OBUNGA: Make city friendly to cyclists

A boy riding a bicycle carrying another one at Kibera slums in Nairobi on Thursday, May 21, 2020. PHOTO| DENNIS ONSONGO

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My childhood memory of the bicycle, however, cannot be complete without a reminder of painful school mornings.

Pupils dreaded the then Deputy Headmaster of our school for his fast cycling habit.

Today we observe the third World Bicycle Day since its introduction in 2018. I learned to cycle as a child, long before teenage like most of my childhood friends from the village. My childhood memory of the bicycle, however, cannot be complete without a reminder of painful school mornings. One of the things that worried me on most school mornings during my lower primary was the sound of a bicycle bell. Pupils dreaded the then Deputy Headmaster of our school for his fast cycling habit. Since the way to school would be lined with kids, he always rang his bell throughout, only braking at the gate where he stood and began disciplining those who arrived at school after him. It was useless running (however fast) after him because I don’t recall a day when his feet stopped going round with the bicycle pedals. And that Roadster Hero Jet bicycle negotiated bends without slowing down, courtesy of Mr Booker Demba’s dexterous hands and feet. The sound of a bicycle bell in the morning of a school day meant that he was approaching and that amounted to strokes of the cane. Sometimes it was never him but still pupils took off. These were days when bicycles were a source of pride and even playing with one’s father’s bicycle attracted punishment. It was a kind of privilege when a teacher asked a pupil to wash his bicycle. Then times changed. The bicycle became a poor man’s vehicle as people transitioned to adopting cars as a symbol of improved social status. These days, cycling is more of sporting and a recreational activity than a mode of transport. And when you cycle to work, people read poverty even on your clothes, especially if you are middle-aged and your peers are moving around in cars.


This simple two-wheeled vehicle has been in use for two centuries now. As at 2020, statisticsestimate that there are about 1 billion bicycles in the world against about 1.5 billion vehicles.  It is fascinating that daily, for every second that passes, four bicycles get produced and someone gets to buy a bicycle every two seconds. I am sure the pandemic has raised the rate of purchase. However, for the two aforementioned reasons and others, people have not fully accepted the bicycle as a means of transport. The bicycle has remained an alternative that is fetched only during desperate times. The urban centres, have also discouraged the use of bicycle transport in the City Centres, thanks to the absence of infrastructures.

With the introduction of a social distance to be maintained at all times, traveling in public service vehicles no longer appear safe during this pandemic period. If the distance is manageable, why not cycle? You will not only be moving at your convenience but you can observe social distance. As you cycle you are burning fat and not fuel. Therefore, you are reducing air pollution that is rampant with vehicles using fuel. Besides fostering a clean environment, burning body fat means that you are keeping cardiovascular diseases at bay and lowering the risk of obesity. The physical exercise that cycling provides has been proven by studies to relieve stress and help one get good sleep.


The role bicycles continue to play in [many] people’s lives is underrated. In the villages for instance, the bicycle is used by students and even some teachers who live far to reach school on time and get back home before it is dark. Community health workers easily reach the sick deep in the villages faster on bikes. Why then can’t we adopt a cycling culture in the cities? Business Daily reported in 2015 that City Hall was to spend Sh 500 million on bike and pedestrian lanes by June 2017. Counting from 2017 June, it is three years later yet there is no sign that cyclists can ride safely around the city. Even pedestrians fight over spaces with cars and matatus.

Why don’t we make the cities friendlier to cyclists? The only way to do this is avail cycling infrastructures. Create bike lanes, for instance, paint, line them with posts and link them to clear intersection points. Dedicate traffic signs for cyclists. Build bicycle parking spaces especially indoors for security because while the bicycle is far much cheaper (to buy and maintain) than a car, it is not immune to theft. And even come up with public share systems where people can pay to use a bicycle while they are moving around the City Centre. In fact this can be an alternative to transportation when a plan to stop matatus from getting into the City Centres is enacted. More people will be able to ride to work. Those who walk to work because they can’t afford bus fare daily can save for a bicycle and ride to work.

Today as we celebrate the World Bicycle Day, just remember that a bike has made a difference in people’s lives and it is capable of making it even better. Don’t take cycling as a sport only. Ride to work, ride to school, reduce carbon emissions and improve your mental and physical health. Nobody is going to ask you for a license to ride that bike anyway.