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Balancing bike choices

A reader recently asked why I don’t write about motorcycles. The truth is, for the longest time I had been against their very existence, considering them dangerous. And then I rode one and removed all doubt.

If you really want unbeatable fuel economy and extreme manoeuvrability around the clogged streets of Nairobi, the answer is a two-wheeler. There’s really no need to beat about the bush: motorcycles are the single best way to get around, period. Whenever I’m stuck in traffic and someone squeezes through the cars in a motorcycle, I immediately go green eyed.

They have obviously made the right decision and I the wrong one. They will use very little petrol and consequently their exhaust’s impact on the environment is as damaging as a rat breaking wind.

But there are some downsides. First of all is the issue of having your head splattered on tarmac, which is strongly disagreeable to most people. To stop this, the government insists that you wear a helmet and high visibility jacket.

Whenever you park your motorcycle you will then have to walk around with these two items everywhere because motorcycles don’t come with a boot. You can get one of those fiberglass boxes but you’ll only end up looking like a pizza delivery guy.This will significantly hamper your efforts to attract members of the opposite sex.

This is counterproductive as owning a bike is supposed to make you more attractive. Everyone you visit will silently hate the fact that you’re walking around with a helmet on, and never tell you.

I may be envious of motorcyclists most of the time and my bank balance could benefit if I switched from four to two wheels. But what if it rained? I would be envious of people stuck in their dry, air conditioned cars.

On a bike, the increased possibility of my noggin splattered on the wet tarmac during rainy season will haunt me, and I will regret the day I switched sides. Furthermore, if it rains or someone inconsiderate splashes a puddle on you, you’ll arrive for the meeting on time yes, but you’ll be in a crumpled and wet suit and that’s worse than being an hour late.

Motorcycles are also easily stolen.

A group of men will arrive in a pick-up and haul your treasured bike onto it. That’s it! Your bike will end up underneath someone else’s legs.

Or cannibalised for parts. If it is not stolen, it will face the brutality of Kenyan drivers. The average Kenyan driver doesn’t appreciate the intricacies of considerate driving for fellow motorists, never mind motorcyclists.

The bike and your body will suffer bumps and bruises that are both painful and hard to fix. But despite this, there is no getting away from the fact that bikes are a far more convenient way to get around on.

That’s why, for the last two years or so, I’ve been trying to decide on a motorcycle. The Chinese and Indian bikes are affordable and most motorcyclists have advised me to buy one of these and get used to riding, before buying a faster, more complicated and more expensive one. It makes complete sense and I should definitely follow that advice.

Scraping and denting a BMW RnineT bike would be akin to relieving oneself on a work of art, and that’s not something I’m inclined to do.

Riding position

Most bikes are comfortable enough for average sized people. Anyone over 6 feet will, however, quickly realise they need a bigger bike, like the off road type.

Smaller people need a smaller bike as they struggle to maintain balance on a stationary bike when they come to a halt. The riding position also changes with type of bike.

A bobber has your arms outstretched and chest exposed to the elements, while a super bike has you hunched over. All important things to consider before shelling out your hard earned money.

There’s also, again, the small issue of getting your brains splattered cross the tarmac. I was recently in Spain and Italy where I found myself constantly, sometimes abruptly, turning my head to catch a glimpse of a motorcycle or a pretty girl on a scooter. It looked like biker heaven; expensive bikes were everywhere.

I grimaced violently when I considered the same in Kenya. Bikers here are treated as contemptuously as an immigrant in Europe, to be reluctantly tolerated. So I don’t write about bikes because, I’m still learning how to ride one without killing myself and building up the courage to actually ride on the road.

After that and possibly even longer trying to decide on which bike I want, I’ll start writing more on motorcycles and their related activities. Meanwhile, regular motoring content resumes next week.

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