•Born and raised in Thika's Jamhuri estate, Harmony Wanjiku merged second at the 2019 Superbike Championships in Johannesburg, South Africa despite her underdog tag.
•Before she became a superbiker, she tried out rallying and polo, which she gave up because of the prohibitive costs
•She is a breast cancer ambassador who creates awareness on the scourge and contributes to various causes
If she was not one of Kenya's top super bikers, Harmony Wanjiku admits that she would be engaging in other clandestine activities.
Super-biking is her saviour, calling and the love of her life to which she would never say no at any point of her life.
"I know myself. If it were not for motorbikes, I would be into drugs. I say this because I have seen how my childhood friends turned out," Wanjiku says.
Born and raised in Thika's Jamhuri estate, Wanjiku, 26, christens herself 'the girl from the ghetto' and a unique one in the super bike world considering that the sport is more associated with the moneyed.
She is so passionate about super-biking that she would do it free. Her relationship with super-biking is better summarised as ‘till death do us apart.’
"What is the one thing that you are passionate about and could even do it for free? That is how it is for me and super-biking,” she says as we settle down for our interview.
Not even the injuries that she has incurred in pursuit of this passion has diminished her love for the sport.
Looking at the accolades she has amassed, it is safe to say that Wanjiku has no regrets for choosing super-biking as a career.
Her crowning moment came in 2019 when she emerged second at the 2019 Super-bike Championships in Johannesburg, South Africa despite her underdog tag.
Earlier in April 2019, she had outraced a strong field of male bikers to emerge top at the East Africa Super-bike Championship at the Whistling Morans race-track in Athi River.
The self-confessed petrol-head has ridden virtually every motorbike she has encountered from the usual 'boda-bodas' to the humongous BMW motorbikes.
She once clocked 280kph on a 1200cc BMW motorbike on a trip to Malindi albeit she confesses that speeding is something she does not like to do outside the racetrack.
"Motorbike is my therapy and drug. Even though I am currently nursing an injury, there is this urge in me to just hop on a motorbike and ride away," Wanjiku says.
Evolution of a super-biker
Before she found her prince charming in the form of super-bikes, Wanjiku had to kiss a few frogs without much success.
First up was a stint as a rally navigator during which she wanted to transition into a rally driver.
However, the exorbitant costs involved in owning and maintaining a rally car cut short her dream.
She later tried her hand in polo and was well on her way to become a top player had it not been for the prohibitive costs involved.
“In polo, one is required to own four horses or two at least. It was disappointing because I knew I could hack the sport,” Wanjiku says.
After the heartbreak of rallying and polo subsided, it was time to find love once more.
In a daring move, she reached out to a Facebook pal who she had only befriended for a few days and asked him to be his pillion passenger.
As a shark that smells blood and surges for the kill, the ride on her friend's motorbike whetted her appetite for the sport. It was thereafter that she dived head-first into the world of super-biking.
"A few days after I had rode on his motorbike, I bought myself a full gear ready to dive into the world of motorbike riding. I was convinced that this is what I wanted to do,” Wanjiku says.
However, her father was initially unconvinced that his daughter was cut out for the world of super-bike riding.
Nonetheless, Wanjiku soldiered on with her newfound career and would occasionally receive help from her friends who would lend her their motorbikes to try out her riding skills.
Her journey to the pinnacle of the sport took her four years, half of which she spent as a pillion passenger trying to ascertain whether super-biking was her calling or not.
The next two years were spent perfecting her art and craft in super-biking before she could eventually pit her driving wits against the best of the best.
However, nothing elated her more than to see her father grace the 2019 East Africa Championships to watch her beat a strong field of competitors.
“Previously, he would just see the trophies at home. For him to show up at the final race was really a sign that he had finally approved and rubber stamped my career,” she says.
Her exceptional performance in South Africa remains etched in her memory considering the circumstances under which she achieved the result.
She did not have enough financial resources because of lack of sponsors whereas her competitors had superior quality machines compared to hers.
At the start point, she underwent a rude awakening as her lack of knowledge about the greenlight to begin the race almost cost her.
"For me, I was waiting for the flag to be raised as we are used to back home so that we can begin the race whereas the others were waiting for the lights to flicker. Before I knew it, others had sped off," Wanjiku recounts.
She finished eighth in the first race that was meant to earn points and grade the riders for subsequent races.
Now enlightened about the modalities of the race, Wanjiku upstaged the odds in the second race of the day by finishing second despite being placed in a starting position of eighth.
By the second day of the race, all her jitters had withered and she went on to claim second place.
"It was amazing to make it on the wall of fame and have your picture besides those of other legends such as MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi and others who I had never heard of. To be this girl from the ghetto and make it to the wall of fame, I was so excited," Wanjiku says.
Wanjiku's mother, Margaret Wanjiru, was her biggest supporter who would always spur her on by aiding her career psychologically and financially.
It was therefore heartbreaking for her to compete in a super-bike competition while her mother was battling cancer.
"I went to compete but I was mentally not okay. I kept thinking of her and how she was doing at home. You keep asking yourself questions and second guessing but you have to compete and win," she said.
As a tribute to her mother who passed on in 2018, Wanjiku is now a breast cancer ambassador and uses her super-bike career to raise awareness about the scourge.
She has participated in numerous cancer rides to reach out to survivors and contribute to various causes towards alleviating the livelihoods of such persons.
Wears many hats
Wanjiku is a motorbike mechanic, retailer and motorbike riding teacher.
She says, however, that her tutoring is not motivated by the financial windfall but by the love she has for the sport.
"If I see you are not serious, I'd rather refund you the money than let you waste your time. For me, I do this for the passion I have for motorbikes," she says.
Her stint as a mechanic at Beth Mobility — a motorbike dealership in Madaraka, Nairobi — has also been influenced by her love for motorbikes and the fascination with how these two-wheeled machines come together to provide riders with the thrill of whizzing through the road.
She is planning on establishing a motorcycle dealership in Thika town.
On the racetrack, the sky is not the limit for Wanjiku who has got time on her side to match the achievements of the who-is-who in the super-bike world.
"I want to break more records and win more races now that I have sponsorship from Beth Mobility. My racing career has gone to another level. I want to mentor more women and kids from a similar background as mine so that they can reach same heights or maybe higher," she says.
She is also soldiering on with her mission to eradicate cancer by spreading awareness on how to prevent it, need for early screening and how to cope with the scourge.
"On my foundation, I want to create more awareness by having 3 or 4 riders around Kenya in a year to be able to raise more funds to help the patients who cannot afford treatment costs," Wanjiku says.
Her success is a fulfilment to actress’s Lupita Nyong’o’s ‘your dream is valid’ speech at the Oscars after winning an award for her role in the film ‘12 Years A Slave.’
She is testament that one's socio-economic background and related hardships are not licenses enough to clip their wings as they soar high to their dreams.
Name: Harmony Wanjiku Kibunja
Family: Second born in a family of six (2 boys and 4 girls)
- First female super-bike racer in Kenya
- First female to win East Africa Super-bike Championships (2019)
- 2nd position (double-headed) at the Super-bike Championship in Johannesburg, South Africa
- Female racer of the year (2017-2019)
- Breast Cancer ambassador