Wellness & Fitness
Meet the female cycling addictsMonday February 06 2023
I cannot ride a bicycle, not for fun or fitness because cycling has its tribe. This group has found fun in gripping the handlebars, torso leaned forward without strain, and off they cycle for hundreds of kilometres.
Every time they start pedaling, they are fixated on finding a new level of endurance. It is 10 kilometres this Saturday and in six months, it is a 250 kilometres ride. Their bicycles have even earned a moniker.
Joan Micere, 33, fell in love with cycling after falling in love with a man. Before she started cycling for fitness, she tried a couple of dance and yoga classes, but she was not consistent.
“I needed something more regular,” she says.
She started cycling to work every day and joined groups that take weekend rides.
Eight years down the line, she counts many benefits of cycling to her physique, fitness, endurance, and mental well-being.
“The benefits are endless. It started with finding a community of like-minded people who have since become family. I started with a team called Extra Milers at International Christian Church. They do charity rides to raise funds to educate the underprivileged. Through that team, I was able to grow as a cyclist and give back to society,” she says.
Then she developed a love for mountain biking. “I’ve toured rural parts of Kenya on my bike with a group of mountain bikers called Shady Bunch. Through our rides, I’ve seen Kenya through a different lens and visited places I wouldn’t have visited,” she says.
One of her most memorable escapades is a mountain biking race in Lesotho and a road bike ride to Moyale and back in Nairobi.
“I am also happier on my bike as cycling helps me decompress and put things to perspective…we call it bike therapy,” she says.
Another benefit is gaining grit. Some rides are very challenging and require one to dig deep.
“My body and mental fortitude have been pushed in ways I didn’t think possible. Recently, I took up triathlon which entails completing three different sports, that is swimming, cycling, and running. I train under a team called Team Trifit (TTF). Over the years, we have raised the Triathlon profile in Kenya,” she says.
For the first few rides, any kind of bicycle would suffice. But once you start cycling regularly, you will need a good bike. Ms Micere, a lawyer and a fashion designer by profession, rides mountain and road bikes.
“My mountain bike is a Storck 29er which I love very much and nicknamed it ‘Winyo’ [means bird in Luo]. My road bike is a jet black Planet X which I nicknamed ‘Noire’ [means black in French],” she says.
Falling in love with a sport or any other fitness activity makes you miss out on good and bad things.
“Sometimes I miss out on going out with my non-cycling friends on a Friday or Saturday night because I have a ride early the following day, which honestly I don’t mind because nowadays I wake up fresh with no hangovers,” Ms Micere says.
What drew her to cycling was love but she looks back and she is not likely to stop anytime soon.
“A guy I was dating at the time would spend the better part of his Saturday morning and sometimes afternoon riding. Once done, he’d be too tired to hang out with me. He loved it so much so I figured why not buy a bike and join him, we’d kill two birds with one stone. Then I fell deeply in love with the sport as a result,” Ms Micere says.
“What I can guarantee is as a cyclist you become well-toned especially if you're consistent. The most toned part of my body is my arms and legs and I love it,” she adds.
In the past two or three years, cycling in Kenya has become a fitness activity with a cult following. Some cycle on roads crossing borders, others in nature trails, and some meander through estates.
Of the new riders who are cycling primarily for fitness, not just recreation, a number are female.
Alice Kivuva, known as Allie in cycling circles, is another avid cyclist. The mother of twins and a pet enthusiast has done a 250km, 10-hour ride.
“That was my personal best,” she says.
She started cycling in 2015.
“When my twin girls started school, I realised that I had more time to focus on other things. My life had taken a back seat, priorities were shuffled and some were put on hold for the sake of family. I slowly started working on re-inventing myself,” she says.
First on the family-self balance list was keeping fit.
“I wanted to do more outdoor activities since I tend to be introverted at times,” she says.
She picked cycling, which she says “is open to all, has no restrictions on age, gender, size, and suits a wide range of interests.”
Ms Kivuva had tried other fitness activities but none gave her the satisfaction and empowerment that a bicycle gives her.
“Every time I get on my bike, I feel energised, I feel alive and free,” she says, adding, “I have formed some of my best memories on a bike.”
“I do my lucid thinking when on my bike. There is clarity that comes when riding,” she says, adding, “Not only does cycling increase your fitness levels, flexibility, strength, and joint mobility, it also strengthens core [abdominal, hips, and back] muscles and bones. It is also a fat burner.”
Cycling has also helped her network both for social and professional gains.
Read: Wellness on two wheelers
“Some of the best friendships are formed on two wheels,” she says.
The 40-year-old says her business was born out of cycling.
“I couldn't find female-specific cycling kits that offered comfort and style,” she says.
She later founded FiveStars Africa Sports Apparel, a sports brand that sells fashionable female athleisure wear with an African tinge.
As with every new sport or activity, Ms Kivuva says you may not buy the perfect equipment the first time.
“You’ll get to learn which discipline best suits you and upgrade or transition as your cycling skills improve. What best suits me is road cycling,” she says.
She started with a small mountain bike, cycling at Nairobi’s Karura Forest with Pedal Mania, a ladies' cycling club.
“Then I upgraded to an ex-US Trek mountain bike, then to a Merida Cyclo Cross gravel bike. I now have a Bianchi Oltre XR4– a pink road bike that I call “Bubblegum aka my little Chihuahua”,” she says.
Carol Mbutura, another avid cyclist, is over 50 years old. In cycling circles, she is known as “Mama cycling.”
“While living in the UK, I used to drop my sons to school on their bikes and I on mine, then proceed to work,” she says.
In the UK, the bicycle was her means of commuting but in 2016, it became her source of fitness, adventure, and joy.
“The bicycle has taken me to places that I’d not have visited and met people I’d not have met. I have on two occasions cycled from Nairobi to Mombasa. One was a six-day ride via Loitoktok into Tanzania and back into Kenya via Holili/Taveta border and down to Diani via Samburu. One of my best rides to date,” she says.
“I recently cycled from Nairobi to Arusha. The ride was tough but I made it. These adventures are much more fulfilling on a bicycle than in a car.”
Ms Mbutura, who had tried going to the gym and it flopped, says outdoor activities work best for her, including running.
The benefits she has seen so far?
“If I wasn’t cycling, I would be four times my size. The bicycle helps with weight loss. Cycling has worked my lower body muscles, including my quads, glutes, hamstrings, and hips. I am over 50 years old but I feel like I’m 27. I have made many new friends and cyclists are generally happy people. I’ve been able to build endurance and strength by cycling up steep hills like Mua and Mundoro,” she says.
Fitness enthusiasts struggle with consistency. How do these cycling converts remain consistent?
Read: Kenyans fall in love with cycling again
“Sometimes I feel like taking a break. But the bicycle is very addictive,” Ms Mbutura says.