Cycling on Nairobi roads is an eye-opening experience. There are hardly any lanes for bicycles or pedestrians, forcing cyclists to share the road with cars. Some motorists were courteous and slowed down or move aside slightly to accommodate us. But other drivers continued speeding along or driving very close to the cyclists.
Ben Asin, is a community and social development practitioner who discovered his passion for cycling during Covid.
Asin used to ride occasionally using a bike borrowed from his brother but during Covid-19 lockdowns, he did even more cycling.
So in April 2020, he founded Spin Kings Kenya, a community of recreational bikers in Nairobi. “I cycle to change the lives of individuals in the community, to bring back hope and spread love through cycling,” said Asin, 28.
Rather than being viewed as a poor man's form of transport, cycling has become a fashionable past-time and fitness routine. Spin Kings Kenya has over 300 members, although not everybody shows up for the trips that happen each weekend.
Members have different levels of experience including beginners, amateurs, and semi-elites. The lady and children bikers are referred to as the Spin Queens and Spin Kids.
I joined Spin Kings Kenya one Saturday morning. Saturday is usually set aside for the beginner rides, an easy route of a few hours over 35km within Nairobi. Our group met early in the morning in downtown Nairobi.
Among the group were seasoned riders, beginners, amateurs, and children between 8-15 years. Spin Kings takes children as young as 6 years.
Asin explained that the key attribute they look for is a child’s skill and experience more than age. “It’s all about how often people cycle because that is when they gain experience. We have young kids who do amateur rides of about 140kms and are between 8-11 years old.”
Before hopping onto the bikes, the riders went through a debriefing session and a routine of stretching exercises. Everybody was kitted with proper cycling attire, helmets, gloves, and drinking water. Riders also need to learn the different road hand signs that cyclists use.
Experienced bikers were appointed as the lead riders to show the way and point out any potential hazards. Others were delegated to accompany the children or ride alongside beginners.
Along the route, there were designated stopping points where the group rested for about 20 minutes to take light refreshments and catch up.
Cycling on Nairobi roads is an eye-opening experience. There are hardly any lanes for bicycles or pedestrians, forcing cyclists to share the road with cars.
Some motorists were courteous and slowed down or move aside slightly to accommodate us. But other drivers continued speeding along or driving very close to the cyclists.
Road safety, lack of cycling lanes, bullying by motorists, and lane overlapping were concerns brought up by several Spin King members. “For road safety, we need to learn to share the road and be well behaved,” says Asin. “That is what we preach under our hashtag #Mylane2.” A couple of times the route we were fortunate enough to meet a police officer who graciously held up traffic to let the group pass.
Sunday mornings are reserved for amateur and semi-elite riders, with excursions of up to 200 kilometres on the outskirts of Nairobi. Spin Kings also organises long-distance trips such as overnight to Naivasha or 500kms to Mombasa over the course of 4 days.
Top-notch bikes can cost upwards of Ksh300,000. But Asin insists that cycling is not expensive or elite activity. “Anyone can start cycling. We have members who use black mambas bicycles, mountain bikes from supermarkets or from ex-UK shops. The important thing is having a well-serviced bike.”
Asin has a road bike which is good for fast cycling. He also owns a hybrid bike, a cross between road and mountain bicycle, with a more comfortable riding position and is suitable for casual riding, workouts, and light off-road trips.
Although Spin Kings cycle for pleasure and fitness Asin notes that more can be done by the Ministry of Sports to boost professional cycling because Kenya has a lot of raw talent.
But as a recreational activity, cycling is a sustainable and environmentally-friendly form of transport with many health benefits. “It improves your mood and memory, helps you sleep better, and promotes positive mental health,” said Asin. Spin Kings Kenya is engaging the Ministry of Health to promote cycling for mental health and suicide prevention.