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.


7 thoughts on “A Little Pain on the Beach

  1. Capt. Don Kilpela Sr. May 30, 2009 / 10:12 pm

    I’m amazed on two counts: your bike broke at the most convenient time safety wise and there was a bike shop with a suitable part nearby. Give me some lotto numbers Kev.

    Reminds me of the time Betty was riding a small 3-speed bike home from her gift shop, a bike she never rode before. As she went downhill toward the lake and a sharp corner she suddenly realized she had no brakes (of course they were attached to the handle bar but she didn’t know that) so in a panic as the bike picked up speed and approached the corner she jumped off and slid down the gravel on side of the road. Pretty much describes your fate, eh?

    Those beach scenes are ubiquitous throughout the world. You could be in Thailand or Barbados, almost anywhere, and the scene would be the same. They carried me back to Bonaire and Curacao and I am jealous.

    Those young girls are what we used to call “San Quentin quail.”

    Are you getting copies of Ano’s diary on your email?

  2. JoJo May 31, 2009 / 11:08 pm

    As I look out my window on this dreary day in the U.P., I’m envious. We are so starved for color right about this time…and warmth. This Spring has been very chilly. I ready recently that Men ususally only have one of 3 things on their minds…food, blowing things up and, well, you know the other. Enjoy the bikinis.
    I’m glad you’re coming back. Now you can live boring like the rest of us and we can all stop saying how lucky you are to be doing what you are doing while we sit here and go back and forth from Houghton to Hancock day after day…..kidding. It’s not that bad.
    Be following you….


  3. Jim June 1, 2009 / 7:40 pm

    I am also amazed at your luck, Kevie. Last year Bonnie and I took a hard spill on Martha’s Vineyard, on our tandem, and that was no fun believe me. I thought that I was hospital bound for sure.

    Incidently, Bonnie and I just got back from a 10-day cycling trip in Ireland. Nothing comparable to your experience however but challenging for us. We had a great time.

    Your pictures and story continue to be spell binding….you’ve come a long way from the time you started with that old Leica. Remember that one?

    Keep thinking about a book…I think you could do well traveling the USA speaking to bike clubs.

    Stay safe….you better take a good look at the those welded frame tubes!

  4. DAD June 2, 2009 / 1:27 am

    Well, in that part of the world bikes are still a big thing over cars.. I like the photos of the bikini clad women. Did you talk to them?? Curious to know if they are British, German , French etc.??? Bring a couple back with you.

  5. Kevin Koski June 2, 2009 / 1:32 pm

    Dad, the girls I met were two from France, two from Norway, one form Scotland, one from England, three from Italy, three from USA and three from Tanzania. The only ones who I could bring back are the Africans. They are dying to come to America. If you pay their expenses, I can bring them. haha

    Jim– I would love to hear details and see pix of your trip to Ireland. I cycled there in 1982.

  6. Nicola June 2, 2009 / 3:31 pm

    OMG Kev…LOL…I can just see you holding those handle bars…lol. I’m glad you survived your crash. Happy Belated Birthday.

    Love Nik

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