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Kenya: Bicycle Tour Travel Guide




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by David Mozer

[An introduction and overview to travel in Africa is available by clicking here.  If you are look for a bicycle tour to this country, this link might help you.]

The information below may have been extracted from a more comprehensive "Country Supplement" to the book "Bicycling In Africa".  For information on these publications click on the links.

Kenya has extraordinary touring opportunities, but if you are not consistent about what you expect from the tour, Kenya can create frustration and dissatisfaction for bicycle travelers. Starting out with the best of intentions to meet the people and admire the countryside, when cyclists get into conversations with other tourists they get confused about why they came. Most of the information produced about tourism in Kenya discusses only watching big game. Because nothing else is legitimized most talk, and measures of achievement, focus almost exclusively on how many of the "big five" (elephants, cape buffaloes, rhinoceroses, lions, leopards) one sees, or conversant compare the food and restrooms at the various exclusive resorts. Bicycle touring will likely not prepare you to participate in these bar stool conversations, so leave you feeling inadequate. It is the perceptions of what others think Kenya has to offer, not your trip which is misdirected. But it is true that bicycles are not the best way to see big game.

A second distinction that should be made is, for most people, Kenya is primarily a natural history experience. If your heart really lies in a social history of Africa experience you may be wise to look elsewhere on the continent. Kenya has over forty ethnic group with a wide range of cultural characteristics, but many of the most intact of these are isolated from the main tourist tracks.  Those along the tourist routes tend to have been Europeanized or groomed for tourism.

Having stated the qualifications, bicycle touring in Kenya can be excellent. It just takes an appropriate mind set, where you are interested in details of the countryside, a wider variety of animals and the lives of the people. It is perfectly realistic for cyclists to incorporate some game drives into their holiday, but they need to be realistic about what activities are best done on a bicycle and what are best done in a car. Things that you can include in your cycling itinerary are: looking at geology; learning about rural education and health care; visiting archeological and historical sites; studying the changes in ecology and vegetation; observing agriculture and economic activity and the likes of these. Things that are better done in a motor vehicle: big game watching, and crossing the country in a day.

Kenya provides a lot of rewarding cycling. The rewards are very different from those to be had on the more familiar van safari to the game parks. For the cyclist there are spectacular views around every corner to soak up at your leisure, unrestricted access to interesting people as they work and relax in their day-to-day activities, a multitude of micro­climates (with their unique wildlife and vegetation) to explore and a chance to avoid the pressure­to­see, the close quarters and the one-upmanship that is frequent a dynamic on van safaris. It will take several months to see it all.

Outside of the cities the traffic volumes are generally low enough so the drivers can easily be courteous, and usually are. While the general condition of roads are fair to good in rural areas, they tend to be narrow, congested and in neglected condition in built-up areas. Kenyan roads have an earned reputations for being particularly deadly at night ­­ respect it.

The toughest aspect of much of Kenya's cycling is the altitude: Nairobi is 1890m (5971 ft); Kitale is 1920m (6299 ft); and Nanyuki is 1947m (6389 ft). Even if you are in good shape for sea level, don't be surprised if you feel lethargic and your legs feel like lead weights for the first couple of days. Of course there are also hills. On the main roads most of the grades are pretty mild, though sometimes several miles long ­­ there are of course exceptions. Off the paved road rain can create major problems. When wet the soil in Kenya seems to take on one of two characteristics. It becomes a quagmire or it stays as smooth packed clay and becomes as slick and treacherous as sheet ice. Caveat Adventurer.

Kenya's best cycling in spread out across the width of the country so Kenya Rail can be a very useful supplement. Second class is clean and comfortable and the service is generally prompt. Lines go to the coast (Nairobi, Mombasa), north (Naro Moru) & northwest (Kisumu & Uganda). Bicycles are taken as baggage for a charge. There is also lake steamer service on Lake Victoria between Homa Bay and Kisumu.

The people of Kenya travel extensively by buses, vans and converted pickup trucks called Matatus, which cover almost every road in the country. This economical travel resource is another options for bicyclists. Conditions inside may be cramped, but many of the vehicles have roof-racks for carrying luggage. They accepted bicycles. While less comfortable than bicycling matatus can be incorporated into a bicycle itinerary if you want to move ahead quicker, have a mechanical problem or are fatigued in the middle of the day. If your bike and baggage are going on the roof make sure packs are as secure as possible and don't send valuables to the roof. Unlike almost every place else on the continent, zippers frequently work their way open, once they are out of your sight, in Kenya.

If you have gotten to Kenya and still don't have a direction to head you might pickup "On Safari: 40 Circuits in Kenya," by Phillipe Oberle. The book is designed to give one day excursions for motorists by providing detailed route instructions that are useful to any traveler.

As tourism in Kenya becomes the top foreign exchange earner, if you are the type that is really interested in and put some effort into learning something about the country and its people then traveling in Kenya is becoming less satisfying rather than a more pleasant experience. Unless you escape the tourism vortex, the shorter you stay the more you may like the country.

Links of Interest:


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For current news on Africa and more web sites with country-by-country information go to the link section and click on "Africa: News, Background, Travel."

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