Gloria is a cyclist and a triathlete. Nairobi has a cycling community of over 5,000 members and only 5% of those are women. She is one of the 5% and a top cyclist having represented Kenya in the ITU (International Triathlon Union) in Spain in 2019. She cycles for commute, travel and as a sport. I met Gloria back in 2018 when traveling in Malawi. We happened to be staying in the same backpackers. Her energy and love for travel drew us close. We would end up talking about travel and having so much fun in Malawi. I was privileged to interview her and get an insight of what it is like to be a woman cyclist in Kenya. She not only shares her story but takes us deep into the cycling community that she so dearly loves.
Who is Gloria Kisiangani?
Gloria Kisiangani is a very outgoing, adventurous and God-fearing lady. I’m a business lady and a project manager involved in both the construction and transport industry, and also a food supplier. I’m a single lady and an only girl from a family with 3 brothers, so I grew up a tomboy. I’m a very outgoing person and I’ve made many friends, especially through my travels and cycling.
When did you discover your love for cycling?
I started cycling as child at about 13 years ago, thanks to my elder brother, but growing up, I didn’t cycle much. In 2014 some friends invited me for a social off road ride, then I started attending Critical Mass in 2015. Critical mass Nairobi is an all-level group ride around city to create awareness about cyclists for their road safety and encourage more people to join cycling. It wasn’t until 2018 due to a knee injury from running that I bought a bike for my fitness and to maintain my weight, then proceeded to mostly do solo rides. When I started off I mostly did weekly solo rides to build my strength and endurance.
Tell us more about your competitive cycling.
I’m not just a cyclist, I train in running and swimming too. I’ve done few running competitions but running is not my favorite though I enjoy swimming and do it quite often.
In 2019, I did a bike race that motivated me to start racing in triathlon. I was privileged to represent Kenya in the ITU (International Triathlon Union) world championship in Spain in 2019. Unfortunately, I had to take a break to recover from another knee injury. This year I resumed cycling and racing. I have been cycling more this year, doing longer distances, did my first bicentennial rides, and I’m physically stronger.
Being a competitive cyclist requires that I train more, both on and off the saddle. I ride three to four times a week, mostly on road, mixing up long rides that build endurance with short sprint rides for speed and hill reps for climbing power.
Covid-19 has come with its challenges. The racing calendar was put on hold but we’ve had 2 virtual races organised so far, which allowed us a chance to use our route finding and evaluation skills. I was third overall and first in the female category respectively in these virtual races.
What bicycle do you ride and why?
To choose the best bike, one has to get proper bike fitting. A bike that fits poorly can lead to inefficient riding, muscle aches, pains, and general discomfort that might discourage you from riding. I remember when I was finally ready to get my bike, I had to consult professionally to ensure I get the right fit. The most common bike we saw growing up were the single-speed bicycles popularly known as ‘Black Mamba’. They’re still in the market, fairest in price but harder to cycle as the cyclist can easily max out their maximum speed. There are three main types of bikes, depending on preferred activity. Mountain bikes are mainly for off-road, have wider tires and have shock absorbers. Road bikes are mainly for on road cycling, with narrow tires and no suspension. Crosstrail bikes are a mix of both mountain and road bikes, with a road bike feel but good for gravel rides too. All these categories of bicycles come in either steel, aluminum or carbon fiber, the latter being lighter in weight and more expensive. Prices range based on bike type and material it is made from. It’s advisable to import or buy an imported used bike from well-known brands, they’re better quality than the supermarket bikes. I use an on-road, multi speed bicycle with several gears to enable me make the most efficient use of my energy. The benefits include, achieving maximum possible distance with minimal efforts, changing gears also allows me to go up a hill much easier than with a single speed bicycle.
What cycling and safety gear does a cyclist need?
To cycle one needs the cycling kit, which consists of the padded cycling shorts for saddle comfort, cycling jerseys with back pockets to carry small things we need on rides, a helmet for safety in case of a crash/accident, and gloves for hand protection. The kit is mostly made of Lycra, light, absorbent and quick-drying. Unlike the motorcycle riders who’re heavily protected due to the higher speeds they move at, our cycling gear is light to reduce weight, make the cyclist aerodynamic and enhance comfort.
What are the challenges you face as a cyclists and also as a woman cyclist?
