“'He who stands behind car gets exhausted.' I think it was Confucius who said that."
I fought the urge to roll my eyes at Gabriel’s voice, which was coming through the bluetooth speaker in my motorcycle helmet. But I couldn’t stop the chuckle that escaped my lips, which spurred a coughing fit. I lifted my visor to get more air, which only agitated the cough as I inhaled the thick exhaust that had settled around us in the stand-still traffic.
“Hang on babe, I’ll get us out of here. Just stay close.”
For the briefest of moments, a narrow path opened between the jammed vehicles and I shot through the middle, following Gabriel’s lead and splitting lanes. Gaining confidence at the cage-dwellers’ inability to move and tasting cleaner air whipping past, I rolled back on the throttle and surged forward with a little hop.
We weaved in and out of cars and horse carts along the N1, dodged reckless pedestrians running across the highway, and yelled in local fashion at street vendors who blocked our path as they carried goods from car window to car window for purchase.
I felt the surge of exhilaration and adrenaline you can only experience when dancing with the wild rawness of Africa. Under the concealment of my helmet, I broke into a grin and I thought, yep. This could have made our 8 Things to Not Write Home About list…
Purchasing motorcycles in Dakar was not easy. When we lived in Uganda, the decision of what to purchase was much less time-intensive. Because there was only one make of motorbikes with three models to choose from, and because the dealership seemed to only get two of those models, our options were incredibly limited. We selected Bajaj Boxers, the same as the locals. When it came time to select the color, we discovered the dealership only received red motorcycles, which also sped up the decision making process.
Thankfully, we were able to sell our Bajaj Boxers in Uganda and almost broke even. The money was earmarked for motorcycles in Dakar and research commenced the moment we stepped foot in West Africa.
As we’ve discovered with groceries and other shopping ventures, living in a capital city has its perks. The options of motorcycles to choose from were seemingly endless compared to the options we had in East Africa. But with those endless options also came the price tag of living in a capital city.
We tried to be as logical as possible and identified the most basic requirements our Dakar motorcycles needed to meet:
- Capability. Could the motorcycles handle Dakar’s sandy roads, but also smoother paved surfaces?
- Visibility. Would they be large enough for other vehicles to spot?
- Maneuverability. At the same time, would they be small enough to squeeze between cars and lanes in heavy traffic?
- Longevity. It is our hope that we will visit some of our students’ families and learn more about their ministries during our school breaks. But, that means traveling outside of Dakar to remote areas of Senegal and West Africa. Would we spend more time on top of the motorcycles, or underneath the motorcycles, fixing mechanical problems?
- Legality. Were the motorcycles legally imported, or were they hot off the streets of Europe?
Capability, visibility and maneuverability were the easiest to detect. As both of us are average in height, we were able to eliminate several motorcycles (particularly for me) that were simply too tall. Checking legality was doable, but not always possible. While we could run VIN reports, they were not always accurate. We learned to look for red flags — was the gear shaft broken? Did the motorcycle only come with one key?
Predicting longevity was the most difficult. We didn’t want to invest in motorcycles that would bleed our wallets in repairs later. But we recognized that a like-new KTM might have just as many problems as an old dirt bike that had lived a full life before arriving in Africa. It was impossible to forsee how long the motorcycles would last after purchase.
Discouragement hit in waves, first when we didn’t know if we could find what we wanted within budget. Then, it hit again when exchange rates fluctuated and the dollar became weaker in September and early October. It seemed as though what we wanted might not be possible within our price range. And it seemed if we did find something in our price range, if we did not immediately act, someone else scooped up the deal.
Just when I was ready to take a break from motorcycle shopping, Gabriel talked me into one more attempt. We borrowed a car from our school and drove to meet a frenchman who lives just off the western edge of Dakar’s peninsula. He didn’t speak English, but we managed to pull together enough French to set a meeting location and time: a sandy lot near his home at 10am, just after he finished “sporting” for the morning.
It was not difficult to find him. Straddling the Yamaha MT-03 with skimpy shorts that a Senegalese man would never be caught in, he waved hello as we approached. We walked around the motorcycle, examining it as he pointed out different features and upgrades. My ears strained for familiar words as he spoke in rapid French.
But what I didn’t gather in detail, I learned by watching him — the man was incredibly honest, revealing both the good and bad of the motorcycle. Attempting charades, he demonstrated how he once dropped the motorcycle, which resulted in the long scratch along its tank. He went a step further to show that, during the same accident, he broke the left peg, a blinker, and the clutch handle.
“J’adore le moto. C’est facile et rapide…” Here he made a motion of zooming off at a fast speed. Curious, I asked him if he loved it so much, why would he sell?
“Parce-que ma femme… elle veut une voiture. Et pour moi? Elle veut vendre le moto.” I understood. If the man’s wife wanted him to sell the motorcycle so they could buy a car, he probably did not have much say in the matter.
Gabriel took the motorcycle for a test drive to ensure it was mechanically sound while the gentleman ran to a marché at the end of the lot and bought me a cold bottle of water. We did our best to carry on a conversation in French as I explained that Gabriel and I are new to Dakar. I told him about our jobs, the neighborhood where we live and how we like Senegal very much. In turn, he gave me his business card for the consulate’s office and showed me photos on his phone of recent projects and initiatives he has led. Admirably, he has been working with an environmental group to clean Dakar’s littered beaches, like the one we stumbled upon on our Tabaski Eve adventure.
It had only been 10 minutes when Gabriel returned to the lot with a smile on his face. “It’s fun, I think you would like it…” he offered in English. I took a turn sitting in the saddle, leaning it from side to side to get a feel of its weight and maneuverability. It was the first motorcycle I sat on during our search that seemed to fit me and wasn’t intimidatingly tall.
“Nous sommes ne grandes pas gens,” the frenchman laughed. Smiling, I agreed with him that we were not the tallest of people. In fact, on observation, he and I were of similar height, which only made me more confident that the motorcycle was the perfect size for my frame.
We thanked him for his time and told him we would be in touch. Back in the car, I looked at Gabriel.
“So, I can tell that you want it.”
“It felt like the perfect fit.”
“It isn’t exactly what we were looking for.”
He had a point. The MT-03 was a street bike, and we had been looking for dual-sport motorcycles that would allow us the option of traversing more difficult roads and going longer distances. It had a lower frame, which meant less ground clearance. Its tires were slick, which would not do well in sand. And it had rear controls, which forced its rider into a more aggressive, crouched position.
We headed to see our friends, Bill and Nancy, who had graciously helped us search for motorcycles. Bill, who owns a Yamaha MT-09, was happy to hear a new Yamaha might be joining the DA biker gang family. After discussing with them the pros and cons, Gabriel and I decided the pros outweighed the cons and we called the frenchman to make an offer.
Only one hour later, I was riding the Yamaha down our street with a slew of boys from the nearby shantytown pointing in exclamation and jumping around excitedly.
It is fast, easy to ride, and fun — just as its previous owner described. It didn't take long for me to fall in love with the little chirping sound its single cylinder makes. The chirp inspired its name, Kuromushi, a throw to its Japanese roots, meaning black bug.
Kuromushi and I have already made plans for a few simple modifications, including a new paint job to hyper-personalize the motorcycle. As the only female rider in our community, I feel it is only appropriate that people look at the lineup of bikes in the parking lot and immediately detect which is the “girl bike.”
Gabriel, who found his motorcycle a few weeks after we purchased Kuromushi, has even more modifications planned. But that is a much more exciting story and one that you will have to wait until next time to hear…