MATIVO: Why Kenya needs to encourage cycling

Stanley Mutindain Nairobi On Thursday this week, the world celebrated World Cycling Day, and many countries showed – through various ways – the uniqueness, longevity and versatility of the bicycle, which has been in use for two centuries. Put differently, the bicycle is a simple machine, affordable, reliable, clean and environment-friendly, and a sustainable means of transport, fostering environmental stewardship and health. However, on our shores, as the world marked Cycling Day, it was business as usual as no notable event was organised by the Ministry of Sports, the cycling federation or even the environment-friendly NGOs to mark this very important day. Probably, this was all rather difficult when the bike is seen as an inferior machine; a low grade option for the poor. How then could the Kenyan bike culture be a source of pride? As a way of celebrating the day, the Kenya Cycling Federation (KCF) ought to have organised an elite cycling race, consisting of the professional cyclists, and incorporating fun-competition, bringing together Kenyans who want to exercise, and compete for leisure. Shockingly, despite the sport requiring ‘minimal’ investment unlike elite sports such as golf, cricket, rugby, football or athletics – where massive investment is needed, Kenyans have relatively failed to take up cycling as a professional sport, with the few who practice doing so merely for leisure. Former US President John F. Kennedy famously said, “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride”, and it behooves us that while the west has fully embraced the cycling culture, in Africa, and Kenya in particular, cycling isn’t appreciated, morseso in the urban settings. In our rural areas, the folks who use the bike merely do so because they are deprived of other means, say owning a motorbike or a car. They cycle not for health benefits that comes with it, but because of the poverty that entangled their lives. Compare this to Holland, for instance, where millions cycle every day to work. Whether university students, bank CEOs or university professors, or even parliamentarians, the bicycle is a man’s friend, with 25 percent of entire trips in the country made by bike – a higher proportion than any other country in the world! Health benefits that comes with cycling are aplenty. They range from increased cardiovascular fitness, increased muscle strength and flexibility, improved joint mobility, decreased stress levels, improved posture and coordination, strengthened bones, decreased body fat levels amongst others. On the sporting angle, cycling is a professional sport just like any other, and is recognised as an Olympic sport since the first modern Summer Olympics in 1896. In fact, to break it down, there are several categories of bicycle racing including road bicycle racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, mountain bike racing, track cycling, BMX, and cycle speedway. With many benefits brought about by the activity, time is ripe for the Kenyan cycling federation to streamline the sport and rope in the likes of David Kinja, Kenya’s veteran cyclist, who through his Safari Simbaz project aimed at unearthing Kenya’s talented young cyclists, has kept the sport in the limelight. In fact, Kinja has been our enduring gem in a country where the sport is forgotten and with an inept federation that lacks the vision on how to tap the talents and drive the sport forward. In fact, Kinja is renowned for mentoring Chris Froome, a Kenyan-born British cyclist and four-time winner of the Tour de France (2013, 2015, 2016, and 2017). The fact that a world-beating Froome, competing at the world’s grandest stage could be moulded on our shores is prove enough that talents abound in our terrain, and what lacks  is the magic hands to give them the final touch.
Britain’s Christopher Froome (3rdL) of team Sky rides with teammates during the 5th stage between Agrigento (Sicily) and Stanta Ninfa of the 101st Giro d’Italia, Tour of Italy cycling race, on May 9, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Luk Benies
Kenya Riders, a professional cycling team, based in the high-altitude area of Iten and which is renowned for producing world-class Kenyan athletes has tried to qualify for the Tour de France without success, their biggest challenge has always been lack of support and good will from the government. Investment in the sport is non-existent, and those who’ve held firmly onto the cause such as Kinja are driven by inextinguishable passion. In developed world where talents, like arts, are appreciated, Kinja would today be a revered man. The State would quickly tap into his skills to develop the sport and pump in colloquial sums of money to open up more opportunities for budding cyclists. But due to our carefree nature, our recklessness in letting talents slip through our fingers, men like Froome opted to look elsewhere, because he believed by sticking around he would never reliase his full potential. Painful as it is, it turns out that he was just right. These are the kind of narratives the Government, through the Ministry of Sports need to change, and the cycling federation bosses must be told in no uncertain terms that their duty is not to occupy positions of influence for the mere sake of it, but to use the platforms to streamline and professionlise the sport, with the long-term goal of benefiting the talents that dot our country. Paul Sherwen, a seven-time Tour de France contender who’s now an expert cycling analyst for the event said he “he believed we can have a Black Kenyan rider in the Tour de France in the near future.’’ With this wisdom and expertise, he saw far. The potential is here with us. Heavy sentiments by Sherwan no doubt. The time has come for the cycling federation and the Sports Ministry to wake up and give cycling the attention it needs. Like Froome who’s today living a fulfilling and comfortable life, traversing European capitals, mining millions from races, our sons in Kitui, the brave daughters in Teso, the kid in Mariakani, the Ochiengs and Onyangos in Siaya, the Wafulas in Bongoma… and many others drawn from the length and breadth of our great nation, have the potential of being the next Froome, given the opportunity. The time to act is now! The author is a Trainee Sub at RMS sports desk and the lead volleyball writer

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