Found (#002): Team Rwanda

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Sometimes it takes an act of misfortune to find someplace meaningful…

On week 5 of our Trans-Uganda expedition, my front hub developed a periodic ‘tink’ sound. Over the next few days, as we continued along a string of particularly rough tracks, the foreboding death clank became progressively worse. During the hearty dirt road climb and descent that took us to the highest altitude of the Trans-Uganda route, nearly every pedal stroke was accompanied by an undeniable clank and crunch. It was so bad that I feared the hub would seize or implode. We were at 8400 feet in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park with no bike shop to be found and no ride to hitch, so we pitched a tent for the night just outside the park’s border. We’d continue in the morning, hell or high water. Perhaps, if it did seize, I could buy someone’s Chinese wheel and road tire combination, rely on only a back brake, and ride a Frankenbike to the finish line.

Shortly before dusk, a van pulled into the small community run campground where we stayed. There were three relatively modern mountain bikes stuffed in the back, an extremely rare sight in Uganda. After chatting up the driver, I discovered the group was with the Kampala Cycling Club, a chance encounter indeed. We talked about our route and my mechanical woes. Unfortunately he had only bad news. There were zero modern bike shops that could make the necessary repairs in Uganda, much less source a 6-bolt disc hub for a wheel relace. The best, albeit a long-shot possibility, was in Musanze, Rwanda.

Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center

  • Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center
  • Surly ECR, Bikepacking Africa

Fortunately we were only a two day, mostly downhill tarmac ride from Musanze. Musanze, aka Ruhengeri, is the home of the Rwanda Rising Cycling Center and Team Rwanda. This may ring a bell for some folks. The team’s story was made semi-famous by the film, “Rising From The Ashes”, a feature length documentary about two worlds colliding when cycling legend Jonathan “Jock” Boyer moved to Rwanda, to help a group of struggling genocide survivors pursue their dream of a national team.

So I emailed Jock to explain our situation. He wouldn’t make any guarantees, just that they would take a look and do their best. We’d have to wait for their chief mechanic to return from the States, where he had traveled to pick up an order of bike parts. That statement alone should shed light on just how bad, or nearly impossible, it is to receive packages in this part of Africa.

By the time we’d made it to Musanze, the hub sounded like someone was playing speed metal with pencil drums on a frying pan. We waited a couple of days for the mechanic to arrive. Unfortunately, the hub proved irreparable. But thankfully, Jamie and Issa were kind enough to provide a working 6-bolt disc hub from one of their old mountain bikes. Issa replaced the wheel, and our trip was saved!

Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center

Jean Bosco Nsengimana, Rwanda National Cycling Team and Team Stradalli Bike Aid
  • Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center
  • Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center

Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center

Zulu giving me stink-eye, with Jock Boyer in the background.
  • Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center
  • Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center
  • Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center
  • Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center
  • Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center

During this whole process, we had the good fortune of meeting some great people, learning more about the team, and spending time at a facility that boasts a particularly inspiring backstory. For those who haven’t seen the film, it’s one that should be shared. In 1994, a mass genocide gutted and all but destroyed Rwanda. Shortly after, Jonathan ‘Jock’ Boyer – the first American to participate in the Tour de France – moved to the country, with the desire to help build a national cycling team. Team Rwanda became “official” in 2007, and has been growing ever since. Such has been its success that it’s now a force of professional cyclists who race competitively, and win, on the international stage.

In addition to providing a dream for young Rwandan riders, the team has also transformed cycling into arguably the most popular ‘spectator’ sport in Rwanda, even if most of its fans can only follow the team’s endeavors via radio broadcasts. In the process, the members of Team Rwanda have also become accidental goodwill ambassadors for their country, and their inspiring story an example for other countries to follow.

Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center

Bonaventure Uwizeyimana, Team Rwanda, Dimension Data for Qhubeka
  • Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center
  • Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center

Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center

A group of local ‘single-speeders’ awaiting testing. Out of this group, one got a team card. If all goes well, he can expect good training, an English education, a salary, and the responsibility of being an ambassador for their country to the World.
  • Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center
  • Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center

Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center

  • Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center
  • Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center
  • Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center

Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center

Issa lacing up a used but working American Classic hub to my oversized WTB Scraper rim.
  • Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center
  • Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center
  • Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center
  • Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center
  • Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center

Team Rwanda, Africa Rising Cycling Center

Gasore Hategeka, Team Rwanda

Click here to learn more about Team Rwanda and Rising From The Ashes Cycling Center. The team and cycling center are supported through sponsorship and private donations; if you’d like to get involved, click here, or to make a donation, click here.

In our series ‘Found’, we report on cultural, architectural, and historical discoveries made possible via slow, methodical movement through off-the-beaten-path corners of the world. If you’ve come across something you’d like to share, and have strong imagery to support it, please drop us a line.

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  • Kimberly Moszyk Coats

    Your misfortune was our fortune…so great to have met you! Thanks for highlighting our labor of love.

