29 October 2007

Social call

I was to leave before dawn but I just couldn't. I enjoyed home, wife, and daughter who was having friends over for sleepover.

Mid morning I called my friend Pete and rode out to his place. There is plenty of written and documentaries about Felix "Pete" O'neal so I don't have to write much here about him. In the late 70's we would nod to each other on the street of Arusha and in the early 80's one of us ran out of gas on the road and the other helped out with a litre of fuel. (Both of us at that time never filled gas tanks, we just added enough for the day.) From then on we started having gab fests. It got more frequent when I learned he had a video player and lots of recent movies, and Pete learned I knew about computers in the days of DOS. Of late it is mostly me riding out to his place on my bike, and we talk big and small and have a good time. Are biggest joke is about suing each other for infractions.
Pete was given a Saxophone recently and he is blowing on it trying to learn. He is one of those guys when we are sitting there I will say, " Hey man I am hungry what you got to eat back there?"

On the way I met his guy in town and snapped a shot. This is a common sight. And I am not sure why I even noticed it today.

I had a couple thoughts riding to Pete's.

Wide seat.

Thanks to Chuck Schaefer or brother Don for leaving a wide bike seat behind. He brought it out to use for themselves and it sat for years and years with my tools. I snubbed it because of its width and sponge. I put it on as there was nothing else and the seat that came with the bike was hurting this last year. I think the sponge don't work but the width has me thinking i need a wider seat

On a bike discussion list they have been discussing seats. Sometimes you don't know something is wrong until someone tells you. The Brooks seat on my road bike has always felt great but now I am thinking it is not wide enough. Only after hearing other people saying they feel the rivets, now I feel the rivets. On last Wednesday ride I noticed them.

Ride to the ride

It means if there is a club ride or a bike trip starting out in the bush, if you ride to the ride you are more pure biker, and why not ride to the ride anyway.

Often my bike buddies will take a vehicle and put the bikes in the car for the first 50-100km
The excuse is so we get to more interesting places quicker. I think it partially defeats the idea of the trip.

The ride is the same to the ride, whether we drive in a pickup or on the bike the ride is the same. It differs in the time it takes.

We make too much money.
But we wont change when the cost of us driving to the ride is affordable. No one is going to conserve unless it costs us not to.

At Pete's we shot the bull and watched a a documentary on Eldridge Cleaver , an old one. I wonder who in my family got dad's copy of "Soul on Ice".
We talk more about getting old than we used to.

The ride today was about transport today. It was incidental that I got some good exercise coming home and liked the process too. All but 5 km of the 40km to Pete's house is tarmac, but those 5 are pretty rough. So i rode the mountain bike.

28 October 2007

Everyone should commute by bicycle. (at least sometimes)

There I have gone and said it.

Everyone should decrease the frequency of their commutes by personal vehicles. Statistics in the USA show that 40% of car trips are under 3.2km. That is walkable and ride able. I am sure it is the same in my home town of Arusha. Lots of people in my area, Sakina, work in town and it is 3-5km into town. It is ride able.

Kent Petersen ( kentsbike ) says it maybe better, but I want to give a personal touch to anyone who might read this from Arusha.

Is it realistic?

Bikes are okay to use.
First we have to change our mindset in Arusha and think of bicycles differently. They are not only for lower income people. They are just the same as a car, a means of getting from here to there. We shouldn't feel embarrassed to ride bicycles to work, errands, and school. Everything is relative. Everyone can just change the way they look at bikes. It is okay for rich and middle class people to commute by bicycle.

Maybe that is my role. Slowly try to make it okay to use a bike to get around some of the time.

It is not as dangerous as you think. How do you know it is dangerous when you have not tried it.
It is dangerous when bicyclists do stupid actions and don't ride defensively. I have ridden to work over ten years probably 1-200 times per year to work and had one accident and I was not being attentive and some pedestrians passed in front and I locked up the brakes and slid and crashed bruising my ego. Wear a helmet. Be aware. Don't trust anyone. Assume they are trying to knock you down. Don't assume anyone sees you. Pedestrians are actually worse. Look for paths and lightly traveled roads. Have fun. Ring your bell alot. Use lights day and night.


