I was surprised to learn, upon landing in Africa and taking my first trip down its highways, that cycling is prevalent there, although it does seem to be something that people do solely for transportation. Having said that, I did notice some interesting things about the way it is practiced.
First of all, there are the bikes themselves. Here are two examples of the kinds of bikes you’re likely to see bouncing along the roads in Tanzania.
I didn’t see many bikes made by manufacturers that I recognized, but the hipsters among you will be glad to learn that most of the bikes on the road appeared to be at least single speed if not fixed gear. What’s more, the top bike above seems to almost have a cylco-cross flavor to it. The mountain bike is much less common.
There was a third style of bike with a dual top tube in the Dutch city bike style that I saw a lot, but I didn’t manage to get a photo of one, it seems.
Tanzanian city traffic is hectic and seemingly very dangerous. Cars, bicycles and motorcycles are all swarming about with no regard whatsoever for anything like a clearly defined lane of travel. This is particularly remarkable because I noticed absolutely zero frustration, what we would call “Road rage”, on anyone’s face. If you want to pull out into traffic, you just pull out into traffic and people make way for you if they can. I don’t remember hearing a single horn honk in anger.
The most daring people appear to be on motorcycles. In fact, my buddy Mike, with whom I was in Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro, remarked that the motorcycle license test is likely comprised of only one question. That being: “Do you give a shit?”
Anyone who answers “No” gets a license.
Out on the country roads, there are just as many cyclists pedaling along as there are in the city. When you approach behind a rider by car, you give a short honk to let the rider know you are approaching. He pulls aside slightly to let the car pass, and then swings back into the road after the car has gone by. I detected no malice in this transaction, and it was pretty interesting to me.
Yes, from what I could tell, drivers and cyclists get along much better in Tanzania than in our supposedly-advanced first world streets.
There are also many animals in the roadway. Masai tribesmen are often crossing the roads with cows or goats, and their donkeys graze along the country roads. I observed some donkeys standing stock still and staring out into the distance, seemingly doing absolutely nothing besides being a donkey. I spotted a giraffe doing the same thing.
I asked our driver and safari guide, Attas, about the lack of frustration among drivers. He said that people were just used to things being this way. People are everywhere. They all need to get someplace, and no one seems terribly upset if they need to let someone else pass by or go first.
They also don’t seem to mind if you’re 15 minutes to an hour late for everything.
All in all, the transportation part of being in Tanzania was thought-provoking to me. I wonder why we can’t be more considerate of one another on our roads. Perhaps all of our countless lights and signs and lane markings are making us feel more territorial than we should and it is leading us to be upset with one another.
Perhaps we just need a few insane motorcyclists zipping down the middle of the roadway to clear our heads, or perhaps a shiny-assed baboon knuckling along. I am not qualified to say.
We should remove all the lane markings in town and unleash a horde of baboons just to see what happens. Transportation Utopia!