The joy of cycling in Kenya: One on one with enthusiast Nakhulo Khaimia
UNIQUE SPORTS By Odero Charles | March 7th 2021
Many urban areas around the world have long recognised the importance of physical activity as a way of promoting a healthy lifestyle - and one of such options is cycling.
An estimated one billion people ride bicycles every day – for transport, recreation and sport.
Recreational cycling is perhaps the most satisfying way to get exercise and improve your health compared to any other form of exercise.
For recreational cycling, some people have come together to form cycling clubs in order to learn new routes and ride with cyclist.
One such group in Kenya is Pedalwise Cycling Club- where the club notifies its members to meet and plans weekend rides and bike tours.
The cycling club, which is based in Nairobi, made headlines last week after its members, both men and women completed a 350km ride from Nairobi to Moshi in Tanzania despite a critical lack of bike paths on roads.
In an exclusive interview, The Standard Sport caught up with one of the club’s founding members who gave us her experience of cycling in Kenya.
Marketing and Communication Manager at a global Tech Firm Nakhulo Khaimia spoke to us about opportunities that exist for people who wish to cycle for sport or reaction as well as challenges faced by cyclists in Kenya.
Tell us about yourself?
My name is Nakhulo Khaimia I am a marketing and communication manager for a leading tech giant.
A free-spirited person who loves the outdoors as a way of escaping from the norm.
Some of the activities you will find me doing is running, cycling, hiking, swimming and anything that involves adrenaline challenges. Also, I'm a lover of fashion hence running a fashion label in the market.
How did you become passionate about cycling?
Last year around this time, the lockdown was beckoning and a lot of stuff was coming to a standstill.
When I am not busy with my fashion label, I am busy doing outdoor stuff.
When Covid happened and the Government decided to introduce lockdown, majority of us outdoor people were affected.
Around that time there was a lot of negativity around Covid-19 and anything that requires two or three people gathering.
That meant staying indoors most of the time. Our company followed the Government’s directive by making all employees work from home. That meant the four walls in your house were your only space to work, engage in fitness activities, interact with the outside world via technology, etc.
This became monotonous and a bit boring for me. I hate home workouts and after several attempts, I couldn't do them anymore. However, I continued doing my morning runs though with lots of caution.
I have owned a bicycle since 2016 but was always scared of getting out there to cycle given that Kenyan motorists are not friendly when it comes to cyclists.
The only safe place I could cycle was Karura forest. But then the recreational place was full of people who had decided to take up jogging or walking to get away from their houses.
One morning a friend who is in the outdoor circle reached out and asked me what I was up to, since I didn't have a plan I joined them for a group cycle to Kikuyu and back.
This was the beginning of Pedalwise Cycling Club under the stewardship of James Ndigwa who had been thinking of starting a cycling club just for fun and to make people get out and do something to kill boredom.
The club that started with a few friends is really growing. Currently, the club has over 300 members with the main focus on recreational cycling every weekend either Saturday or Sunday.
Since March last year, the club has done over 50 cycling trips majority within Nairobi and its environs and three outside Nairobi, the latest one being to Moshi 350km from Nairobi.
When did you start cycling as a hobby and why?
I have been off and on cycling, however, I officially became consistent since March 2020 during the Covid period.
This was as a result of killing boredom of working from home and having nowhere to go as a result of the lockdown.
The reason I cycle is to get out there and be in my own world, it does help when it comes to finding yourself, it is stress reliever and it does challenge you to be a better person.
Do you have a mentor or personal trainer?
I don't have a personal trainer since I am not into competitive cycling, however, I am keen on getting into competitive cycling by participating in duathlons and triathlons when an opportunity comes up.
This is my next plan hence will most definitely get a trainer. For now, I am just doing it for fun. Pedalwise club members, be it a first-timer or pro have always inspired me I call the members my mentors.
Trust me when I started covering 30km was not easy, right now I can’t believe I can cover 150km plus in a day. Thanks to the cycling club.
How do you balance between your work and cycling?
We do not work on weekends unless otherwise. Pedalwise club has a calendar of activities that predominantly focuses on weekends.