Smile when you commute. Have personal interactions with people and arrive at work happy. Well I can't smile but at least i can smirk.

Start slow
Be realistic and start slow. Two days a week. Ride slow to work and make it exercise on the way home.

What to do when you get to work.
Shower at home before you leave. Don't use a backpack or pads in the helmet. change clothes at work. Maybe a wash cloth bath. Cool down the last 5 minutes before getting to work.

I still use a car.

See ya, Just now I am going to see my friend Pete's a bit past Usa River, by bike. I could drive but I will go by bike. It would probably take me 60 minutes to drive and it will take me like 90 by bike. Just trying to do my part.

Another time I will tell you how biking to work cured my bad back.

25 October 2007


Inevitably in the middle of every bicycle ride I think of great topics to write about. I swear some thoughts I generate are absolute genius, probably would make the rest of the world ride bikes, conserve , pollute less , love one another , and so on. Kweli, haki, the honest truth. I can't wait to get home to blog.

Inevitably I get home and those thoughts I had rehearsed and worked out in my mind are unrecoverable from my brain. Damn. So on Sunday's ride I decided to use memory tricks to come back with my thoughts.

We were having an afternoon party for Nashesha's 9th birthday, which means by noon I should start setting up tables, chairs, shade, buy drinks, fill cooler, ..... So I plan to go alone at an early hour and be back by 10 am.

Aero tuck.

The first thought I have that I wanted to wow the world with happened on the other side of town heading east just before light. There were a fair number of Phoenix one speed bikes, guys transporting stuff around before sunrise. One guy laden down with cargo came screaming down a hill in a perfect bicycle aero tuck. Hands close to the stem, elbows way down, head behind the hands, back flat. I wondered how he had learned that and why most guys in my club haven't caught on. On steep hills don't pedal but get aero.

I wanted to remember and for once I had no faith in my memory ( or I remembered to remember my memory is non existent). So I decided I would choose one word to jar my memory later. And so my mantra became the 9 words or short phrases.

So this is the mantra I kept repeating (until breakfast when I SMSed it to myself).
"Aero tuck.
Bells kusalimia.
Standing good.
Smiles safi.
Buses 615-645.
Realistic Exercise.
Breakfast. "

Now let me elaborate, I have done the first one.

Bells kusalimia.

I have a bell on my bike, used to warn pedestrians not to cross the road as I am coming and when I come up behind a pedestrians walking abreast across the road and want them to give me a space.

Today I learned to use the bell to say hello to the other bicyclists. I was part of them. Mostly they would ring their bell and look at me, no smile , no wave , no nod. But I knew the ringing of the bell was saying " Hey, see ya man, keep pedaling, have a good day". I no longer felt like a rich white man on a $800 bicycle but one of a group of people using bicycles for transport.

Standing good.

There are a couple of small rises in a section of downhills, and instead of shifting down I stood up to power over the rises at speed. the bells were making me happy and that standing was also good. Life is good.

Smiles safi.

After the series of downs I was moving at a pace where I could see what was going on around me, and it was now day light. I noticed a 2 year old child strapped on the back of her mother. What I noticed was this beautiful smile. All I could think of was this child was happy. So i looked at the mother and she had the same happy smile. I wondered what exchange they had had that they were both so happy.

Buses 615-645.

Daylight is around 6am. At 6:15 the first 80 seat long distance bus whooshed by me. That went on until around 6:45. Some gave me plenty of room , some beeped, some gave me a couple feet. They travel at 120-140 kmph. I only got unnerved a couple times, but made a note that maybe I should start earlier and have breakfast when the first bus passes.

Buses passing close made me think of safety and wearing a helmet and being visible. I used a biker friend Flic to remind me. She was riding through Africa and got hit from behind by a Truck in Rwanda. (She looks to be recovering completely).

Realistic Exercise.

