Wanna buy a Kenyan bike?

Last week before my flight back to the US, I swung briefly through a Kenyan mega mart of sorts on the way to the airport.  My coworkers wanted to pick up some coffee (nearby regions are known for it) at penny on the dollar prices, so I used the time to wander into the bikes section.  I had seen quite a few folks around both Kenya and Tanzania using bikes during my brief stay there.

In Tanzania (and Kenya, rest of Africa) for example it is a very common way to get clean water to villages.  Much of the time elsewhere in Africa (as I’ve seen both in Kenya and Tanzania previously), you’ll see women walking many many miles each day each way just to get a jug of clean water.  The extremely lucky ones however have a bike.  I saw one individual with three massive water jugs on his bike, probably 15-20 gallons in total, very impressive compared to the small little bottles I bring on a ride.  This dude below though was still fighting it through traffic and hills with his water – and he was sporting the bright pink shirt to top it off:

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Anyway, back to the mega mart…

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It didn’t take long to find the bikes, they were upstairs in the sports section.  They had both a clear section of ‘commuter’ bikes, as well as kids bikes.  Not too much in the middle, and really no racing bikes.  Not that I was expecting to find a Felt with aerobars there…

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IMGP4414The very first thing you’ll notice about many of the bikes there is they they have dual top-tubes, you can see them in the picture below (and above).  Those two top tubes are indeed the same bike, and you can see the next bike (wrapped in plastic), behind it – also with dual-top-tubes.  In the first picture above you’ll also notice the very nice back rack for putting water jugs or bags (or perhaps a Gazelle for dinner).  Finally, you’ll also notice both front and back fenders to keep the mud off of ya.

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Next thing you’ll see is the kick-ass massive front headlight.  This thing could illuminate a football field if required.  Which…makes sense, because as I was warned by some coworkers who live/work there, Nairobi drivers (car) won’t hesitate to overtake a sidewalk and simply run you over (a little different out of the city and definitely different in Tanzania).  As such, anything you can do to at least make them think before running you over is ideal.

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Of course, no front light would be complete without a corresponding back taillight.  And this thing is straight out of the Jetsons.  It’s awesome.  It’s also not some rinky-dink little light like we’d get here in the states to clip on our seat post.  Nope, this bad boy ain’t goin’ nowhere.  You can chuck this bike/light at a semi truck and it’s just gonna bounce off.

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Of course, in general you want to avoid encounters with semi-trucks.  Therefore, they include a pretty badass ding-ding creator.  Roughly the size of a Frisbee on your handlebars, but people in the next country will hear ya coming.

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Now the roads in Kenya aren’t exactly the smoothest.  Sure the new Nairobi-Mombasa highway is pretty nice and all, but everything else?  A bit rougher.  So, you’ll want a serious bike seat to keep everything from feeling the bumps.  And this one has shocks.  Yeah baby!

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Last but not least, when you stop and park you must have a good way to keep your bike from touching the ground.  As that would be totally uncool to let it mingle with the dirt.  Now traditionally a kickstand is on one side of the bike and therefore the bike leans slightly.  But the problem there is that makes it much more unstable for loading jugs of water (or squirming Gazelle).  Theses bikes have gone a step further and created a full out kickstand that actually lifts the whole back wheel off the ground and clicks into place.  Pretty sweet, ehh?

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Of course, all of these luxuries comes at a price.  Let’s recap what you get:

- Back storage rack
– Front light
– Rear light
– Sweet kickstand
– Massive seat with shocks
– Front and back fenders
– The mother of all bells
– And finally – a damn sweet bike with a dual top tube.

So how much will all this cost you?  Well, $5,995 Kenyan Shillings.  Which is…

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…approximately $75US.

Yes, seriously.

So, naturally I began wondering if I could get one home.  I found the nearby sports section dude and asked whether or not they had one that wasn’t unboxed yet (as you probably realize, bike retailers around the world receive the bikes unassembled in boxes, and then assemble them onsite).  He did some poking, but unfortunately none of these bikes were still in boxes in the back stockroom anywhere.  Had I come in earlier in the stay, I might have had better luck.

Given I only had a short time before my flight took off I wouldn’t have had enough time to fully disassemble the bike and get it into a box.  So…no bike this last time.  But next time I’m in town…trust me, a Kenyan bike will be brought home!

22 Comments

  1. Wow..those bikes look super sweet!

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  2. Wow. I bought a bike in China once, they are fond of the carrying racks, but other than that it was just a normal bike.

