The Nairobi Bike Scene

News released on: 
Feb 26th, 2015

Bikes Not Bombs International Programs Director, David, is in East Africa to visit existing and potential partners, in addition to expanding Bikes Not Bombs' connections in the region.

The Nairobi bike scene is a network. Its riders are passionate - it’s a lifestyle - and they move freely between road and mountain bike racing and bicycle small business entrepreneurship. They work together, assist each other to get the equipment they need (especially for new riders), and support each other to grow their businesses and keep their customers by drawing hard-to-find spare parts from any shop in the network.

And the network is growing. Young riders are starting small mobile businesses selling spare parts, established shops are training young riders as mechanics, these young riders are opening new shops, and training others. New mechanics are always trained by apprenticeship, by working in other shops, gaining the knowledge and skills, and then opening their own shops. People with the knowledge and skills share them freely, actively, and intentionally, because that’s how they learned. There’s actually a lineage that can be traced back to two shops, one in Eastlands, and one in Westlands.

The demand for bicycles is also growing - every shop owner I asked told me that business is good - the only problem is the supply…I was astounded the first time I realized that shops are buying bikes in Uganda and Tanzania and bringing them to Kenya. When BNB shipped to Tanzania and Uganda, we shipped through Mombasa, Kenya. Nairobi is the next logical stop. There are some bikes available in Nairobi, but these tend to be out of the price range of an average small bike shop. The market in Kampala, Uganda, however, has a much lower price point, based on the currency and the market-based value, so a lot of Nairobi shop owners make regular trips to Kampala to purchase bikes and spares for sale.

The more I learn about the Nairobi bike scene, the more I admire the cyclists, shop owners and mechanics (generally all the same people) who passionately grow it. There is a big opportunity to support the growth of the Nairobi bike market by helping to establish a stable supply of bikes. The knowledge, skills and momentum is already there in abundance. When the supply of bikes and spare parts becomes stable, then the emerging shops will be able to access affordable stock, grow their businesses, train others and seed new shops. This will grow the industry, support new cyclists, and build toward the critical mass needed to achieve larger-scale policy and infrastructure change.