It is not every day that you see a middle-aged woman whizzing by on a bicycle with more impressive specs than your average young cycling enthusiast.
But that was the case for anyone who rode or walked the 10.8km stretch from State House in Nairobi to the UN headquarters in Gigiri on Tuesday morning.
The middle-aged woman was none other than Kenya’s First Lady Rachel Ruto, who cycled with 30 other cyclists to the Global Alliance of Cities for Road Safety (ACROS) meeting—a platform for capacity building, city exchange and technical advice on road safety.
The optics of the country’s First Lady ditching her air-conditioned, tinted SUVs with comfy leather seats and hopping on a bicycle to attend a high-level UN meeting across town were pretty good. But what was even more eye-catching, especially to cycling enthusiasts like myself, was the type of bike she was riding.
To an ordinary person, it might have looked like just another blue, “souped-up” bike. But to those who know enough about bicycles, it is an enviable piece of equipment that few can afford.
It is a gravel bike, yes, but not your ordinary gravel bike. It is the Trek Boone 6 Disc, specially sized for a woman, and it costs between Sh500,000 and Sh900,000.
The specific model the First Lady rode is a 2021 model, which, according to a simple Google search, costs an average of Sh560,000. It is suitable for gravel and basic road riding, but not for mountainous terrain (you’d need a mountain bike for that).
One look at the handlebars, brakes and gears and it is clear that the bike uses the 1X Drivetrain SRAM system, which gives the rider butter-smooth shifting, especially in difficult terrain.
The drivetrain, also known as the gear system, is one of the most important components of a bike because it allows you to pedal forward and change gears.
In simple terms, a 1x drivetrain has a single chain ring and no front derailleur. Historically, bicycle cranksets have had two or three chainrings, with a derailleur to move the chain between the chainrings.
But because 1x (pronounced one-by) drivetrains have only one chainring, they eliminate the need for a front derailleur. The front derailleur shifter and the shifting cable that would normally run between the shifter and the front derailleur are also eliminated.
This ensures that you have sufficient range for climbing and descending without having to pedal too hard and without the need for additional chain rings to increase the range.
This system (1x drivetrain) is manufactured by SRAM, one of the world’s largest bicycle component manufacturers. The company primarily produces sets for both road and mountain bikes and was the first major manufacturer to develop a dedicated 1x drivetrain in 2012. This system is used by top cycling professionals around the world.
Although the bike itself is not electric, the drivetrain is chargeable (using the eTap USB charging structure) and can hold a charge for up to 60 hours of riding before needing to be recharged. A full charge takes about an hour.
Beneath the saddle on which Ms Ruto was sitting was a black bag, the puncture kit. As the name suggests, this is what you go for in the unfortunate event of a puncture. But experts will tell you that she didn’t, because the bike’s tyres are tubeless with hydraulic brakes and rarely puncture.
She probably had them out of an abundance of caution, or simply to complete the aesthetics of the bike. Whatever the reason, you can expect to find a lever and an extra tube in the puncture kit.
How much does it cost to maintain this gem?
“Obviously you would need the right mechanic to do any repairs on this bike, but the good thing is that it is made from high-quality materials so it rarely breaks down. The only downside is that very few mechanics would know how to repair it,” says Daudi Gicheru, a cycling enthusiast and president of the Extramilers Club.
The kit she wore was sourced from Asia and Italy and supplied by Five Stars Africa Sports Brand, a company owned by Alice Kivuva. Ms Kivuva has been Ms Ruto’s official kit provider since 2018. She also provides kits for the Kenyan national cycling team and Nairobi Woman Rep Esther Passaris.
Five Stars provided a semi-professional kit that included a red lightweight cycling jersey (about Sh8,000), black bib shorts that go up to the chest and are worn like a onesie (Sh7,000), a striped fleece jacket (Sh8,000), black and red coloured gloves (Sh3,500) and black socks (Sh1,500). The black ankle-length tights were from the First Lady's own collection.
“You only see bikes like these once in a while, maybe during big cycling events where we have processionals, but they are obviously not that common because they are quite expensive,” says Andrew Koros, a cycling enthusiast.
The First Lady could have bought the bike, or it could have been a gift from Trek (the manufacturer), which has been known to donate its top-of-the-range bikes to key figures for marketing purposes. In May 2013, for example, Trek presented former US President George Bush with a brand new Trek Fuel EX7.