The main challenge with this sport is that unlike other sports that have specific/designated training areas, in cycling we have to use already existing infrastructure which is mainly roads. There are also very few cycling lanes in Nairobi, and where there are, they have been taken over by hawkers, pedestrian and motorcycle riders. We try to stay as visible as possible by wearing reflectors and having bike or helmet lights.
There is no safety on the roads for cyclists as some drivers are selfish with the roads, while others only watch out for vehicles only. Another danger for cyclists is the pedestrians who can either intentionally refuse to give way or only watch out for vehicles. My only accident has been from a pedestrian who cut my path, turning my handle bar and causing me to fall. Bells don’t help much but I’ve a friend who rides with a whistle for better pedestrian reaction.
The biggest challenge most female cyclists have is the lack of proper cycling lanes, leading to fear of other motorists on the roads. This has contributed to the low numbers of female cyclists.
We’ve had road safety campaigns and have the monthly ride open to everyone at all levels to ride to Nairobi town and it’s environs to create awareness for cyclists. We are glad the Nairobi city county has already started building cycling lanes within the city with plans to build longer ones into the residential estates. We have engaged KURA (Kenya Urban Roads Authority) and the city council on the road design improvement and getting secure designated bike parking spots within the city.
Take us deep into the amazing cycling community.
The cycling community is very big with more than 5,000 cyclists in Nairobi city, the higher percentage being male cyclists. We have clubs which each is encouraged to join, as we use these not only for group rides and races, but as frontiers to campaign and push for our agenda in the transport sector. Some examples of the cycling clubs in Nairobi include SpokeNLace, Extramilers, Velonos, RDX, Dada rides, among many others.
Women are about 5% of the Nairobi cycling community, this shows prominently during cycling races. Since it’s male dominated some ladies are afraid to join. We have some women only clubs such as SpokeNLace and Dada rides that teach women to ride, to take care of their bikes including maintenance and mechanicals too, such as puncture repairs. This capacity building gives women more confidence on the road.
I’m in a number of cycling groups, 2 being prominent. I’m in the Miles and Hope Extramilers cycling club and SpokeNLace which is an all ladies only group. Miles & Hope is a Christian cycling club where we have weekly group rides (pre-corona) and annual long distance rides and tours to raise awareness and funds for the less fortunate. We also share the word of God afterwards at ICC church. SpokeNLace aims to motivate more ladies to join cycling, not just as a form of exercise but also for commute within the city. Other times, we just ride for the fun of it, to see new places and adventure.
You are passionate about travel and in fact, we met when you were traveling. How has traveling been for you?
Yes that is very true and I have traveled to a number of countries and I do it for leisure. I have so far toured the South African countries, Europe and Western Asia. I had planned to do a tour of the Southeastern Asia in the beginning of the year before the global lockdown. It will be my getaway once we stabilise from Covid-19. Expect to see me in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore soon. In the meantime, we plan to cycle from Nairobi to Mombasa in a ladies only group for holiday later in the year.
How has Covid affected your love for cycling as a whole?
Covid has come with its challenges, mainly the insecurity for us. This has escalated lately due to the corona virus effect on the economy. We no longer use the pocket jerseys for anything valuable, we’ve had enough robbery with violence incidents, where cyclists have lost sports watches and other devices, and even worse the bikes. Worst stretch is the Southern bypass, on the Thogoto climb. Plans are also underway to conduct a peaceful ride rally to the police station for more action to be taken as there have been enough security incidents reported.
On the positive side, It has however freed up more time for many to work out and I feel stronger and more confident from all the extra training I have been able to do at this time. Groups rides and inter-county movements has not been possible due to the government restrictions, curfews and social distancing. We however, meet more runners and cyclists on the roads.
The racing calendar was also put on hold but we’ve had 2 virtual races organized so far, which allowed us a chance to use our route finding and evaluation skills.
What is your advice to that person reading this blog and wanting to join the cycling community so much?
The best way for a beginner to join the cycling community is to follow the active social media pages on Facebook; Kenya Cycling for general cycling info in Nairobi such as cycling events and news, or Kenya Cycling Traders Market for connection to sellers and buyers of bikes, bike accessories and cycling kits. These groups also have information on the clubs. All a beginner has to do is get a properly serviced bike, proper cycling kit and get on the road. We look forward to meeting you.
From the author
Thank you so much Gloria for taking time to share the insight into the cycling world. I truly enjoyed this interview and have learned a lot from you.
We would love to hear from you the reader on your cycling journey whether just beginning or well established.
I look forward to a day where the two wheels will have a day together. Both the cyclists and motorcycle riders.