Monthly Archives: July 2011

Things to do in Kisumu – Part II

Not much changes in Kisumu, but we’ve recently found a few new places and things that are worthy of attention:

The Kisumu Peace Festival held on the 4-7th August, promises to have lots of drama, art, discussions and events which will be very welcome in this sleepy lakeside town. Most of the festival is centred around the Jomo Kenyatta Sports Grounds, though sadly not a lot of promotion has occurred. We do know that Yawa will be performing :)

The Art House, Kisumu – On Mosque Rd near the Mamba Hotel, is one of the few spaces in town offering locally made jewelry, art and crafts. The owners are really trying to do something positive as there are so few places for arts and culture in Kisumu. Most days you can actually buy direct from the artists themselves.

Barcadia – Its a new bar in town, just around the corner from Quorum. Shiny, modern (Kisasa!) and an expensive, so you can experience Nairobi prices without actually having to travel there. But at least it gives you another option in town.

And we always forget what a nice breezy space the Hillbrow restaurant/bar is in the Sports Ground. You can sit upstairs with some cold pop on a hot day and watch local football matches and most of Kisumu walking by. Foods not great but the space is very relaxed and casual.

Kisumu – A bicycle boom town

After travelling for the last few weeks, I’ve just returned to Kisumu to find thats its now a bicycle boom town.

Cycling out of poverty (Co-op) are making great strides building bicycle cargo trikes. Movement bicycles are seemingly having great success selling their ‘Sarah Obama’ bicycles, we just ran into a team from Michigan Tech who are looking at developing tubeless tires for Africa and World Bicycle Relief are putting the final touches on their new production bikes.

The Sarah Obama Bikes are really interesting. Obviously Mama Sarah Obama is hugely popular in this part of the world and they did a really nice job making the bikes look lovely so I’m sure they will do well. The bikes themselves seem to be rebadged ZamBikes (or similar enough to be spooky).

Its really interesting to have competition with a similar mission. You get to see clearly a lot of your mistakes and those of your ‘competition’. For Movement bikes they have some real hurdles esp. as they are also in competition with a lot of the very cheap and poorly made Chinese sourced mountain bikes (*1), the cheap Indian/Chinese roadsters common in this part of the world, and World Bicycle Relief.

Aside from pricing issues theres some really interesting features on Obama bikes, which would be unremarkable in the US, that could cause some real headaches here if not managed well. Firstly, there seems to be considerable difference in parts between the two models, which will make parts availability a real issue and make supporting bikes in the field a little more complex. The bikes also have lots of new technology for this part of Africa: v-brakes, cable gear systems, ‘deep’-v rims, 1 1/8″ threadless (on the cargo bike) and 1 1/8″ threaded headsets (on the mtb) and press-on cranks to name a few. Its going to be really interesting to see how these bikes last, considering where they are being distributed, and how Movement Bikes supports their brand, parts and dealers.

And I don’t want to sound like this is being mean or sour grapes, its because theres a real resistance to new bicycle technology from the everyday wananchi (people) and the fundis (skilled workers) that support them (and rightly so). Bicycles and spare parts are expensive so ideally you want to ensure that your bicycle will last and can be fixed. Fundis have often pretty basic (as well as ingenious home made solutions) tools – you can fix most bikes in Kenya with a hammer, an adjustable wrench of some kind and a set of pliars – so as parts get more sophisticated, longevity and repairability become a little more of an issue than before.

Investing in new technology has real inertia here, unless you’re the wealthy or curious type. If your bike breaks, who wants to travel to Nairobi to get parts or find the one person with the right tool to fix the problem? A bicycle is an everyday piece of technology here and any innovations need to respect that.

Nevertheless, its really nice to see all this enthusiasm for bicycles in Kenya and that so many people are trying to improve the durability, practicality and quality of their products. All of us will be able to learn from each others mistakes (and yes World Bicycle Relief has made mis-steps here just like everyone else), hopefully share information/resources (for those with a more charitable focus) and continue to help ensure the bicycle is a vital part of everyday life here.

(*1) And I have no problems with Chinese made things, some of the largest bicycle companies in the world source high-quality bikes from China. Its more that you can also get incredibly cheap and poorly made bikes there too, which break pretty quickly in the rough conditions out here.