Thursday, January 2, 2020

Biking in Gaborone

I have been coming to Botswana on a regular basis since 2011 to do research on the Khoisan languages. Usually, I live somewhere in Gaborone, and then make expeditions into the field. When in Gaborone, I try to bike every morning to wake myself up.
The bike shop that I go to is called “Ultimate Cycle Base” and it is located in Sebele Mall (just past Airport Junction). They do repairs quickly (usually in a day) for reasonable prices.

I bought a Momsen AL029 there in 2014:

Here is a picture (on a rainy day):

Biking in Gaborone poses some challenges. Here is a list:

Botswana roads are covered with thorns that easily puncture bike tires. I had the exact same problem in Upington, South Africa, which has a similar climate and local vegetation. The only solution I have found to this problem is to buy expensive tubeless tires. These tires need to be periodically treated with a kind of liquid sealant, which automatically fills any punctures that may make it through the tire. At the store they recommend to leave any thorns that you find in the tires, since if you pull them out, the air escapes.

Except for the occasional worker making his way to and from work, I almost never see bikers in the city. Related to this absence of bikers is the fact that the city roads are not really built for biking. There are no designated biking lanes. Rather, you either need to ride on the shoulder or the pedestrian sidewalk. New roads generally have a shoulder which can be one meter or more wide. But older roads generally have no shoulder, or only a very small one. Pedestrian sidewalks are usually covered with sand or grass, and sometimes covered with broken glass. And besides, pedestrians walk there. So if at all possible, it is wise to avoid riding on the pedestrian sidewalk.

Concretely, what this means is that you need to map out your personal biking path link by link. You need to explore to find out what roads, shoulders, sidewalks, etc., are accessible.

The city is arranged into blocks (e.g., Block 6, where I live). These are not like NYC blocks, but they are rather like large neighborhoods. The blocks are typically encircled by busy streets that are difficult to cross or ride on (making it difficult to get from one block to another). Therefore, for day-to day-riding, you might have to trace a route internal to a block, which you can then repeat two times for length. See my map below.

On weekends and holidays, the city has far less traffic than on weekdays. At that point, it is possible to explore the various blocks without worrying about traffic.

While the cars are generally mindful of pedestrians and bikers, the combis (white mini-vans that pick people up for transport) are aggressive and reckless and will hit you if you are not careful. Occasionally, there are stories in the papers of bikers being hit by combis.

There are dogs on the roads. It is worse on weekends, when for people let their pets roam free. Most of the dogs will ignore you, but some may feel you are invading their territory. In this case, they will start barking and charge the bike, taking nips at your legs. I recommend that you yell at them ("Hey!'), pretend like you are going to throw something at them, or if necessary stop the bike and put it between you and the dog. Usually they will run off.

Here is the map of some of my bike paths in the city. As you can see, I mostly bike in Blocks 6, 7 and 8. But I have occasionally gotten on to the Airport Road and biked all the way to the airport, which has a shoulder and is not too busy (mainly people going to and from the airport use it).

An BBC (Feb. 2020) article on cycling in Gaborone, which seems accurate:

Cycling Embassy Botswana Facebook page:

Ultimate Cycle Base Facebook page:

Botswana Gazette  (Feb. 2020) article on cycling in Gaborone:

Facebook page for The Bike Shop. I do not use this shop, but it looks nice:

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