The Results of the “Phoenix Experiment”
Our crazy idea was dubbed the “Phoenix Stage” as that is the bicycle brand of choice in the last few countries we have pedaled through. The plan seemed simple enough: riders could contribute funds and we would purchase the heavy, Chinese single speeds that the locals ride. The riders (and staff) would then complete a riding stage on the bikes before donating them at the bicycle donation ceremony in Livingstone. The bikes we purchased were actually Atlas bicycles from India, but we still kept with the original title of the “Phoenix Stage”. It ended up being a little more complicated as we now had 16 additional bicycles to transport for the 2 days from where we bought them in Lusaka until the day we planned to ride. We flat packed them on the roof of the dinner truck which just added to the spectacle that is the daily TDA circus.
Michael Lazzara was our (willing) guinea pig and he rode the Atlas Goldline Super our first day out of Lusaka without any maintenance. Just took off the plastic wrapping and rolled out. Justin and I caught up with him 20km out and his chain was not cooperating. Neither were his tires, fenders or brakes. Alex, Gillian, Ross, Justin and several others spent many hours tuning up the 16 bikes and getting them as road worthy as possible. As the bikes are only available in one size, weigh as much as 3 of my bikes and are quite rickety we decided to keep the stage distance relatively short. The riders rode their own bicycles the 100km to lunch and then switched to the Atlas for the last 50km.
Hence the one size issue, I chose to ride my own bicycle and take photos of the fun/chaos. I rode with Justin and Scott who were both enjoying a day on an Atlas and for once I could keep up with the boys. The locals absolutely loved seeing everyone roll through on the same bikes as them. We got many waves, laughs, thumbs ups, and bell rings. Scott perfected riding the bike with no hands as well as a pretty successful attempt at the “superman”. As the saddle can only be raised so high on the Atlas, a proper fit for Justin was impossible. Carrying a kilo of Malawi tobacco and a case of beer only added to the “comfort” factor. We passed quite a few riders who weren’t actually pedaling their bikes, but dealing with mechanical breakdowns. As most didn’t carry the special tire lever that is about a foot long, repairs took quite a while. Leah Ellis was riding side saddle on Michael’s bike and ended up with major battle scars as every pedal stroke he made scraped her calf.
David Grosshans’ chain fell off 20km from the finish and his loyal (and super strong) race buddy, Ina de Visser towed him in the rest of the way. David Wolfendale and Diederik Heisey won fastest relay team with a time of 1:59 and Amanda Cowley took the prize for fastest woman. As the locals carry everything on their bikes from livestock to people, tobacco to charcoal and everything in between we had to have a best cargo category. That was a tough category to judge as there were quite a few good ones including beer, girls, suitcases, plants and Ross in a gorilla suit. I hope the “Phoenix Stage” becomes a tradition as it gave riders yet another opportunity to experience the African culture first hand and give back to the local communities by donating the bicycles. And it was a hell of a lot of fun.