With countless people telling me, “It’s too dangerous”, “It’s too hot”, “Nobody does that in Honiara”, I finally decided to ignore all the advice and get back on a bike. So I headed off to the one bicycle shop in the country, and took ownership of the best bike in store – a second hand Avanti hybrid.
Riding the 3km back from the store to my home felt fantastic – I had the breeze in my hair and the road dust in my eyes, nostrils and mouth. That 3km was also enough to give me my first flat tyre (an indication of the level of quality of Solomon Islands’ only National Highway). The store very kindly fixed me up with a new tube and tyre, and 3 weeks ago I embarked on my first group ride.
Saturday mornings, when sensible people are sleeping, I rise in the dark, fumble my way out the door, and roll down the hill to the starting point. Along the way, I am greeted with a beautiful morning reception from the drunk locals, yelling “Hey baby”, “Go f*&kim yourself”, or running out in front of me with a broad betel nut grin, flailing their arms about wildly.
Finally I join up with my crew: Half a dozen lycra-clad, helmet-wearing whities, astride bikes ranging from cheap-and-cheerful to high-end pro racing bikes. We must be the strangest sight in Honiara (except, perhaps, for that drunk guy with betelnut teeth, flailing his arms wildly). Then we’re off.
We head out West, first passing through the informal settlement of White River, and then bracing ourselves over the nine sets of traffic calming speed bumps (with each “bump” actually consisting of 6 bumps in the space of 1.5 metres), interspersed by potholes. Our only hope is that the bumps are enough to shake out the dust, but not the nuts and bolts.
Once past Kakabona, we are free. We are separated from the hazy Honiara mornings and surrounded by the fresh, rural Solomon’s air. We take pleasure in the day’s brief moment of coolness before the blanket of tropical heat descends over us. We reflect on life at the same time that the rising sun reflects off the calm ocean. We laugh with the kids as they run alongside us, barefooted, trying to outpace us. It is bliss.
That is, until somebody gets a flat. Then it’s just comical. Everyone stops, pulls out their tools, and checks out each other’s kit. Then everyone offers advice, all at once, on how to do the repairs. Finally, one person is brave enough to actually give it a go. They discover that the wheel is not quick release, so grab a screwdriver to undo the screws. Then they discover that they just unscrewed the bottom bracket, so curse a bit and look totally bewildered. Then one of the lesser experienced members steps forward with a tool none of us have seen before – a special device to unscrew theft-resistant locking wheel skewers.
With the wheel off, we then try to change the tube but it looks too big, so we argue for a while about sizes before realising we were all wrong and the tube is actually okay. Then the bottom bracket is clumsily replaced with more cursing, and the theft-proof wheel skewers reinstalled. Then one person pumps up the tube by hand, while the others stand around checking out each other’s pumps. Then we are back on the road. J
While the idea of kick starting the weekend with a 45km bike ride sounds healthy and soulful, every cyclist knows that the real reason for any bike ride is the breakfast afterwards. I am slowly working my way through the breakfast menu at The Ofis, and must admit that the banana pancakes with ice-cream, chocolate fudge and ocean views are pretty hard to beat. So much for a healthy ride.
With stomachs full of coffee, we re-enter the Honiara mayhem, involuntarily inhale the fumes and dust, and climb the hill back home, arriving as the sensible people are waking.