David Kinjah loved football. Yet it was during his quest to become a footballer that saw him take a different path—cycling. The veteran cyclist acclaimed for mentoring 4-time Tour de France champ, Chris Fromme, is also a coach
Grace Wachira @yaa_grace
Once upon a bicycle story for world celebrated Kenyan professional cyclist started in the usual nondescript way; no father holding the bike teaching him how to balance and ride, nor a preserved childhood memory of when the stabilisers went off.
David Kinjah’s first bike encouter was a borrowed moment. A dad to his friend owned a bike, which they took turns to master. Unknown to him, this was preparing him for a career path he had no clue of.
“After high school, I teamed with my friends to play beach football. However, my family lived in Miritini, Mombasa, 17 kilometres from the beach, so I could not afford bus fare. The only option I was left with was hanging by the doors of Kenya Bus. Many are the times I ran the 34 kilometres to-and-fro a day to practise. I needed to find another way,” he recalls.
With Sh200, Kinjah got his first bike, a BMX, which he bought at a junk shop. “I loved that bike. I rode it to the beach for the matches. Once in a while, I spotted professional cyclists and I longed to one day participate in a race,” recalls the 47-year-old.
Kinjah learnt how to fix his bike thanks to the person who had sold it to him, one professor Juma. “When I had flat tyres and issues with my chain, he would gladly teach me how to fix them at no fee. Eventually, the bike became somewhat small since I was growing up. So, I modified it,” he says.
Kinjah bent the handles of his bike, lifted the seat and added a rail here and there. Once he was done, it was neither a BMX nor a road bike. It was nicknamed rungu
by people in Mombasa and he rode it proudly. A good road race bike costs a fortune, and he couldn’t afford it at the time.
He went on to take up cycling professionally. “In February 1995, there was a cycling competition held in Kisumu. It had athletes from Uganda and Tanzania. I braved the journey to Kisumu, participated in the race and emerged position six out of 200. This is despite my bike make, which was neither here nor there,” Kinjah smiles.
He decided not to go back to Mombasa after that. “I teamed up with a few cyclists and together, we participated in a race in Uganda,” he says. His training efforts bore fruit and Kinjah was among those who represented Kenya in Zimbabwe for the All African Games in 1995.
It was during that period that he learnt about the various cycling disciplines. “I did a lot of local races in 1996 before I settled in 1997 in Kikuyu,” he said. The weather and terrain in Kikuyu was and still is good for training. “I would cycle to Ndeiya and while on those training trips, I came across a group of young men who rode black
mambas,” he says.
These riders would later become the first members of his Safari Simbaz project. “I saw the passion they had and in 1998, I decided to help them become professional cyclists as well.
That’s when I started Safari Simbaz project because I believed cycling is more than having fun on a bike. I’ve met youngsters who are inspired to study by being able to cycle to school rather than having to walk or run 15km, that sort of thing makes all the effort worthwhile,” he adds.
In 1999, Kinjah took part in the All African Games in South Africa, Johannesburg. The same year, he tried his luck in the Tour de France, but poor funding and lack of equipment saw him perform dismally and dropped out early. In 2000, he represented Kenya in France for the World Championship.
In 2001, Kinjah took part in Australia’s Crocodile Trophy Competition. “I spent six months there, training and racing. It was a multi-stage race that lasted 14 days.
I am the only African that has successfully completed the Crocodile Trophy Race. Then in 2002, I took part in the CommonWealth Games in Manchester,” he says.
His forthrightness and strict demand for justice saw him lock horns with Kenya Cycling Association many times leading to him not being selected for international events.
Kinjah cites the need to create awareness on decongesting Nairobi and having a healthier environment. “The lawmakers should pass by laws that favour cyclists. In Kenya, we do not have cycling tracks for bicycle users and not to mention the lack of support from the Kenya Cycling Federation,” he says.