun. (Photo: Soni Kanake/Standard)

Women riding motorbikes on the streets was a rare sight some years ago. But there is a new generation of female riders for whom motorbikes are a means of transport.

By Grace Mwari's own admission, it is a risky affair navigating the city streets but it also offers its share of fun not to mention a feeling of freedom.

Ms Mwari has been biking for the last four years since she came back from India where she trained. She rides daily from home to work and back.

"It's so convenient!" she says. "I take 15 minutes to work instead of two hours every morning."

Mwari says she knows a number of other women who ride to work.

"Unlike when I came back home when there were hardly any female bikers on the road, today there's quite a number of us," she says. "It was hard to find a group of girls to ride with in 2011 but over the last few years, the number has really increased."

Women training

Agreeing with her is Jacy Cork, who runs Advanced Rider Training School. Ms Cork says indeed, the graph shows a rise in the number of women training as bikers.

"In my two years as a trainer, I have noticed an increase in the number of female bikers coming for training," says Cork.

Mwari enjoys biking within the city but does not shy away from off-road adventures. With her girlfriends, she rode to Moshi in Tanzania last Christmas, covering the 400km in about five hours.

"The best way to see a country is on two wheels," she enthuses.

Mwari also rides to Meru when she wants to visit her folks.

She says riding in Nairobi has taught her defensive skills to avoid reckless drivers, especially matatu drivers. And although she has been involved in an accident - she was once thrown off her bike by a motorist while trying to avoid an overtaking matatu - she is not deterred.

Mwari emphasises the correct riding gear whenever one is on the road.

"My riding gear saved me," she confesses. "It is literally the difference between life and death."

Mwari adds that bikers have their sad moments when they have had to attend a fellow biker's burial.

Joan Ndarathi, an ardent rider, confesses that her family was very concerned when she started biking. Ms Ndarathi is a member of an all-ladies biking club called Heels on Steel. She also belongs to Super Heroes, which is open to both men and women.

"With the number of bike accidents, especially boda bodas, they were very concerned about my safety," she says.

"I had to convince them that I was going to be careful. Now they are okay with my riding; in fact, my nephew joined me!"

Ride everywhere

Ndarathi uses the bike as her main mode of transport. "I ride everywhere," she says.

So how long does it take for one to become a good rider?

"The instructor usually advises one to do a maximum of 16 lessons," she says. "I took about eight lessons including the road drill. I have never seen anyone take all 16. Everyone takes much less."

Ndarathi adds that as a beginner, it is advisable to start with a small bike - with an engine capacity of between 200cc and 300cc.

"Also, it helps to start with a bicycle so as to learn how to balance," she notes.

It is also important to exercise caution on the road and not get over-excited by speed.

Ndarathi confesses that when one is learning, there is the initial falling off the bike, which is frustrating.

"I had a fall once after hitting a pothole, but luckily I was not speeding," she says. "The training we get is so good that it prepares you for such incidents. Rule Number One: Do not panic. I knew what to do. I was with other bikers so that was also very comforting," she says, although admitting that the fall did leave her shaken.

Ndarathi is currently planning a world tour with her fiancé. The tour will take them through seven continents and 50 countries. The journey, which is estimated to be over 140,000km, will kick off on July 2, 2018.

"I want all our Kenyan girls and Africa as a whole to know they too can... Yes we can!"

New crop

In addition to lady bikers riding to work, there is also a new crop of young females who ride to school. Matsekatseka Kithinji, 21, is in her final year at Riara University where she is studying law. She is also training for her Private Pilot License at Wilson 99's Flying School. Known as Tseka to her friends, one word describes her - adventurous.

"I am in love with my motorcycle," says Ms Kithinji. "When I started riding, I honestly began living life and feeling alive compared to before."

She is among the rising number of riders who ride to school to save time.

"I ride to school because it helps me avoid unnecessary traffic and time wasting," she says., adding that she learnt how to ride at a private riding school along Ngong Road.