Am I realistic to expect others to do what I do on a bike, or commute to work. I think nothing of riding my bike the 6km to the office. It is not exercise or much of a work out. But then I have always enjoyed physical exercise. As a kid I had friends that lived miles away, and thought it nothing to run/walk/ride to their houses.

Would the average person ever get to the point of being able to ride to work and think nothing of it. Or would they think of it as a painful experience every day.

I ride about 50 km on the highway and turn off near a railroad line and ride another 15km or so into a huge flat plain. There is a tree here and there and some clusters of houses, some short dry grass and ploughed up fields. Not bush but I enjoyed it. I see 3 hacked up trees with a bit of shade and a horizontal branch/tree to sit on and I stop for breakfast at 8:35. (Ha! I know the time because I SMS myself the list)


And then I had a wonderful breakfast out in the plain. <>
I had a sandwich of peanut butter and jelly and a smoothie I had made at home. I could watch some planes taking off from KIA airport 10 km away and remember the times it was me in the plane looking down on this dry plane and thinking how could anyone live there.

So back to memory. I used the mantra, adding a word for each one. That got me to breakfast, when i resorted to technology and sms my mantra to myself. Good thing because it is now Thursday morning and I am finally getting this down.

However I was just able to repeat all the list just now.

And reading through my thoughts they aren't that earth shattering. They were better during the moment. I no longer regret having forgotten those fantastic ideas on my bike rides. I was enough to enjoy the thoughts at the time.

09 October 2007

Times are a changing

Around the turn of the year my weekend rides tended to be:
-wake up and stumble around before dawn trying to get ready.
-ride out in the dark for awhile
-turn off the highway on a dirt road
-try to ride somewhere where I would either see animals, or be alone, or lost, or drink tea in a boma, or scratched up, or all of the above.
-sit on the side of the trail and have a cup of tea and sandwich
-delay the turn around point (10 am) because it was NOW getting good country.
-slog home in the heat on the highway.

These rides tended to be 6-10 hours, which meant that the only person who was (1) always available and (2) could ride that far, was Paulo Rukoine. There are a number of people who can ride that far but they either have young babies, kids home from boarding school, lonely wives/girlfriends, or no headlight.

Paulo is a great riding partner except this, his employer (me) pays him a pittance and he can't afford or won't afford to maintain his bike. So if I wanna ride with him I have to maintain his bike, buy him tubes and replace cables etc. He does however have a better thermos than me and speaks masai.

(jeez, all that and I haven't gotten to the topic)

So my weekend rides were solo rides in the bush. Then in mid year I started meeting up with riders and we did shorter mtn bike rides, hard and fast but we never got into the bush.

This Sunday I told a slew of "sometime cyclists" to meet at my house and we would head up the slopes of Mt Meru. I gave Paulo a new tube so he could help showing the way, Erik Mdogo showed up with Laura Tarimo and her nephew Louis ( read teenager), Andrew came without the lonely girlfriend (and he did a ride to the ride), Vincent Shirima and Patrick show up in a brand new landcrusier transforming my dump of a compound into a high end parking lot. To round off the crew I hooked up the alley cat for my daughter Nashesha (she had to change clothes twice to get the right outfit after a discussion with her buddy Mariamu), and Dina Masudi our 12 year old neighbor.

Right away I realized this is a different sort of ride. I spent an hour pre ride fixing bikes. One bike we threw in the store and took mine instead, as it was beyond repair. We were spread all over the road and with the 27 turns it is amazing we ever met up with the different groups. The tail group got off course and somehow we got ahead of Vincent who caught up.

The tail group was about 6 people and we stayed 30 minutes at the small river near Sambasha mtn and then coasted down in the dust to home.

Dina is 12 and rode the whole way on a 24inch single speed piece of junk bike. AMAZING.

It was a smash of a ride and people started talking about doing this each week.

It is a totally different type of riding for me. I spend more energy worrying about people being lost and fixing flats than serious riding. However as I had Nashesha on the alley cat it was a fair amount of work.