Bicycles carried new ideas to Africa. Locals promptly took them up with a lot of entrepreneurial spirit and inventiveness and made them their own. Michael Ochieg built a life around the bicycle. With determination and courage, he built a reputation as a jack-of-all-trades in Nairobi’s small but dedicated bicycle scene. But entrepreneurship in Africa also goes hand in hand with great personal responsibility and often high risks – which the state does not take away from you.
Michael was born in Bungoma, which is tranquil by Kenyan standards. In this city of 45,000 near the Ugandan border along the two African capitals of Nairobi and Kampala, old steel-framed bicycles used to transport anything from loads to passengers are common. Although advanced credit models and low-cost Indian automakers have since enabled many riders to replace their bicycles with motorcycles, these heavy vehicles are still part of the urban landscape in many smaller communities.
Here Michael learned the trade as a bicycle mechanic from his grandfather, especially on the Black Mamba bicycles that were widely used throughout East Africa in earlier days. The name goes back to an Indian company that imported them and served as a namesake for all bikes of similar design. Michael eventually developed a special affinity for such “Black Mambas” and later named his bicycle store after them.
In his village, he had drunk and smoked a lot of alcohol, but the situation had depressed him so much that he had stopped and found faith, Michael says. Around 2000, he finally moved to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to study evangelical studies at university as a deeply devout Christian. He earned his living while studying by repairing bicycles. He learned to repair all types of bicycles, from mountain bikes to city and racing bikes. He taught himself a lot over the years by self-studying YouTube videos.
“After a long road, I can now call myself a professional bike mechanic for all types of bikes,” Michael proudly explains.
A formative experience with the Tour D’Afrique
His talent and some luck led him to Martin, whom he met through a mutual friend from Tanzania. The Dutchman was one of the tour organizers of Tour D’Afrique. The company organizes escorted tours by bicycle across the entire African continent, 11,000 kilometers from Egypt to Cape Town in South Africa. Michael accompanied the trek twice. The first time a month through the vast expanses of his native Kenya. A second tour took him three months from Namibia via Botswana, Zambia and Malawi to Tanzania.
In addition to his job as a bicycle mechanic, Michael’s duties included helping to set up the camp, cooking the meals and feeding the tourists, and cleaning the equipment. He considers the Europeans he met, who spent several thousand dollars on their adventure, to be friendly and of good character. But longer contact never resulted. But before his experience with the Tour D’Afrique, it was unimaginable for him to cover such long distances by bicycle and even to cross foreign countries with it. Without hesitation, Michael would immediately take the chance again and participate in the Tour D’Afrique.
Return to Nairobi
After the tours in Africa, Michael returned to the Kenyan capital. For two years he worked as a bicycle mechanic in someone else’s store, where the decision finally matured to open his own business. But he also had financial support from a friend at the German embassy who worked at a bank and that of his family. He shied away from a bank loan. Together they worked out the idea of the bicycle store. Michael saved for his dream and compensated the fear of failure with faith in himself and worked even harder until he finally also found a shed, along one of the Masaba Road, right near an exit of the city highway.
Thanks to his experience, Michael has built an excellent reputation among the small cycling community of Nairobi, a city of five million people. In various chat groups, Michael is recommended as an experienced bike mechanic and word of his skills gets around. Ongoing customer service with the bike community is also part of his daily business. Friends show him where spare parts are available in order to be equipped in his store.
Entrepreneurial risk strikes under Corona
But in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic also hit Kenya. As in the rest of the world, the Kenyan government relied on lockdowns, which hit small businesses like Michael’s bike store particularly hard. Hardly any other region in the world maintained these for as long as many African countries. This also made itself felt in Michael’s business. Customers stopped coming and the financial situation worsened and Michael was forced to close his store.
But at the moment Michael’s capital is not enough to make a new start. However, in addition to tools, spare parts and a good workshop, he is now also concerned about safety. Today there are more bicycle thieves than ever, he notes. He would also like to expand his range to include bike clothing, helmets and shoes to get his store up and running again. But he lacks the funds to get a container of bikes to sell.
But Michael does not remain idle during his period of unemployment, although the school fees for his children have to be paid, he has bought a plot of land remote from Nairobi to keep open the possibility of one day being able to start a new project here, such as a small house.
At the same time, a lot of energy goes into the Club Cycloville Kenya outreach program, where he passes on his talents to boys and girls so that one day they can have their own store or take part in races. But Michael’s actions are also grounded in a deeper worldview and a broader vision for his native Kenya: “Just a contribution to how we can make our nation a different one and pass it on to our children and the next generation.”