Nelson Mandela once said that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. For bikers Su (Susan Mulei), Njeri Mwangi and Tayiani Sempele, each time they get onto a bike, it is triumph over fear.
It is a risky affair, by their own admission, with each having been through numerous falls and a few minor accidents on their bikes, but they still do it every day.
For them, it is simply an alternative mode of transport that comes with fun and freedom but also bears huge responsibilities.
“We know that most people wish they could ride because they know how convenient it is, and that is mainly why we ride, along with so much fun and freedom that comes with it! We have made great friendships along the way and have toured the country in the process,” says Njeri.
“When people ask why, I ask them why not. Don’t you have a hobby? Something you are good at and love doing? This is it for me,” says Su.
“Biking keeps my mind alert as I have to multitask while on the road, and I did not even know how much my brain would be engaged until I actually got on the road. Besides, it is a cheap way of commuting,” adds Tayiani.
Each of them owns a Hero Karizma ZMR 250cc, but if there is anything that these three riders have in common, then it is their appetite for adventure, spontaneity and their courageous spirits.
These three women represent a growing community of women bikers. They shared their stories with the Saturday Magazine.
Su, a general manager at a telecommunications company, has always been fascinated with motorbikes.
“When I was a little girl, I would beg my father to ask the traffic cops let me ride on their bikes,” she recalls, smiling at the memory.
“I thought if I could just have one ride on the motorbike, I would be okay, but that was never to be. Fast-forward to 2004, and the company I work for decided to buy scooters for the sales team.
“They were KTM scooters, 110cc so it was very easy to learn how to ride one as they are very light and I could get on the road without fear since I was based in Kericho town at the time, but when the team got too busy with them, I had to stop,”
She thought she was done with biking but biking was not done with her. She soon moved house and when she found out that one of her neighbours used a motorbike to commute to work daily, it was all the motivation she needed to get her first bike, a TVS Star Sports, 125cc.
She was transferred to Nairobi, in 2011, and could not picture herself using a motorbike in Nairobi, so she sold off her bike.
She decided to use her car in Nairobi instead, but always wished she could ride her motorbike in order to beat traffic.
Her interest in biking, however, did not die and she would often seek out bikers on the road, and talk to them and this was how she got to know about the Motorcycle Association of Kenya biker meetings, meetings she attended religiously.
A chance meeting with a female rider, Njeri Mwangi, not only started a friendship, but also re-ignited her passion for riding.
“Njeri had the coolest bike I had ever seen, a Hero Karizma ZMR 250cc, and I just had to stop her in traffic. But it was only when she removed her helmet and I realised she was a female rider that I was jolted into action. “That same week, I went to a showroom on Mombasa Road and bought a similar bike!”
She had the bike delivered to her house and would only ride around the estate for the next few weeks.
One Sunday, she took her bike out at 6am to avoid any traffic but ended up in Namanga.
“I just thought to myself that this Nairobi circuit is too small for me. Why not go to Namanga since I had driven there before and knew the route?” she poses.
She has never stopped riding since and uses her bike to commute daily to work.
“There are some meetings I will attend where there will be awkward stares at the woman walking in with a helmet, but with time I have learned to ignore them. I cannot keep justifying myself to everyone I meet.”
Her son, a student in college, is itching to get on the road as well, and has been with her on several rides as a pillion (passenger) with different bikers.
“I do not feel confident enough to carry him on my bike so I usually ask someone else from our riding group to carry him,” she says.
As a mother, she feels anxious about her son getting onto the road with bike and is keen on teaching him how to drive first.
“Some people assume that we are just like boda boda riders who are reckless and do not even stop at traffic lights. True, there are reckless bikers just as there are reckless drivers. I am a responsible biker. I stop at traffic lights, I wear protective gear and I respect traffic rules, “she says. In her 10 years as a biker, she has only had two accidents, none of which resulted in serious injuries.
She has had her latest bike, fondly named Tangy Holange for seven months and has so far spent slightly over Sh300, 000 on the bike and gear and has done 7,600 kilometres with it.
“I had underestimated the cost of biking gear, especially if you want quality gear, but I consider it an investment in my safety,” she says.
Tayiani, who has been riding for the last one-and-a-half years, was her husband’s passenger for three months before she decided she wanted to be biker.
“I rode pillion for three months but started bugging my husband for a bike soon after. He promised to get a bike for me if I learned how to bike, so I got our mechanic, who owned a bike, to teach me,” she says.
The mechanic had to travel soon after but Tayiani was raring to go. When a friend who was a biker came to visit with his bike, she told him she was now a rider and he invited her to ride on his bike.
