Bicycle taxis are called boda boda in Kenya. We never took them in Nakuru. They weren’t allowed within two blocks of the city center, where we spent most of our time, and when we could have used them to ride to a rugby or football match, we didn’t out of pride. They would push their bicycles in front of us and cut us off to convince us to ride with them, and that was just annoying.
We missed out. We took bicycle taxis on our first night in Mangochi. It was already night, we were carrying luggage and we had no idea where to find the hospital where we would be staying. Someone called two bicycle taxis for us, and it was, to take a cliché, magical. The bicycles were nearly silent. It was a new moon and there were no street lamps, so the darkness was complete. It felt like we were floating.
Bicycle taxis are everywhere in Mangochi, filling people’s transportation needs in the absence of intra-city mini-buses and tuk-tuks. Some replaced their carrying racks with padded leather seats and added foot pegs and handlebars for passengers. Others reinforced the racks to carry everything from bundles of sugar cane to cages full of chicken to fifty kilo sacks of maize flour to bound goats to cases of soda and beer bottles. These riders are tough. Carrying passengers, more than a few of them can still easily pass me when I ride alone for fun. As a passenger, my driver has fought up hills that would have given me pause riding alone. The riders take pride in their bikes and adorn them with decorations. They add hand-painted license plates and mud flaps and rows of extra reflectors.
If I were a rich man and if I settled in Mangochi and Malawi, I would build a bicycle racing complex. I already picked out a site, a few kilometers from the city center on the outskirts. I would build three tracks. There would be a two-kilometer track for sprints. There would be a second two-kilometer track, but it would have terrain. It would cross the dry irrigation canals and hit jumps. The last would be a ten-kilometer loop for endurance rides. There would be a variety of race formats. There would be singles races, of course, and doubles, too, where the passenger and driver would have to switch positions halfway through. There would also be singles races where they rode loaded down with freight. The winners could receive pennants that declared their speed and victories to potential customers.
There is a necessity for bicycles in Mangochi where there is not enough money to afford motor vehicles and fuel. It would be beautiful if it turned into a passion and entertainment.
2 years ago