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You could say cycling is in my blood, having been born in the Netherlands and being half Dutch, but I only truly got into cycling about 3 years ago.

Whilst my sister Kiama was living and studying at University in Norwich (UK), she became a passionate cyclist. She was taking Visual Studies and wove her love of bicycles and cycling into her art work. She saw how the relationship between man and this type of machine could transform individuals, communities and societies.

She loved the diversity of bicycles (from BMX bikes to city bikes as well as cruisers, folding bikes, tandems, mountain and road bikes etc) and of course cycling itself (commuting, social rides, mountain biking, road cycling etc). Kiama would tell me stories about her cycle adventures, things she had discovered in the cycling world and how she was already contributing and planned to contribute further to it. She was persistently encouraging me to get (back) on the bicycle, make my own adventures and discover the freedom and joy that came with cycling.

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Towards the beginning of May 2012 Kiama fell ill and I later received a phonecall from my parents saying that she was in hospital. On the 11th of May she passed away. An autopsy later revealed that her illness was Lemierre’s syndrome. Her sudden death was a shock to everyone who knew and loved her. It was a painful time for us all but one of the things I found most difficult to let go of was the potential I had seen in her.

The potential to continue to contribute to the art and cycling world and to do more wonderful things in her life. The best way I could move on and honour my sister’s life, was to take what I had learnt from her (especially in the last 3 years of her life), to have a positive attitude and make the most of life for her.

A few months before Kiama died, I would think of her every time I saw a bicycle or something related to cycling. I occasionally sent her photos of things relating to bicycles.

After her death, the bicycle became like an emblem representing her to me and my family. I feel some part of Kiama is still alive when I see the growing numbers of cyclists and the development of the cycling infrastructure around the world. I wanted to do something for Kiama, to do something creative, expressive and honour her life and dreams. I decided to take photos of bicycles, things that made me think of her and that I wished I could show her. I started an instagram account called ‘bicyclesforKiama’ to share these photos with others with a love of cycling and to help keep the spirit of Kiama alive. This has since grown bigger than I had imagined and has really helped me to open up about my story of losing my sister as well as starting my own personal journey into cycling.

I began to cycle more myself, with the support of my manager at the time, who was also a cyclist. He gave me a mountain bike, advised me cycle to work and showed me some lovely local routes to explore. He gave me the confidence to cycle on the roads, tackle the hills and brave the traffic. As I explored beautiful local areas, my relationship with my bike grew and the passion of cycling welled up inside of me. I finally understood everything Kiama had been telling me. I understood her passion and I was beginning to feel how she had felt while cycling. A short while later I went out and bought my first road bike, Lexa.

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Cycling is now my passion, it is the best thing I inherited from my sister. I am learning more about myself through cycling, challenging my boundaries and developing my identity as a cyclist. I am connecting to a wonderful and supportive community of cyclists worldwide, thanks to Instagram. I have been inspired to explore new areas by bike, both at home in the UK and around the world. In September I will be taking a career break to travel with my newest bike ‘Prince Aurelius’. I am looking forward to spending many more hours, days, weeks and months sitting in the saddle and riding with great views!

Words and photos by @bicyclesforkiama

Comments

  1. Hi Illana, what a wonderful piece of writing about Kiama and your relationship. I often wonder what she would be up to had things gone differently. The way you talk about the relationship between you and machine and countryside is inspirational. I am glad you are finding your cycle path in life. Thanks again for your piece I am going to share it with my brother who is an avid cyclist. He cycled the west coast from Bilboa Spain to Iona in Scotland. i am very proud of him xxx Love Lynne

  2. Ik ben zo trots op jou, Ilana. Wat heb je dat mooi geschreven, met zoveel passie. Waar ze ook zijn, Kiama en opa zouden ook trots zijn op jou en fietsen altijd met je mee. xxx

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