Urban cycling is taking of in Nairobi, with new clubs opening to cater for the trend. One such club specialises in ‘excess’ – the practice of ‘hanging’ onto trucks on highways. Sam Hopkins and John Kamicha followed this group for two years to showcase this subculture in a film called The Bike Gang. Goethe-Institut recently exhibited it at their auditorium in Nairobi.
Keeping fit, losing weight, fun and adventure are a few of the reasons people choose to cycle. Sam Hopkins, who has been working with artists in Nairobi for the last decade, wanted to highlight the emerging trend. He was introduced to a group of bikers by John Kamicha, a local cyclist.
Sam would frequently join the group at their hangout spot – known as a ‘base’ – called ‘Off-Road’, in Githurai. As he interacted with them, they would trade riveting tales of their adventures. He realised this group was not just about cycling on highways; they were engaged in a dangerous practice of hanging. ‘Hanging’ is cycling in a lorry’s slipstream, relying on wind created by the truck to suck the bike and its rider along.
The Bike Gang project was born out of these encounters. The directors explain this in detail on a wall write-up of the film – ‘Our idea, was to tell the story, or a story, of biking in Nairobi, indirectly, through the anecdotes that bikers tell each other. We selected four stories from the many that we’ve heard over the last two years, because they seem to capture something indescribable about why people bike’.
The film employs collaborative and collective filming techniques. In a phone interview, Sam explained that this form of filming involves input from all the stakeholders. They incorporated some video clips previously shot by the group. Prominent stories that weren’t captured on video were reenacted.
‘The re-enactments were filmed in one go’, he said. ‘The reason behind this idea was to see the content immediately. We would then discuss the quality and precision of the reenactment to the real experience then redo the parts until we were ALL satisfied with the clip. Production of the film did not fall on one person, as is the case with an editor’s cut’.
The exhibition opened with a short ride from the gang within the city and ran until the end of January.