How to Rent a Motorcycle
It’s simple really. I mean if I can do it, anyone can.
The first thing you have to do is make a quick Google search.
“Uganda motorcycle rental”
Anything? Sure. Looks like there are a few motorcycle dealerships in the city, hmmm, doesn’t look like they do rentals… Ah, here we go, Self-Guided Safari’s. This looks promising.
Not all of these self-guided safari companies rent out motorcycles, but here one that does, and there’s a phone number. Let’s give them a call and see what they have. Do they have our dates available? How much will it cost?
Give them your dates and a drop off location. Then pay cash upfront when they deliver it. The company I used even gave me a helmet to use, for free! (I highly recommend you bring your own helmet though. One that fits you and has never been dropped. You know, basic motorcycle safety)
Boom. Done. You’ve rented your first Ugandan motorcycle.
Oh wait, the test ride was not so good. The brakes barely even work. We can’t have that.
Tell the delivery guy that you can’t take the bike in this condition, the breaks are too weak. “Of course,” he says and asks you to wait while they fix it.
He rides the broken bike away only to return 15 minutes later. You take a look at it again and the breaks work, they feel solid. Wonder to yourself how they fixed them so fast.
Make the trade, cash for bike, and confirm the pickup location and date. You’re done! No contract, no waiver of liability, that’s it! Welcome to Africa.
Now the easy part’s over. You still have to ride this thing.
For those who don’t know, Uganda is filled with the nicest and non-confrontational people I have ever met. The one exception being when they are behind the wheel of a car. All that pent up aggression must find its way out somehow and apparently it’s on the road.
Observing Ugandan traffic from the outside looking in you would assume that traffic rules just don’t exist here. Stop lights? Right-of-way? Turn signals? You’ll never find them. Actually, I take that back. I did see one stop light. Literally just one, and nobody obeyed it! It’s a genuine free for all and there’s a general disregard for anyone else on the road.
But to the observant there actually are rules, unspoken codes of the road. A natural order rears its head among the chaos. It’s sort of beautiful once you look past the danger.
Rule One. If there’s an opening, take it.
Rule Two. Use your horn. How else will anyone know you exist?
Rule Three. Don’t get in the way of vehicles bigger than you.
Rule Four. Don’t acknowledge vehicles smaller than you.
Rule Five. Don’t crash.
And that’s about it. Easy, efficient.
Since we have a motorcycle now we don’t have to pay attention to rule #4, but #3 will be very, very important. Trucks, buses, cars, taxi’s. None of them will ever see you. The taxi’s especially. Actually, they might even try to hit you. Why are all the taxi drivers homicidal around here?!
But the good news, and really it’s the reason we rented this thing in the first place, is that our motorcycle puts us in the Boda Boda category. Boda Boda’s are found all over the world and go by many different names. They are little 100cc motorcycles, used for personal use, deliveries, and short range taxi services. I’d guess about half of the Kampala traffic is made up of these guys, and everything is fair game. Imagine the Boda Boda’s are schools of little fish amongst pods of whales. Filling in all the tiny gaps left by the much larger and slower moving vehicles.
Traffic jam? No worries, your motorbike can squeeze between the cars. Still can’t fit? Not a problem, there’s a sidewalk we can use instead. No sidewalk? How about driving on the oncoming lanes of traffic? It really is too easy. Just stay in your school of Boda Boda’s and remember the 5 rules. You’ll be fine.
Ok, so now we’re off, our adventure has started. We’ve braved the city traffic and are outside the city limits. We’ve traded one challenge for another.
The bush highway is no place for someone who can’t problem solve because believe me, you’re going to have problems.
Here’s a short list of obstacles I’ve had to overcome.
Finding food, buying gas, navigating the African bush, avoiding police checkpoints, fixing three flat tires, finding a welding technician, and dealing with a near frozen clutch.
Oh yeah. I put this little Honda through the ringer. Three times I had to find village mechanics to fix a flat tire. Two in the rear and one in the front. I rattled loose a couple bolts holding the luggage rack together and had to replace those. Once the rattling became too much and that poor little rack snapped off I had to find some who had a welder and could use it. And if I’d had the bike for much longer, I may have wanted to find an electrician to help fix a failed headlight. Sunset, away from home is not the time you want to learn about a broken headlamp…
Overall I’d give this experience an 8/10. I also would never recommend it to anyone. UNLESS you are confident in your riding experience, have a good sense of direction, love eating dry Ugandan dust, and are comfortable solving problems that are simply out of your hands. If so then by all means do it. It’ll change your life.
One last thing. Bush mechanics are the most resourceful and ingenious people I know. It really is remarkable what they can do without tools, training, or parts. But I guess when your life depends on you finding a way to make things work then you’ll just find a way to make it work. I give them a 10/10.