Where are you planning on riding to?
We were planning a ride to Kigali, Rwanda, which is approximately 1200km from Nairobi.
Kigali became our destination point randomly. We were having a discussion after riding to Moshi, Tanzania noting that our COMESAs were going to expire after a year and we wanted to travel to another country before the expiration date.
We thought of Kigali as one of us had a biker friend there and voila, that was our next adventure.
Pick a destination that is interesting, within the limits of your riding abilities. Consider how far you’ve ridden previously and be honest with yourself about the kind of mileage you’d be to do in a day. These are the bikes we had for the trip; Apache 180cc, two ZMR 223cc, KTM 390 Duke, BMW F650GS and a BMW F800GS.
Relationship with the bike
It is important to know how well you can handle your bike given any road condition as this will affect how you ride.
Riding skills also matter but these are things that one acquires over time. It is said that we become skilled when we do something for over 10,000 hours.
Hence we encourage one to use your own bike as you would know the limits and if you are borrowing a bike, make sure you have used it for quite a while before the trip for both commuting and for a considerable trip. This way you get to know the bike, be comfortable with handling it.
Servicing the bike and tools
Ensuring that your bike is serviced is a must before embarking on any trip. We took our bikes for service and also replaced parts such as brake pads and discs, chain and sprocket etc., in preparation for the Rwanda trip.
There is nothing worse than being stranded on the side of the road because of an avoidable problem. It is also necessary for your mechanic to train you on how to do a number of checks on your bike in case of anything.
We appreciate our mechanics, Shazid Khan, Weru (Two Wheels Den), Steve Daas and Njeru Miti for giving us mechanics 101 on how to sort ourselves in the event we get an incident by ourselves. Further to this ensure your bikes has adequate toolset to deal with these incidents such as allen key set, oft used spanners such as number 10, etc.
Your mechanic should help you get together specific tools for your specific bike. True to this, we had to jumpstart one of the bikes at 5am on part of our return trip.
Figure 1 Learning how to remove a tyre to change a flat
During the trip you will be required to do checks on the bike every morning (these are checks you should be doing every morning regardless of whether you are going for a long trip or going to the office or going for a random).
These checks include: checking engine oil, coolant levels, brake lights, signal indicators, pressure on tires. In addition, appropriate roadside assistance is important because you never know when you might need it however we were not prepared for that and that was a challenge.
We got overwhelming help from Ugandan and Kigali bikers whenever we had issues and we are forever grateful to our East African biking community for their support.
What to pack and how to pack
It goes without saying that with motorcycles you learn to pack light. Or have to pack light. One should invest in a good set of panniers (preferably waterproof) or get waterproof bags that you will put in your stuff then put the stuff in your panniers
. On that rain note, raingear is necessary. Please carry raingear that you have tested before. One of us had bought rain pants and was using them for the first time during the trip. They were a total waste of space as the pants let in water and she was soaked from the first downpour.
In addition, you can have a top box or dry bags to tie to the pillion seat to give you more packing space. Depending on the number of days, pack those number of tops/tees plus two extra ones in case you’re not planning on having your clothes laundered where you will be staying. Have a sweater or jacket for the night. Two or three trousers depending on the duration of the trip, toiletries as a basic.
For the ladies, create space for a nice dress or two ( and pair of nice heels/flats. You never know where the night will take you. We had two awesome night outs – one in Kampala and one in Kigali.
Figure 2 A neat trick on how to fold clothes so as to fit more
As with any other bike ride, you need to be fully geared. Special attention to the gloves. Use waterproof and heavier gloves as the early morning chill can freeze your hands if you’re riding with summer gloves. Use a helmet with clear visor as you cannot be sure you will not have some night riding due to delays. Which we did. We rode at night a lot due to delays and riding at night with a dark visor is dangerous.
It is important to have all your documents ready, know what is required and pack them. Pack your documents close by such that you will not waste time accessing them.
What we carried for the trip included log book, COMESA motor insurance, passport, yellow fever, Driving Licence.
If the bike you will be riding is not yours, get the log book and an authorization letter from the owner.
