Bicycles of Arusha14 April 2009

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Between the frantic bustle of overloaded dala dalas (minibusses) and burly 4x4s shuffling batches of tourists off on safari move a eclectic mix of bicycles, filling the transportation gap for a large majority of the population here in Tanzania. The small, nimble bicyclists fight drivers and pedestrians for space on congested streets. The bicycles are usually loaded with a passenger on the back (one ride is a few hundred shillings, or $0.25) or a bunch of bananas on the way to market. The roadside is full of cycles repair shops where you'll see men (always men, never women) fixing flats or truing wheels. It's certainly no Amsterdam -- riders are at the bottom of the road food chain. Accidents are common, as the riders must jockey for position between exhaust-spewing cargo trucks and men pulling carts overloaded with sisal and bags of cement.

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Most of the bicycles in Tanzania, like the automobiles, are imported from China. They are heavy, up-right city cruisers with beefy 26" wheels and thick tires, a requirement for the often potholed, uneven roads in the city. Riders will decorate their machines with tassels or bright-colored fabric trailing from the seat post. All bicycles have full fenders and mudflaps.

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In Dar Es Salaam, I noticed a large number of tricycles, usually with a meter-long platform on the back. These vehicles were always manned by at least two people: one to pedal, and one to help push it up steep hills. Very few of the cycles here have multiple gears, and when they do, the derailleurs are often broken or full of dirt.

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I have seen a handful of road bikes in the month that I've been here. One early Sunday morning I spotted a group of five or six riders decked out in full kit with older European road bikes. Perhaps they were discussing starting the Arusha Critical Mass?

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Want to talk about this a bit more? Send a tweet to @cgansen or email me at cgansen@gmail.com.