I was riding a bicycle from Chez Lando toward Gishushu on KN 5 Avenue. My rental bike was built in accordance with specifications required by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) but it’s manufacturers compromised comfort over speed. The drop handlebars are positioned lower than the saddle forcing me to ride in a leaning posture I wasn’t accustomed to. I had no idea how the gear shifters work and chose not to carry out experiments on a highway.
It was one of those days. Days the City of Kigali refers to as car-free. On these unique days, all vehicles and motorcycles are kept off the main road between Amahoro Stadium and the city center. On these exciting days, residents of the city walk, jog or ride bicycles on designated roads without having to share the same roads with bully and pollution-prone motorists. The decision to introduce car-free days was taken in a bid to encourage residents of Kigali and their visitors to lead a healthy lifestyle and combat Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). City officials cite social and environmental benefits as well.
Some participants walk, jog or cycle from the city center to Rwanda Revenue Authority’s spacious parking lot in Kimihurura Sector while others do the same from Remera. When groups meet at the premises of Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA), more workouts are done followed by free health check ups and consultations, courtesy of Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC). Drinking water is provided free of charge by Jibu, an enterprise that has created a network of entrepreneurs determined to provide affordable water to the people.
Although this series of monthly events is popularly known as Car-Free Day, each episode lasts only a few hours. It happens every first Sunday of the month. Since it’s launch in May 2016, tens of thousands of people have participated including His Excellency, Paul Kagame.
The Chez Lando - Gishushu stretch was effortless, thanks to the gentle slope. My side of the road was reserved for cyclists and skaters. Some of the top professional cyclists in Rwanda show up regularly. I was amazed by the skills displayed by young skaters. Things like skateboards, inline skates and roller skates didn’t exist in my village when I was growing up. No wonder I found them awe-inspiring.
Seven minutes later, I was approaching the round about near Kigali Heights. Other riders were overtaking me spinning their spokes like Areruya Joseph seeking Tour du Rwanda honors. On the other side, members of a well organized group of runners were singing motivational songs and moving as a single unit. Their steps were coordinated and their rhythm was on point. There was chemistry in that group.
After another easy span between Kabindi and Kimicanga, I endured the most strenuous challenge of the day as I rode from Sopetrade to Makuza Peace Plaza. A lifetime of involvement in vigorous sports wasn’t enough to make my experience easy as I battled the steepest incline of the tour. May be I should have spared some time to learn how gears work. If I remember correctly, someone had mentioned that these bicycles are equipped with a gear that ease uphill cycling. Reaching the car-free zone between M. Peace Plaza and Grand Pension Plaza was a huge relief. I wasn’t done yet. I made a U-turn and proceeded to RRA grounds.
On my way to Kimihurura, another gradient stage toward Kabindi posed a serious test to my resilience but nothing was going to prevent me from finishing what I started. The pedestrian side was more congested than it was when I rode past the same junction earlier. Some participants looked like Olympic materials while others were taking it easy while having conversations. I recognized groups of football veterans, drinking buddies, families and Chinese construction workers. The crowd was diverse.
It was one of those days. Days the City of Kigali refers to as car-free. Days marked on my calendar as stress-free. I am looking forward to the next one.