LIFE BY LOUIS: Learning to ride a bicycle

I cycled into a ditch. Now that was scary, and I was truly mortified. ILLUSTRATION| IGAH

What you need to know:

  • I have always wanted to know how to ride a bicycle.
  • Unfortunately, the older I grew the more risk averse I became.

I only learned to ride a bicycle the other day.

When growing up as tiny boys who could only cycle from under the frame of the village bicycles known as Black Mamba, I was too afraid of falling off the bicycle and breaking a bone.

I therefore missed out on the free cycling lessons that were offered by the fellow boys along the dusty village cattle tracks.  

The bicycles were stolen from the family parking lots and half the time they had defective brakes and a steering system that was asymmetrical to the direction that the bicycle was moving.

Learning to cycle from such metallic contraptions was nothing short of magic.

I have always wanted to know how to ride a bicycle. Unfortunately, the older I grew the more risk averse I became.

The mere thoughts of careening down a steep hill on a bicycle whose brakes had failed and being thrown over a cliff have always kept me from trying to ride that iron horse.


The fear did not keep me from window shopping for modern bicycles, what we refer to in the village as 'bicycles of gear'.

These are bicycles that are highly revered because talk has it in the village that you can ride these bicycles up a hill without disembarking and pushing it.

The Black Mamba bicycle is not made for riding up a hill. The minute the gradient changes to uphill, you have to get off the hard seat and push the bicycle until you see the next signs of a flat or downhill terrain.

Life has not always been harsh to me.  Last year, I raided the kitchen budget and bought myself a 'bicycle of gear'.

Six months, down the line I am shameless to report that I have only ridden it a record three times including last Saturday. 

So last Saturday I woke up early to take the baby for its first superhighway ride. I did not really wake up, I had not slept a wink because of excitement and apprehension.

Because Man Kamaa is the angel when you need one, he had hooked me up with state of the art cycling gear from the big open air market.

Needless to say, I had to sell three internal organs in order to afford a previously enjoyed fibre helmet, reflective jacket, tights and a nice pair of dark sun glasses.

I did a few rounds inside the safety of the estate roads in order to build up confidence before I ventured into the superhighway.

My ultimate goal was to ride along the shoulder of the highway the way I see the professional riders do it.

I really admire their stick-thin legs and lean torsos as they sometimes outdo and overtake the slow moving jalopies along the roads.

The estate roads were going to be my training grounds towards my goal of becoming a renowned cyclist with aspirations of representing the country in Tour de France. 

I joined the superhighway full of confidence. I was doing well and cruising past the Leafy Suburbs of Githurai and Ruiru. At some point I felt like I was ready to cycle to Egypt.

I reached the gate of an institution of higher learning located along the superhighway.

A colourful-looking matatu was offloading its dawn load of night owls who were clearly coming from a long night of merry making.


They were spilling all over the pavement because they don’t just serve tea and roast bananas in the entertainment joints that they were coming from.

When you are new to cycling, there are a few things you don’t learn on the first day. You can’t cycle, brake, gawk at the younglings, manoeuvre, ring the bell and show off the bike all at the same time.

I only managed two of those activities. I cycled into a ditch. Now that was scary, and I was truly mortified. 

But I am not the type to succumb that easily. I acted like the bicycle had developed some mechanical problems and I carefully removed its front wheel and pretended to do some adjustments using an alien key set. I still believe I am the only person who knows what an alien key is, but I could be wrong.

Then I opened one of my pink water bottles and took a long swing as my dewlap oscillated up and down.

I unleashed a flowery bandana to wipe my sweaty brow and proceed with my ride.

As I disappeared down the corner towards the next nearest exit, I could hear giggles behind me and I reached home in one very foul mood.


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