    I wonder what the extra tube does.

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  3. Those bikes must weigh a ton. You'd have to be one bad ass cyclist to ride one of those uphill toting 20 gallons of water.

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  4. What's the deal with the springs above the fork. They don't really have front suspension do they? Definitely a cool bike at that price though.

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  5. A pumper up cruiser!! Definitely a unique souvenir to bring home from your travels!

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  6. Now that would be a great souvenir!

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  7. One of those would make a great cruiser. Although, on campus in Boulder, the kickstand would make it a prime target for theft.

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  8. Very interesting. I wonder why the double top tube? That doesn't seem like much of a stability advantage.

    Having read this, I can appreciate why Kenyans haven't yet taken over cycling yet like they dominate distance running.

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  9. if anyone could find a way to get one of those bad boys...it would be you...
    yeah with all the weight and then the water...that dude was chugging some big time power up the hills...

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    • Lasty replied

      Yeah dude , and mind you this bike is really fast . Two three cycles you are talking of 15 miles per hour and can go up to 30 depending wat kind of bad ass on it !!! Yes !!

      Reply
  10. Did you see families of 5 all sitting on the same bicycle? That always amused me...

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  11. Too many nifty souvenirs like that and you're going to need extra space!

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  12. Khakasa

    Very funny review--I'm Kenyan, and I've never thought much about our Kenyan bikes...What you say about the large headlight and bell is absolutely true. If you don't have one, you just might be run over!

    Great blog.

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    • rakesh young replied

      Hey, I'm Kenyan too...and I work for this company Wheels of Africa, we have mountain bikes on sale and hire..plus we organize weekend rides. You can check us out on Facebook link to facebook.com

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  13. wow i enjoyed reading this article..they are called "black mamba" and you could get one for even cheaper upto Kshs. 3000 if you know where to look. when utilized for transport(commercial) they are called "boda boda" and these have a better back seat and music on the go!

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  14. Godfrey

    I also found this review very funny (am kenyan too). All those things are very very practical to how people cycle in kenya. A bike in kenya has more uses than a car. Too bad you didn't get to ride on a boda boda. They have a way of fitting the radio under the padded carrier so no wiring is visible. You get on the bike and you are halfway to your destination before you realise the catchy tune is coming from your ass!

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  15. brian

    i still have one of these.. my dad bought it when i was around ten..it weighs lyk a tonne...a serious workout no wonder kenyans run for such distances

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  16. Polyn

    prices!I need to compare.

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  17. Hahahaa..I am Kenyan and I started riding this kind of bike when I was like 10 years old... When you are that young you ride it under the double tubes because the seat is too high. When you get a bit taller, you sit on the tubes. I wish you saw a kid do that. By the time I was like 17, I could carry 3 people of my size on it. Two on the back and 1 on the double tubes. These bikes are badass.

    It would have been awesome if you managed to bring one to the U.S.

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  18. kim kimani

    laughing myself to death. found this article while shopping for a mountain/sports bike. that's one bad ass crazy article.

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  19. Thanks for the write-up. I'm the Product Manager for Buffalo Bicycles (an arm of World Bicycle Relief) that is selling a similar but better quality version of these bicycles (buffalobicycle.com) in Eastern and Southern Africa. Note that while the bikes seen in the photos are bad ass in terms of features, they are real disasters in terms of quality (hence the price). If you were to take a closer look at the bicycle of the fellow carrying water, you would likely find that his frame and fork were both broken in multiple places and brazed or welded back together. The bottom bracket might likewise be welded to the frame. The cranks will be bent and the pedals may be nothing but bear spindles with no bodies. The original lights will have been dim (size does not equate to brightness) and failed in the first couple of weeks and the stand and carrier will be equally useless for loads much over 20kg. The saddle will be nothing but some bent rails with shreds of fabric clinging to it and the spokes will be breaking on a daily basis. Unfortunately this is reality of most products that "serve" the poor of our world. Since they are generally consider to be a low-margin, low-volume customer, companies don't generally want to invest in products for them. That's why these bikes are replicas of 1920s English roadsters (link to en.wikipedia.org) that were copied in India and China and are continuing to be sold (albeit in a cost-cut form) almost 100 years later. Our goal at Buffalo is to bring customer focus and top engineering and manufacturing to bear on a typically neglected product that has the potential to change people's lives (access to healthcare, education, and markets).

    Reply

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