Scooting around on the back of motorcycles is a great way to get around town and it’s one of the things I love most about living in Kigali. But lets be real, folks, they’ll probably be the death of me (I’m knocking on wood as I type this. It’s hard to type and knock at the same time, by the way). Taking motos around town is probably the most dangerous thing you can do in Kigali so it can’t hurt to try to take a few precautions in order to make sure you arrive in one piece.
- Check the driver - I’m a horrible judge of drunkenness but some drivers are pretty obviously bleary-eyed. Look into their eyes… deeeep into to their eyes. If you think they may have been drinking, don’t get on.
- Check the bike - There are some seriously rickety bikes trolling the streets of Kigali so it doesn’t hurt to give the one you’re considering riding on a quick look over. I guess the most obvious and important thing is that the front and rear lights are working but also make sure the bike has two rear view mirrors. I don’t know a thing about motorcycles so can’t really recommend any checks beyond those obvious ones. I guess if there are pieces smashed off of the bike then it’s a pretty good indication that your driver sucks.
- Check the helmet - It’s probably not a good sign if the passenger helmet’s visor (or the driver’s helmet, for that matter) has been smashed to smithereens and taped up. Plus many helmets are very old and are missing padding which probably won’t do you much good. Not that the helmets are of any sort of decent quality anyways which brings me to my next point…
- BYO helmet - While it’s nice that Kigali’s moto drivers actually have a helmet for you, it’s doubtful that they’re of a high standard. Many people buy their own for added protection and to avoid the grossness of sticking their head inside a greasy helmet shared by all of Kigali. True… it’s a pain in the ass to carry them around with you but… it’s your head. It’s kind of important.
- Be a back seat driver - It pays to keep your eyes facing forward as you’re barreling down the road. I’ve been in a few situations where my driver’s attention wanders to a fancy car beside him or to a hot chick walking down the side of the road just as the car in front hits the brakes. Keep a lookout in case your driver isn’t.
- Be a nag - Don’t be afraid to ask your moto driver to slow down, to put both hands on the handlebars, or to get off of their cell phone. Motos are dangerous enough as it is and there’s no reason to ride with a driver who has bad habits.
- Get off if you feel in danger - If your driver doesn’t seem to have their shit together or if you have a close call, just get off. I’ve only felt compelled to do this once when my moto drove right in front of a car that only just missed us. I asked to get off, waved my finger angrily at him and paid Rwf 200 for the short distance I’d travelled.
- Don’t get burned - Always get off and on any motorcycle on the left side if you want to avoid burning your leg on the exhaust pipe and looking like an idiot with a giant circular burn on your leg. The mark of the new arrival.
- Ask about gas - Many moto drivers don’t seem to pay much attention to how much gasoline they have in their bike. So if you’re on your own, heading to somewhere remote or driving late at night, it wouldn’t hurt to make sure your driver has gas. I don’t know how good this piece of advice is because I’m sure every driver will tell you that they do, even if they don’t.
- Take note of their helmet number - Moto drivers all have a number on their helmet. If you’re the paranoid type who thinks they might drive you off to a dark corner and mug you then taking note of their helmet number will help you track down the perpetrator. This is very unlikely to happen and isn’t something I’d ever bother doing… but the option is there!
I just realised that I might have made taking motorbike taxis in Rwanda seem like a scary and horrible experience, but it’s really not that bad. I know plenty of people who avoid motos at all cost but I actually really like zipping around town on them. In two years I’ve had a couple of close calls but nothing too serious – except for falling off the back of a stationary bike and fracturing my wrist. Totally my own fault. Alcohol may or may not have been involved.
So don’t let me scare you! Try them out for yourself and see how comfortable you feel on them. Some people love them (me), and some people hate them but they are a large part of life in Rwanda and should be experienced at least once!
Thanks to Sean from The Jones Experience for the photo!