A group of men and women in neon helmets, stretchy pants, and jerseys, and cycling glasses lean on bicycles to take photographs on a road.
Together with their bikes, they are creating beautiful memories.
It is a Saturday and they have been cycling for kilometres not to compete against anyone but to beat their set goals; be it to ride for 300 kilometres or mental wellness.
Welcome to a new community of cyclists that is kindling its love for bikes.
Since the coronavirus curtailed Kenyans’ fun plans, bicycles have become one of their top priorities. Demand for bicycles has gone up, so is the number of people cycling in nature trails and roads.
Ben Asin and his group of over 300 cyclists are among the many Kenyans who have found happiness on bikes.
Ben started cycling two years ago.
“I’d steal my brother George’s bicycle and ride for kilometres to visit my girlfriend,” he says. “George decided to give it to me and he bought himself another one.”
As Ben cycled for kilometres to nurture his romantic love, he discovered a new love along the way.
“I realised that when I’m on a bike, I feel relaxed and happy,” he says.
Just as John F. Kennedy said, “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride” Ben decided to recruit a coterie of cyclists.
He founded Spin Kings Kenya which trains beginners, and curates for semi-elite and elite riders.
“Our rides are goal-oriented rather than competition-oriented,” says the 26-year-old.
“We focus on achieving fitness goals and promoting healthy lifestyles and having fun while at it. Last year, was very hard for me as I struggled with depression. If it wasn’t for cycling, I’d have fallen into alcoholism,” he says.
Four months into starting the company, Covid-19 spurred a sharp increase in recreational cycling as people sought ways to beat cabin fever during lockdowns and get exercise outdoors.
Every weekend, Ben now organises bike rides for 110 beginners, and 100 cyclists in the semi-elite and elite groups.
“Some have confessed to being mentally healthy during this period just because of cycling,” he says.
“Others have become healthier, dropping unhealthy habits like binge-drinking and overeating to kill boredom,” says Ben, who has lost six kilogrammes since he started cycling.
So far he has organised 36 rides.
The oldest cyclist in his group is a 52-year- old while the youngest is six years old.
The two most popular routes are to Nairobi-Machakos, Nairobi-Namanga, and back which involves cycling for about 130 kilometres.
The cyclists make three to five resting stops and to ensure safety, motorbike marshals help control traffic.
In Nairobi, the common perception is that cycling is dominated by a particular demographic— well-off male professionals who can afford specialist bikes. But Spin Kings has attracted ‘queens’ too.
Women riders are referred to as spin queens; the men spin kings and the children spin kids.
Catherine Wambui, 26, is one of the spin queens. She has been cycling for three years. Her longest ride has been 300 kilometres, a loop from Nairobi to Embu and back.
“I first bought a bike to use it as a mode of transport between home and university. Little did I know that cycling was a door to grand opportunities,” she says.
Next month, she would have been on a flight to The Netherlands for a duathlon competition had it not been for the pandemic. “Last year, I participated in the Watamu Triathlon/Duathlon and qualified for the duathlon. I was so excited because the Netherlands is known for its amazing cycling routes,” she says.
What started as a fun activity also opened an opportunity for her to sell customised bike stands and accessories.
The bike has also helped Catherine beat depression. “When I’m on a bike, I’m in a happy world. This is what keeps my mental health in check,” she says, adding that it has also built her endurance.
As a woman cyclist, however, she has had to overcome stereotypes.
“People assume that a woman’s body isn’t built for cycling. I’m proof that it is,” says Catherine whose weight oscillates between 50kg to 52kg.
Cycling has come with many benefits, she says. She used to have back and breathing problems that caused her to not be able to even do the simple things like bending. Not any more.
As soon as she took up cycling, it was yesterdays sorrow. She has also regained her appetite, and she has flattened her tummy and now has toned abs, arms, thighs, and legs.
What it costs
For cycling to be of utmost enjoyment, it requires an investment.
“You need a perfect fit bike to avoid back injuries as well as proper cycling gear, shoes, and a helmet,” Catherine says.
Her bike, called Planet X, cost Sh100,000.
Ben’s Giant Road bike cost Sh200,000. He calls it Zanna.
“In addition to the bike, the cycling full kit, the helmet and shoes cost Sh5,000 each and the gloves cost Sh3,000,” Ben adds.
Cycling is also gaining popularity because it is easy to weave its fitness benefits into day-to-day life.
This is what Raphael Kamotho, 26, decided to do while under quarantine. With movement restrictions and extra time on his hands, the engineering graduate pulled apart his bike and piece by piece, put it back together.
“It was very satisfying to repair it with my two hands. A true labour of love,” he says.
Today, he stands lean and lithe, next to his daily companion, and together, they have made beautiful memories.
“I’ve had this bike for a long time,” he says. “However, with Covid-19, I’ve come to appreciate more. Cycling is thrilling. It takes you places faster, saves you money, and makes you strong mentally and physically,” says Raphael, who weighs 57kg.
After spending much of their time in gyms and offices, searching for a purpose and ways to clear their minds of clutter, some seem to have found it in cycling trips in tea plantations.
A passion for adventure and active travel motivated Patrick Njoroge and his two friends to form Active Motion Kenya.
On a bike, they have been showcasing Kenya’s beauty to international and local clients, for the past five years.
“We organise road cycling and biking adventure tours. From riding on roads, to high climbs, across wheat farms in Nanyuki to tea plantations in Limuru,” says Patrick.
Before Covid-19, they organised weekly cycling trips but they had to scale back due to a decline in international tourism.
“But there’s been an increase in domestic interest in cycling,” he says, adding that many people want to cycle to destinations such as Tigoni Tea Farms, Nanyuki, and Mt Suswa, in small groups so as maintain social distance.
“Limuru tea fields is a popular cycling destination because of its staggering scenery and culinary experiences. We make stops for rests, lunch, water breaks or to simply enjoy the beauty and have a good laugh with fellow adventurers,” he says.
On a typical trip to Mt. Suswa, cyclists ride from a tiny town known as Duka Moja. They then have stops as they cycle towards the beautiful crater in Mt. Suswa.
“The tour could end here, or we could proceed to ‘Baboons’ parliament: an assembly of baboons that reside in Mt. Suswa’s caves before heading back to Nairobi,” Patrick says.