A growing trend in Nairobi, Kenya sees more people switching to cycling since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite a critical lack of bike paths.
A promising sign in the capital city as air pollution has increased 182% since the 1970s, according to a recent study by the University of Birmingham, and traffic jams cost an estimated $1 billion in lost productivity every year.
In his store for used bikes in the city centre, Jimmy Karumba said he experienced a more than 50% rise in sales in 2020.
The shopkeeper, who mainly sold children’s bikes before the pandemic, said he welcomed many adult customers looking to avoid public transport and stay fit.
“In 2020, the sales were high compared to 2019 in terms of sales because you find that people wanted to cycle more just to keep fit, to commute from work, from point A to point B and mostly since cycling is a sport they wanted to keep fit because people were on lockdown.”
Without the protection of bike lanes, cyclists must navigate between antiquated trucks, speeding SUVs and motorcycles crisscrossing the lanes on a busy highway during rush hour.
Nevertheless, some still see several benefits to this mode of transportation. Despite two minor accidents, a videographer who resides in Nairobi Steven Odhiambo has no intention of back-pedaling.
He says he lost 20 kilogrammes from cycling alone and made significant savings on transport thanks to a used bike he purchased for about 115 euros.
“The fear was there about trying to maneuver these roads of ours where a big percentage of the drivers are usually careless. They can push you off the road, they don’t care about you. But I just look at the pros and cons. I’m much safer on a bicycle, I am social distancing, I take less time.”
Cyprine Odada of Critical Mass, an alliance of cyclist groups that holds a monthly ride of up to 1,000 people in Nairobi, said the pandemic has shown policymakers that biking is indeed popular among Kenyans and not exclusively a means of transportation for those of less financial means.
She shared her stance o the current and growing trend.
“Weirdly, COVID has been good for cycling. It has shown policy-makers that people want to walk, people want to cycle. And they have to, whether they like it or not! They have to find a way of ensuring people can get to their destinations safe and sound.
It’s no longer us forcing ourselves to share roads with motorists, we do need a space dedicated specifically for cyclists and for pedestrians.”
According to the National Transport Authority, 69 cyclists died in 2020 in the capital. Many novices have sought out Critical Mass for advice about staying and safe despite the progress already made in the city, Odada believes that “Kenya still has a long way to go” to show that “cyclists’ lives matter.”