When John Ngigi started cycling, he would do only 10 kilometres to work and another 10 kilometres back home. From 90 kilogrammes, his weight dropped to 75 kilogrammes through cycling.
But cycling to work, which comes with increased fitness and fuel savings has its dark side — safety.
“I realised after trying to cycle to work that it was a risky affair and if we were to thrive as cyclists, we needed to voice our grievances,” he says.
He decided to start to launch Critical Mass cycling in Mombasa, a movement started in the US more than 30 years ago, that brings together cyclists in one location and they ride through the neighbourhoods on bikes to show that there is safety in numbers.
“We bounced on the idea online of how other cities globally were lobbying and that is how Critical Mass Mombasa Edition was launched,” says Mr Ngigi.
“The critical mass events highlight the numbers of people who want to use their bikes on the streets but are usually unable to do so without risking their safety. They are a call to action to governments and road planners to properly and thoughtfully design roads bearing in that there are Kenyans who prefer to walk and cycle, instead of just prioritising car users above all else,” he adds.
Mr Ngigi started the cyclists’ group in 2019. They were 38 cyclists and did a 10km bike procession from Makadara Grounds around Mombasa Island.
“Since then our largest turnout has been 500 cyclists,” he says.
The group halted the cycling trips during the pandemic and they have since resumed with 100 cyclists on board.
There are other cycling groups in Diani and Nairobi. Others coming up in different cities like Kisumu and Malindi.
Besides cycling for fitness and fun, they now create awareness of lifestyle diseases, attributed to a sedentary life.
Mr Ngigi says they have participated in awareness of diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, cancer, and mental health. They have also joined the climate change campaigns and use of electronic bikes.
“As a group, we also advocate for cycling as a tourism sport. We have worked with leaders to create awareness on matters of cycling in partnership with UN-Habitat and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. They include a high-profile ride with county officials,” says Mr Ngigi.
From 20km, he says, he can now cycle 40km. On weekends, he does 100km.
The group has done a 900km ride to Kitale and another 500km for arthritis.
“Cycling is cheaper, there are no fuel costs, fewer maintenance costs, no insurance costs like cars, and also zero parking costs. It is a healthy option and a solution to stop many lifestyle diseases and chronic illnesses. It is a physical exercise that keeps you fit and good-looking. It is also a stress reliever,” he says.
“Sport cycling takes your mind off life issues and brings a sense of rest from routine and the mind is well engaged during rides allowing you to enjoy nature and beauty of our city around us,” he adds.
There are about 40 women in the cycling group.
“We have seen more women join the movement and now we have a women-only club called Mombasa Queens. The six ladies joined competitive cycling after falling in love with the sport,” says Mr Ngigi.
Magdaline Boinett says she got motivation from the cycling women’s group.
“Cycling was not new to me since in my childhood we used to run errands such as fetching water, going to school, church and shopping centre with a bicycle, which made it easier because of the distance. Cycling also helps in weight loss, social interaction, mental health and prevention of lifestyle diseases, protecting the planet since a bicycle is friendly to the environment,” she says.