1990s ‘Boda-Boda’ Ugandan Bicycle Taxi

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The ‘boda-boda’ was born on the border of Uganda and Kenya.

At land border crossings around the world, buses deposit passengers at a border post. Normally, pedestrians walk a short distance to the border post of the next country. In Asia, cycle rickshaws are available anywhere around borders as an option to walking, but in Africa they are not used.

At the border town of Busia, 126 miles easy of Kampala, there’s a half-mile stretch of no-mans-land before you get to Kenya. As the road is flat, business grew up using bicycles to ferry merchandise between the border posts, and eventually to transport people the short distance too. With a cry of ‘boda-boda’ – which is Kiswahili for ‘border to border’ – to announce the service, you would sit on a cushioned seat above the rear carrier of a sturdy Indian roadster bicycle, holding onto your luggage. If necessary, your ‘taxi driver’ would prop extra luggage under the crossbar between his legs as he ferried you in style to the border post at Malaba on the Kenyan side.

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Inspired by this business opportunity, requiring little outlay besides a bicycle, good leg muscles, rear cushion and footrests, bicycle taxi services sprung up in more locations in Kenya and Uganda, eventually covering any area where the road was flat, and particularly around markets and shopping centres.

Kampala is a very hilly city, so bicycle taxis could only be used in certain areas, and motorcycle taxis soon sprung up to cater for the extra demand. Motorcycles now account for the overwhelming majority of ‘boda-boda’ taxis. There are over a million in Uganda, with around 800,000 in Kampala. You can see motorcycle boda-bodas in the foreground of the picture below, in Nakivubo Market, while a bicycle boda-boda passes a police water-cannon truck. (There had been riots here the month before by vendors, following a fire at the market).

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boda boda bicycle

KAMPALA, UGANDA

I was only in Uganda for a 6-day visit. My old friend had moved there the year before, and was helping me with some internet work, to create the live bidding website for my big vintage bicycle auction.

We took quite a few motorcycle taxis to get around town, but this was the first boda-boda bicycle taxi I encountered in Kampala.

The bike is an Eastman International, from India, fitted with an RMC chain wheel (a different Indian company).

Just like tradesman’s bicycles used in Great Britain up to the 1960s, obviously nobody cares about keeping the parts original  (that’s just a retrospective idea among vintage bicycle collectors).

Observe the passenger footrests, welded to the carrier struts.

Having sat on the back of many motorcycle taxis in various countries over the years, I became fascinated with the idea of bicycle taxis, and decided to research the subject. This is my report.

 

 

 

 

 

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boda boda bicycle

boda boda bike

boda boda bicycle

KAMPALA, UGANDA

 After my first experience with a bicycle taxi, I decided I wanted one myself! So next morning I went to a few markets selling car and motorcycle parts and asked around to try and find boda-boda spares. In Allen Rd, Nakasero, I found many more boda-boda bicycle taxis. I got chatting to one of the taxi drivers, Benjamin, above on the left, and asked him how much it would cost me to buy a rear cushion and carrier. He suggested I buy his, but then offered to take me to the shop where I could buy a new one. So we walked a short distance to Mackay Shopping Centre, below. Boda-boda motorcycle taxis line every street in central Kampala.

 

 

At the boda-boda spare parts shop, I pointed to the colour of rear cushion I fancied.

 

 

Benjamin liaised with the shopkeeper. I bought two boda-boda cushions, one rear carrier, and two pairs of rear axle extension steps to use as passenger footpegs. It cost me 37,500 Ugandan shillings – £7.50! I gave Benjamin 10,000 shillings for his trouble. He was as delighted as I was with the transaction …he earned more than a day’s wages, and for me it was much easier than buying a complete bicycle and bringing it back, especially on the coach from Heathrow to Brighton.

 

boda boda bicycle

BODA BODA BACK HOME IN BRIGHTON, ENGLAND

Hero Jet Roadster Boda-Boda Bicycle Taxi

28″ Wheels

 After fitting new tyres and giving it a service, I took the Ugandan boda-boda bicycle taxi to the Saturday market in Upper Gardner St, Brighton.

Everybody liked it, but I did not get any passengers to ride on the back …and then it started raining, so I gave up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

boda boda bicycle

KAMPALA, UGANDA

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Here in a nutshell you can see why motorcycle taxis took over. Compare the bicycle boda-boda above, in Allen Rd, with the motorcycle boda-boda below, at Nakasero Market.

My friend Shinah has very heavy luggage, having done her weekly fruit and vegetable shopping, but is able to balance all her bags on the motorcycle taxi, as well as her daughter Shantel in front of her for the half-hour drive back to her house. She paid 4,000 shillings for the service (£1).

boda boda shinah

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boda boda bicycle

Boda-boda – http://www.newvision.co.ug/mobile/Detail.aspx?NewsID=632435&CatID=417