Just before the very popular English Premier League kicked off, something strange happened to me. It was late in the night and I was out having fun with friends in one of the bars here in Kigali. Just as I was about to retire for the night, I was suddenly thrust into a position of resourcefulness. Two gentlemen wanted me to settle a debate they were having about cycling in Rwanda.
In their wisdom, I was this knowledgeable lad who was sober enough to bring an enough to their back and forth on a matter that seemed obvious to each of them from their different perspective. I was dragged by one of them to the spot where they were and asked to tell the other guy that no Rwandan has ever participated in the famous Tour de France cycling race.
I honestly had no clear idea of whether this was true or not so we decided to take the route that most urban debates take. Enter Google and the debate was settled. It was not true but I told them it would happen soon given the pace at which the sport is rising in Rwanda. The Tour du Rwanda has grown in leaps and bounds and the future is certainly a bright one.
This moment in the bar was significant for me because, it was refreshing to see how deep this cycling thing has become embedded in the lives of Rwandans that even very unfit folks will lose breath in a bar debate as they swig at their beers. At last there was a debate that was not about whether Messi was better than Ronaldo or whether Rayon Sports deserves to win the local football league but one about whether Rwandans are good enough to cycle with the world’s best.
I walked out of the bar with a weird smile on my face and kept mulling over that debate. The next day was the final of the Tour du Rwanda cycling race. It was won by the young Samuel Mugisha. As you read this, Rwandan cyclists are taking part in the Tour de l’Avenir in France. It is the world’s biggest U23 cycling race. Rwanda is the only African country to have a team competing in this race that some consider being the junior version of the more prestigious Tour de France.
The lads are taking part in their biggest race competing with teams from Germany, Austria, Australia, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Belgium, Centre Mondial du Cyclisme, Colombia, Denmark, Ecuador, Spain, United States, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Norway, Pays de la Loire, Netherlands, Plonda, Portugal, Russia, Slovenia and Switzerland.
Away from the race tracks, it is indeed impressive that slowly by slowly, Rwandan streets are starting to be designed to have cycling lanes. This is a good development that shows that the government cares about the safety of bicycle users and the grander picture of cleaner transport. It is not easy to redesign all the city roads but you have to commend the efforts made so far. City roads tend to be prime real estate in this region and any expansion or redesign to cater for cyclists is a good move.
Even bodaboda cyclists are visible in parts of Kigali making it more of a cycling nation in terms of a sport, job or leisure activity. In the tourist resort town of Rubavu or Karongi, cycling is part of the package one can enjoy while there. Some hotels like Lake Kivu Serena have mountains that guests can ride around the town as they take in the breeze from the lake.
Then there is the Congo Nile trail that can be covered in a big 4x4 truck or simply on a mountain bike. Rwanda Development Board has done a lot to promote this tourism activity for those who love viewing the countryside on a two-wheeler and interacting with residents while learning about things like coffee and tea growing, conservation of parks like the Mukura-Gishwati National Park etc.
At the very basic level, cycling in Rwanda has benefited from the smooth roads that make the ride worthwhile. The management of the sport has been impeccable and this has made it easy for the government to support it more as compared to other sports disciplines that are always embroiled in scandals. We are now seeing a cycling nation emerging in this part of the world. The sky is not the limit here, just another nice view for those riding.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.