Get on the saddle and tour Rwanda on your bike

Thursday July 2 2020

Team Rwanda cyclists in a practice session.

Team Rwanda cyclists in a practice session. PHOTO | JEFFERSON RUMANYIKA 

JEFFERSON RUMANYIKA
By JEFFERSON RUMANYIKA
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Rwanda has gone through a cycling revolution over the past decade. With the prominence of Tour du Rwanda and the advent of car-free days, more people are starting to saddle up and going cycling.

As the Covid-19 pandemic has barred people from going to the gym, more people are taking up biking for recreation, exercise or as a sport.

You don’t have to be part of the Tour du Rwanda cycling team to get the most out of zooming around the country on two wheels.

For cycling club members, experienced outdoors enthusiasts, families, adventurers or even beginners, there are several routes to choose from.

With the natural beauty on the mountainous terrain, country roads and lakes, exploring Rwanda’s countryside by bicycle is an authentic and rewarding way to interact with the rural population from one village to the next.

Whether you’re looking to escape the humdrum of life for half a day or setting off for a longer expedition, here are some ideas to get you pedalling.

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■ Countryside biking through the Congo-Nile trail

Best for experienced bikers

Duration: Two to five days

Start: Gisenyi

End: Kibuye

The Congo-Nile trail is the most popular cycling route in the country and arguably the best bike packing route in East Africa. The 227-kilometre stretch of road goes along the shores of Lake Kivu.

Named after the divide that separates the Nile and Congo rivers, this route traverses winding roads through the verdant jungle and farmland that make up Rwanda’s countryside.

xuberant children cheer and chase after you like you were a Tour du Rwanda cyclist. Riding through this route will immerse you in the culture of subsistence farming through banana and coffee plantations, fishing and colourfully dressed women gracefully carrying impossibly large bundles of firewood, bananas and avocados.

The rugged roads go through the thick Nyungwe rainforest where you will see orchids, tropical birds, butterflies, chameleons and at least one of the 13 species of primates.

■ Musanze twin lakes route

Best for outdoor enthusiasts and swimmers

Duration: One day

Start: Africa Rising Cycling Centre

End: Musanze

I recently joined a group trip on this route at the last minute, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Africa Rising Cycling Centre is the home of Team Rwanda. We started off on the main road that leads to Kigali, then took a left on a dirt road through shops that had sign posts for Lake Ruhondo. The terrain was generally flat compared with Kigali’s slopes.

We rode across a river then began a climb for several kilometres. This section was quite draining, but we were rewarded with scenic views once we got to a famous spiritual retreat in Musanze. We continued down a dirt road past a local school and descended to a village that overlooked the lake.

As the route is rather long, we had a few stops in between. We continued on the track past Gitovu Sacco and came to the ridge separating lakes Burera and Ruhondo.

From up here there were beautiful views of the lakes, and so we rested for a while before riding back to ARCC

The Musanze twin lakes route, which started as an alternative activity to gorilla trekking for those visiting the area, has become a day-long activity.

Cycling through the trail is a way to experience the Volcanoes National Park without getting deep into the bush.

There are dramatic views of the Virunga Mountains range rearing up through the forests.
On the route to Ruhondo beach resort, you can enjoy quiet country lanes on the peninsula and swim in the twin lakes of Ruhondo and Burera.

■ Culinary tour around the Sorwathe Tea Valley

Best for foodies, especially tea and coffee lovers

Duration: Half a day

Start: Nyirangarama (Sina Gerrard)

Stop: Nyirangarama (Sina Gerrard)

While the Nyirangarama area is renowned for its famous Akabanga, a habanero chilli oil, its outskirts are known for tea and coffee. This route starts at Nyirangarama on the main road that leads to Kigali. It takes a left towards Tumba College past the mosque.

The challenging part of the climb starts once you are past the health centre and secondary school.

The road goes up the Base Cyohoha valley leading to the large tea plantations of Sorwathe. If you’re keen on an extended trip, this is a great place to come for a night of two of relaxation, having lots of tea and even playing a game of tennis. To get back, one can descend from the Buyoga Sector settlement through tea plantations, from where you will get to the Kigali-Musanze main road.

■ Tour around Nyungwe

Best for experienced cyclists

Duration: Five to seven days

Start: Butare

End: Butare

Got a week off? Head off to Butare and ride around Nyungwe Forest, the largest remaining tract of montane rainforest in Eastern Africa. Nyungwe Forest extends for 1.015 km2 over the mountainous southwest of Rwanda.

The first few days will be spent navigating the hilly terrain outside the park: Days four to six, you will be deep in the magnificent Nyungwe forest.

This route is not for beginners as it is quite a difficult climb. The trail covers long distances and steep slopes. It is even harder if you are carrying your baggage on your bicycle for the entire week. After this arduous ride, you will need to get back to Kigali by car.

■ Exploring Mount Kigali: A workout with panoramic views

Best for families and beginners

Duration: Half a day

Start: Cercle de Sportif

End: Cercle de Sportif

The Mount Kigali route presents in a nutshell what Kigali has to offer combining good climbs and downhills coupled with great panoramic views. It is easy to do in half a day.

It is a good workout for those looking to exercise and can be tiring for beginners. It is easy and enjoyable enough for families. It starts out at Cercle de Sportif through Nyamirambo, up Mount Kigali to Fazenda Sengha where you can go zip lining, horse-riding or enjoy some archery. There are great views of Nyabarongo Valley and see the entire Kigali city.

This route was how I got inducted to the cycling world. After being coaxed by a friend who is an avid cyclist to try this, I took him up on his offer one weekend and we set off to explore Mount Kigali.

We started the ride at Cercle Sportif and went in the direction of Nyamirambo. We took the first junction where we rode down into a valley, which was a smooth ride before the ascent which had me panting.

We went past a church on a dirt road as we gently gained altitude till we got to the Mount Kigali Transformation Station. This was where the ascent really began to take a toll on me as we rode up a steep terrain. The slope eased as we rode up.

About a kilometre up the hill we entered into the first section of forest on Mount Kigali. The ride had proven to be quite a workout for me thus far, but I soldiered on.

My friend, who was setting the pace, had to slow down to accommodate my beginner's speed. We rode past a junction close to Fazenda Sengha onto a single trail that led to a sloping track and onto the road coming up from Nyabarongo Valley.

We continued until we got to a path that opened us to views of Kigali City. The track took us to the forest on top of Mount Kigali.

We paused to enjoy how high we had come, before we rode down the hill to the cobblestone road, which led us all the way down to Nyamirambo stadium on our roller-coaster ride back to Cercle Sportif. The entire ride was moderate, and not too difficult.