Majority of the time we cycle on Saturdays or Sundays hence easy to manage my time when it comes to work and cycling.
However, I would have loved to be cycling to work and kill two birds with one stone.
How did the idea to cycle all the way to Moshi come up?
The idea of cycling to Moshi came up as a joke. Interesting enough, majority of Pedalwise club members are recreational runners hence participate in marathons both local and international. One evening someone asked in the group... “is anyone going for the Kilimanjaro Marathon?” A few showed interest, then one of the group members Malowa jokingly asked what would be the worst if we cycled to the event then run.
At first, it was a joke that nobody thought would be actualised. Then Malowa took it upon himself with the help of the club Founder James to work on logistics, they then shared the detailed plan inclusive of the cost to the group.
Within no time 15 of us signed up like a joke in early January. Then we mapped out a training plan that involved cycling every Saturday and Sunday, running and gym in between the week. Within eight weeks we were ready for the trip to Moshi.
What inspired you to take on this adventure in the first place?
I love challenges and always jump onto an opportunity however dangerous it is. I strongly believe in trying something and fail than not doing it at all. I am also lucky my group of girlfriends have the same characteristics as me.
If we decide to go for something we go for it no matter what. Cycling to Moshi then running half a marathon was an opportunity on how further I can push myself which is a once in a lifetime opportunity because you never know about tomorrow and also given that I have climbed mountains, ran marathons, went for a mud run this was something new to me.
What level of training did you have to put in to prepare for the trip?
Pedalwise club put up a training calendar that was mandatory for everyone going to Moshi. The training was eight weeks. Every week one was supposed to have done at least 100km then top it up with a long ride over the weekend in hilly terrains.
Other than that since we were also running the marathon the group ensured that each individual trained in readiness for the marathon. We also signed up for spin classes once a week for cardio.
How long did it take you to cycle from Nairobi to Moshi?
It took us two days to Moshi. Day one we covered 185km and day we covered 165km then 3rd day we all ran Half Marathon.
How many km did you cover in total?
350km in total
Why were you so determined to ride all the way?
When I signed up for this, my agenda was how far I can go or push myself. The brief from the club was simple if you can do all the way it can’t just DNF ( Do Not Finish), which is a language commonly used in recreational activities. However, I never believe in DNF even if it means walking, crawling, crying, laughing but I must get to the finish line. Lucky enough we all finished with no complications or any sort of incident.
How did you deal with concerns around safety when cycling e.g from pollution, accidents, crime, and the likes?
This is a song that has been around for a while, cycling needs people who are brave to survive on the Kenyan road.
Ladies especially are at disadvantage, most of the time when people even women see ladies they stop and look at us in disbelief, and others ask us why we do it.
The men make sexist comments but that doesn't stop us from doing what we love.
Accidents do happen, we have had cases of people we know being killed by rogue motorists or being injured.
However, we strongly believe that is one out ten cases that shouldn't stop us from cycling. However, having cycled in Tanzania for a day I must say Tanzanian road users are very friendly.
It goes without saying, they will spot a cyclist from a distance and give them way. There was an incident where we were coming down a hill and there was a track climbing hence causing traffic, some cars wanted to overtake but after spotting us they waited for us to pass then overtook, this is unheard of in Kenya.
I would like to request Kenyan drivers to be a little bit lenient to cyclists and just share roads. It is just common sense.
When it comes to crime issues, we have a motto in the group, “Never Leave anyone behind” each ride has a team captain and assistant captain who ensures that all plans are taken care of.
He or she ensures that we all know who is among us, how many ladies are in the group, who is slow and who is faster.
Once this is done, they assign people based on their capabilities and ensure we move in a pack that will scare away any suspicious activities. We also ensure we are aware of areas that are known for criminal activities and stay away from them.
About safety, at Pedalwise as a club, we ensure that nobody comes for a ride without a helmet and reflector that is mandatory.
We also ensure that at least two or three people have whistles that can be used to alert each other in case of anything.
How many stopovers did you have along the way and where specifically?