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Thanks to your team, we kept rolling all the way to Cyangugu! It was great to have met you as well… I look forward to returning to Musanze one day, for sure. You have an incredible labor of love; keep up the great work!

  • http://www.shanecycles.com Shane

    Great story, On a similar note I remember seeing some guys training/racing near Kampala airport, full cycle gear and helmet riding a local/chineese bike. what a sight. I’ ll reserve comments of touring in Africa with discs for another time :).

    It’s always amazing that some of the bad experiences become the best… Karma is a fucker with that :)

  • Ian

    Would you recommend the 6 bolt disc over the centre lock in developing countries?

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Thanks. No doubt. Yeah, Africa on discs is risky. No problems on the last 6 month trip, but this one bit me!

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    I’m not an expert on the subject in relation to other developing countries, but I think 6-bolt hubs are more common in general. In east Africa, your best bet is finding one brought by a cyclist or tourist. Most bikes there use non-disc brakes.

  • http://www.shanecycles.com Shane

    It’ll always be 50/50, you get stuck or you don’t :)

  • http://www.shanecycles.com Shane

    In developing countries the best bet is to keep it simple, v-brakes or cantilever rim brakes, usually there’s some cheap chineese import mtb’s where you can rob spare parts from. imho. In Africa outside of South Africa, and the Capital cities you’ll struggle to find Discs of any kind…..

  • Ian

    Thanks for that.

  • http://www.shanecycles.com Shane

    Your best bet North of the Zambezi is not to have a Disc ;)

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    I’d argue; I’ve never used non-disc brakes on a multi-day trip, and never will. I think for trips under 6 months, as long as you have a proven hub, like a Phil Wood for example, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have a bearing problem. This scenario was a result of testing something new on incredibly rough Ugandan dirt roads. Still for a 12 week trip, I shouldn’t have had a problem, but I gambled and lost (or won, depending on which way you look at it). That said, I might sit on the fence when it comes to big 8+ month trips that spend a large chunk of time in developing countries, or in situations where someone doesn’t invest in really solid hubs. Otherwise, discs are becoming more and more common, and mechanical disc brakes are easy to repair.

  • Jon Schultz

    So my disc hubs and brakes have a 50/50 chance of breaking down on an extended tour? Obviously, the reliability is much better than that. Just because you don’t have replacement parts available, doesn’t mean that you will have a breakdown. I think the trips written up on this site prove that disc brakes are pretty dang reliable, since pretty much every trip except this one had disc brakes and no issues.

  • http://www.shanecycles.com Shane

    For most bike packing trips I find BB7’s perfect and would really miss their stopping power if I went back to rim brakes. For another long trip in Africa I’d go for v-brakes just like last time. Or accept the possibility of hitch hiking to the nearest DHL depot and wait a week if it did go wrong :) and obviously 50/50 is a statistical joke ;)

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    I used the new Paul Klamper brakes this time… the stopping power is great, pad wear is less than BB7s, or at least it seems, and the ease of adjustment is awesome.

  • http://www.shanecycles.com Shane

    Yup I’m a late disc convert and love my bb7’s. And there are few places in the world now that are more than a day hitching from a DHL depot. Getting parts shipped is expensive and risky but It can be a solution to some problems when you have more time on your hands during a long trip. I’ll sit on the fence with you for long trips :)

  • Ian

    Most cycle tourers I know of doing Africa and beyond will only use V-brakes,but they don’t do bikepacking trails and are usually full loaded touring bikes with 1.75″ tires,so are confined to roads.So, don’t you think using V-brakes would become problematic on trails?

  • http://www.shanecycles.com Shane

    I chose v-brakes and 2″ tyres for my year in Africa. https://vimeo.com/42980891

  • Christophe Noel

    For those of us who grew up road racing in the mid 1980s, Jock Boyer was indeed a legend. The first American to race in the Tour de France. What a turbulent life he has had since. Right out of a Greek tragedy.

  • https://theskrumble.wordpress.com/ Montana Miller

    Bummer about the hub- same thing happened to mine. It’s not quite dead yet though

  • Mike

    Fantastic story!

  • Rob Grey

    Jamie! Jamie Bissell! I know that guy from UBC Cycling! Lost touch after grad, always wondered what he got up to. Great guy! Glad to see he’s doing good in the world, especially with bikes, especially with the Rwandan cycling team. Incredible.

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Wow, small world! Yeah, Jamie’s a great dude… certainly helped me in a pinch!

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Thanks!

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Which hub is your huckleberry?

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Jock has certainly made a nice life for himself doing a good thing in a beautiful country…. super nice guy, too.

  • https://theskrumble.wordpress.com/ Montana Miller

    The shuddering shutter

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Rumor has it the batch just out of production has new and improved bearings. They need to make them serviceable.

  • https://theskrumble.wordpress.com/ Montana Miller

    Yeah, they sure do. A wheel that doesn’t roll is a real bummer. I’m going to replace this one with a Schmidt. Not worth chancing it to save a hundred bucks.

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