“I wanted to show him what I had learned, so I took his bike and started riding it. I cannot explain what happened but I found myself mid-air shortly after that. The fall was really bad as I had no protective gear. I learned my lesson the hard way. That is the one and only time I have ever been to a hospital because of a biking accident,” she says.
Her husband was not happy with her but decided to buy her a bike so she could use it to learn.
For the first few months, I would freeze and run away in fear at the sound of a motorbike because it reminded me of the accident and I would just walk around my bike, staring at it.
After a while, she shook off her fears and decided to take the bike out for a ride in the estate, often wondering if she was the only female rider in the whole of Nairobi.
“He bought me an off-road bike, a Premier GY-150cc, that was too tall for me but I got to learn how to use it like that and really had fun riding it until it was a year old, and until I was sure that I was confident, then I decided to upgrade to a Hero Karizma ZMR,” she says.
She connected with a riding community online where she found fellow female bikers, including Njeri and Su that she now rides with as a group.
“Going by bike is cheap in terms of fuel, fun and time-saving,” she says.
She takes her seven-year-old son along for a ride sometimes, and is looking forward to getting him his own bike soon.
“My son loves being carried on the bike, and picks an outfit that matches with mine. I will get him his own bike soon, and just teach him the dos and don’ts,” she says
So far, she has covered about 11,200 kilometres on her bike, with her favourite destination being Mombasa.
Njeri was sitting with a group of friends from church one Sunday afternoon when a rider walked to their table to talk to one of her friends.
“This man walked in with a leather jacket and helmet. I thought to myself how I would love to get a ride on his bike. He looked so cool … it was like a scene straight out of the movies,” she says, smiling in amusement at the memory.
The biker apparently noticed the beautiful woman as well, even though they did not exchange a word but only a glance. She was later to become his wife. He later told her he knew she was the one when he laid his eyes on her and heard her speak that brief moment.
“He called to tell me that he was journalist and needed a model for a photo shoot and would I be willing to pose for him? I agreed on condition that he would give me a ride on his motorbike. He came through, and that first motorbike ride was so awesome, it got me giddy with excitement. I spread my arms out and screamed all the way to our destination!”
Starting a family and having three children left her preoccupied without a chance to pursue riding for any reason.
Even though she harboured the desire to be a rider, she was content riding pillion as she was too busy raising her three children to take on biking at the time.
“When I was confident that my lastborn was big enough for me to giving riding a bike a shot, I decided to learn how to bike and surprise my husband! I waited until he had gone on one of his travels then engaged the help of a common biker friend to learn how to ride using my husband’s bike. Unfortunately that did not end well.
I fell off the bike, and our friend got a minor injury and the bike’s footrest broke. I secretly had it fixed and returned the bike where my husband left it before he returned. My husband eventually found out and did not take it kindly, wondering why I did not just ask him to teach me instead.
“A few years later, I still thought it would be nice to surprise him that I could ride and so started taking lessons behind his back. I was determined to surprise him” she adds, chuckling at the memory.
Her husband figured it out and let her go ahead while waiting for her to tell. When she was done with her lessons, he bought her a bike. She has had minor accidents after that, but would not trade the experience for anything.
“Of course I have fallen off my bike numerous times but that is biking for you. All our kids have been born and have grown up around bikes. Our firstborn is keen on riding already. Their father gives them rides around the estate but I have never carried them on my bike. I have however started to buy the firstborn biking gear already.”
Njeri has covered over 5,000 kilometres on her bike, and has spent over Sh50,000 on biking gear as her husband covered the initial costs.
“My favourite journey was very recently when I rode to Kamiti with a friend after we had rescued a fellow biker who had been involved in a road accident. The scenery along that route was simply breathtaking!”
The three bikers agree on safety as the number one worry of every biker.
“Before biking, I just wanted to be on a bike because I thought it was a fun thing to do but what I had not anticipated was the amount of responsibility that a biker has not just for myself but for other road users as well,” says Su
“I know that biking is dangerous, and that perhaps one day I will be in a bad accident. If that happens, then I want my family to worry about my getting well, not how to raise funds to pay the hospital bill. That is why I not only have comprehensive insurance for the bike but also personal accident insurance” adds Njeri.
The, Superhero Bikers Club and Women Biker Association which all three are members of, are strict with their members and emphasise on their members getting the right gear each time they take their bikes on the road.
For them, the greatest benefit riding a bike offers is saving time that would otherwise be spent in traffic jam.