We left Nairobi on Friday at 5 am sharp. Our first stop was Kajiado for breakfast and refill, the next stop was Namanga at the border for immigration process and lunch and the last stop was Longido which was our first-night stopover. The following day we had our first stop at Arusha for Lunch and finally Moshi.
Had you planned beforehand in terms of accommodation along the way?
Yes we did, it was part of the club's detailed plan on where people will spend the night for the two days.
Can we have a culture that is conducive to cycling in Kenya?
First of all Kenyan drivers need to respect cyclists, the change starts there. Secondly, the Government should ensure there are cycling paths on major roads in the country so that cyclists don't have to compete for space with motorists.
Cycling has so many advantages that can even build the Kenyan economy. Case in point cycling to work to get many cars off the road hence less traffic jam, young people taking advantage of this to run small errands such as delivery, etc hence earn a living, having a healthy lifestyle of a citizen since it is sort of a workout.
Lastly, Kenyan cycling bodies are too weak, there’s a need to be one that looks at the needs of all cyclists it doesn't matter whether you are an elite, recreational cyclist, or just a cyclist who uses a bicycle as means of transport.
How has it been cycling during the pandemic?
Cycling during the pandemic was a welcome idea, you automatically social distance without being asked since you are on your own with your bike. It helped so many people get out of their houses and do something especially those of us who are actively involved in outdoor activities. Cycling has also seen so many people start cycling hence boosting the bicycle business operation. Also, clubs like Pedalwise came about due to the pandemic.
What would be your word of advice for anyone who wishes to do the same?
Cycling is fun, forget about the horror stories you hear, that is a small percentage. When on the road just focus and be confident, do not be scared of the motorists, they can see you. But also always be alert in case of any incident so that you can react so fast to avoid any fatalities. Go at your own pace and keep pushing until you are comfortable.
Do you think both Kenyan and Tanzanian governments have done enough to keep cyclists safe on roads?
Kenyan Government has a long way to go. There is so much potential and with their help, we can reduce the number of deaths on the roads.
Also, this should not be just for the Government but also for individuals. Ever since I started cycling, my driving habits have completely changed.
I try as much as I can to be extra alert and on the lookout not only for fellow motorists but any other person using a different mode of transport or even a pedestrian. As for Tanzania, I can’t say much but I was very impressed with how they treated us on the road. There was no hooting for no reason, they could overtake from a distance and even give way for us.
Which bike did you use and are they available in the market?
I used a second-hand bike Carrera model. Most cyclists get their bikes second hand as opposed to brand new bikes.
For sports enthusiasts, do you think cycling is a lucrative profession?
There is a lot of potential in cycling, if the Government can come together with cycling stakeholders the Kenyan flag can be raised across the world.
There are so many cycling events that are not recreational that happen in Nairobi that nobody knows of, they just need to be highlighted and supported so that this young enthusiast can earn a living out of them just like marathoners.
For example, there is a times trial happening this weekend along the bypass. One was required to register with Sh1000 and a participant must have trained hard with good bikes to win, majority couldn't sign up because they didn't have good bikes or the money.
As Pedalwise we took upon ourselves to contribute money and encourage the elite cyclists in our group to participate. Some of the members gave out their road bikes to the elite to use. We do hope we shall win hence the beginning of mentoring young upcoming elite cyclists in the country.
What common misconception would you like to address about cycling?
Cycling is just for men and for the elite. Anyone and everyone can cycle if they put their mind to it.
What’s been the toughest challenge both emotionally and physically?
I must say the toughest cycling I did was cycling to MUA and back as part of the preps. That route is very tough both emotionally and physically.
What have you discovered from the journey so far?
Discovered places I never thought existed and also that when you put your mind towards achieving something nothing can stop you, just go for it.
What benefits do you get from cycling?
It forms part of my fitness journey
Meet new people and create friendships
Tell us about something we forget to ask you but you think our readers should know?
Who is my travel companion when it comes to tracking my rides, checking my performance? I use HUAWEI WATCH GT2. It does update you on all rides you have done, your weekly and monthly performance, when to rest, your speed, heart rate, calories burned etc. I can never leave the house without it.
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