I have gotten on many motorbikes. Boda bodas are my main means of transport. They are fast, cheap, convenient, and can easily manoeuvre in between cars stuck in traffic. Expectedly, my frequent boda boda rides have given me the pleasure of meeting different kinds of riders.
Some operators will hit the kick-start pedal as soon as they see a potential customer approaching and others will wait until the customer has summoned them.
Most of them wait together in groups and position themselves in strategic points along roads, corners, junctions and other open places so they can easily see customers and the customers them. As they wait at their stations, they engage in discussions on politics, women, football betting tips, and gossip about their regular customers.
The racer is the boda boda operator who rides fast, as if they are in a hurry on your behalf.
As soon as you’ve hoisted yourself onto the seat they will speed along like you’re getting late for something. They will race down the road like an ambulance carrying a dying patient.
As if they are in a MotoGP race track, defending their championship title. Vrrrrroom they go, a bit recklessly even, and you regret boarding this racer. You imagine a grisly motorbike accident happening in the next two minutes. You worry you’ll reach your destination without limbs.
If you’re riding on a bumpy murram road you’ll be jostled up and down while the metal under your seat rattles and shakes you out of position. Thankfully, they slow down when asked.
They’ll start talking as they fasten their helmet and will keep on talking until you alight.
They have a lot to say about everything and they will tell it to you whether you want to listen or not.
As they talk, the gushing wind carries their words away and you hear nothing, but you go along with them.
They do most of the talking and you only ever respond with aah, eeh and ooh. Even when giving you change they’re still talking. They don’t shut up.
Others are unlike the chatterbox. They are quiet and serious. They ride well and abide by the rules.
A laminated copy of their license is pinned at the front of the motorbike. They are neat, their reflective vest is clean and the customer helmet doesn’t stink. They always have a cloth for wiping their bike and they close work early.
They look dishevelled, dirty, and seem to be high on an illegal substance. They look like they don’t have a license and like they stole the motorbike (most of their bikes are old pieces of junk).
They look suspicious. They don’t have safety gear. The motorbike has faulty brakes. The ones you can’t get on unless you really have no option.
You hope they won’t turn on you in a dark corner and mug you. You hope they won’t kill you and dump your body in a nearby forest.
But you are pleasantly surprised and relieved when you get to your destination safely without incident. Their change is mostly the filthy, old, torn fifty shillings notes, cramped up in a ball in their pocket like an unwanted piece of bubble-gum wrapper.
They will uncrumble the note and give it to you without saying a word. They never talk.
This is the new rider. They came from another county to look for greener pastures and are just starting out.
They don’t know the various places yet and will ask where that is when you tell them your destination. They haven’t found an ideal waiting spot and often look unsure and hesitant.
When you board a rookie be ready to direct them to your destination.
Meanwhile, the expert has been in the business a long time. This rider is a pro who knows every route and every place, including shops and offices.
They are friendly and trusted by many customers, and they’re not only used for commuting but also for running personal errands. You’ll hear most customers refer to the expert as ‘my boda guy’.