A Little Pain on the Beach

One of my fears on this trip has been for the bike to suffer a catastrophic structural failure while I am speeding downhill at 50 kph. Bikes are made of individual tubes that are welded together. If one should fail suddenly it could be disastrous. Well, that’s what happened last week. Luckily I was only going 5 kph, not 50.

It was supposed to be an easy day. The ride from Stone Town to the northern beaches on Zanzibar is only 60 km of flat paved roads. I figured four hours, max. See the map below.


I did fine until I turned off the main paved road onto a tough rock-filled one that went 500 m to the beach where  was to get a beach bungalow. As I was bumping along at 5 kph, suddenly, and without any warning, the handlebars became detached from the rest of the bike. A weld on the handlebar stem failed completely and I was left just holding the handlebars, unattached to the rest of the bicycle. Imagine driving down the street in your car and suddenly the steering wheel comes off in your hands. It was even worse, since I had no leverage to brake the bike. All I could do was watch helplessly while my bike careened and bounced around. I did finally manage to steer by tilting my body to one side. I tried to crash into a bush which I figured was better than on the rocks. I did crash, and fell hard on the rocks anyway. My left shin came down and struck a big rock. If you’ve never had your shin hit by a hard object before I can assure you the feeling is not a pleasant one.

After writhing in agony for several minutes and swearing a blue streak in every language I knew, I stared in disbelief at the damage. I had never had such a disastrous failure before. Then I marveled at my good luck. If the failure had occurred when I was speeding downhill at 50 kph I surely woulda been toast. The other fortunate thing was that I was only a couple hundred meters from the beach. So I managed to drag my bike to the bungalow, check in, get a cold beer, and try to forget the whole mess.

I planned on staying on the beach for a few days so I was not terribly stressed about the bike. But as I sat on my porch over the next few days, watching the waves crash on the beach and enjoying the wind through the trees I kept glancing over at my crippled bike, thinking, “what the hell am I going to do?” Here’s a shot of the damage.


After a couple days a number of options came to mind. But the easiest thing to do was to hike a few km to Nungwi, the closest big town and see if they could fix the problem. Well as luck would have it, way out in the middle of nowhere there was  a bicycle shop and they had a replacement stem that exactly fit my bike. It’s a cheap, $3 Chinese job, but it works. It should hold me until I can have a decent one sent from the USA.

Meanwhile the beach was great. Powdery soft sand, good snorkeling, crystal clear water, fresh seafood, cold beer and women in bikinis. Here’s a few photos.


Tourists enjoying the beach.


A lone piece of shade.


Coral washed up on the beach.


Fishing boats.

Diving off a old shipwreck.


A visitor near my bungalow.


The women collect seaweed, stuff it onto sacks, carry them away from the beach and lay it out to dry in the sun.


Some other sights on the beach that caught my eye.


Yet another sunset photo.


I could have stayed for weeks on the coast, which, for your reference was near the town of Kendwa. But I rode back to Stone Town and now am prepared to leave this paradise for the dirt and noise of Dar es Salaam. From there I will make my way uphill and west to Malawi.

Some last photos of Stone town.