The borders are different, some are one stop and others are not. Be prepared to lose a bit of time depending on the queue. You do not have to have an agent help you; everything is pretty much straight forward. The Busia border was the fastest for us, Malaba and Katuna not so much.
For the COMESA motor insurance please note that there are two types. You can get one from our border control. This one gives a longer duration, is cheaper and covers only 3rd party. Alternatively, you can get a COMESA from your insurance company. This is one is short term (probably only for a month) and is a comprehensive cover for all the countries.
If time allows it, clear border checks at the end of day of travel. This is because if you wake up to do border cross like we did when crossing into Uganda through Malaba we took two hours and this wasted our time for Day 2 of travel.
When planning your route where you will be spending the night also matters. A hotel that is biker friendly will do as they may have a spot that you can park the bike for the evening, keeping it safely out of the way. We were lucky to be helped by the Ugandan bikers and Kigali Free Bikers on getting proper accommodation. This depends on the amount of mileage you will be covering per day. It helped that we connected with Uganda Bikers and Kigali Free Bikers who shared with us where to stay. If you have no contact, please do as much research as possible about your accommodation. What you need is a clean bed, hot shower, hot meal and safety for your bike and luggage. The basics.
Liaison with different bike groups in different countries
Further on liaising with different biker groups in different countries, this is a necessity. Due to wasting two hours at the Malaba border we were quite late in getting to Kampala. Had we gone by ourselves, we would have gotten stuck in the traffic. Thankfully, the Uganda Bikers were waiting for us at Jinja and they helped us navigate through back routes with less traffic.
Again due to delays in day 3 of our ride to Kigali, we had to ride 515kms from Kampala to Kigali. We began the trip late and arrived at night. The Kigali bikers came to the border to pick us up and helped us nagivate to the hotel. Without them we would have had a longer night as we were already super fatigued and we were now having to ride on the right side of the road which confused us.
These bikes groups have social media presence so hit em’ up before taking the trip. The East Africa motorcycle community is such a blessing and so welcoming and so accommodating. May God bless them!
Figure 3 With our Ugandan Queen B, Angela (in luminous green helmet)
Safety on the road
One must be alert on the road especially since on these long trips you are riding on the main highways that has buses, trucks, trailers and other private motorists.
Yes, our awareness campaign was on sensitizing all road users to share the road however this is not practiced by all. You must watch out for other road users that will overtake on one way roads pushing bikers off the road. You have to watch out for unmarked bumps and sudden road surface change such as oil spills, gravel, etc.
Make sure a friend, family member or any other contact you trust knows what your plans for the road trip are and check in with them regularly. If anything goes terribly wrong, being able to call in for help will make a real difference.
We all did this and kept on updating those who matter and our followers on social media as well.
Fueling the bike
When going on a long trip it is important to always top up on fuel whenever you make a stop. Knowing the capacity of your bike will also go a long way, you will know what distance you can cover before the next stop. Note that you are relying on the mileage not the fuel gauge.
We covered an average of 400km every day and we stopped to top up on fuel after 130km which was like 2.5 hours of riding, as many of the bikes had a small tank. Just imagine pushing your bike down the road because you didn’t bother to fuel in the last stop! Again, thanks to Vivo Energy for sponsoring our whole trip.
Figure 4 Victoria fueling her bike
How realistic is the route you plan to take
Plan the route you intend to take and make sure that the distances are realistic. Where we planned to sleep on the first two days did not work out (Tororo, 456km from Nairobi and Mbarara 478 km from Tororo).
This was because of the border where we lost 2 hours and one of our bikes had stalled on day one. So we ended up sleeping in Malaba, 439km from Nairobi first night and Kampala 221km from Malaba on the second night. We rode for 515km from Kampala to Kigali on the third day, where we ended up riding for close to 10 hours, border time included. Truth be told, we were tired. It was exhausting.
There is no point in planning overly optimistic distances if you or the bike can’t handle it. On our way back to Nairobi, we had wanted to use the Tanzania route but it would not have worked because there are those who had smaller bikers therefore we wouldn’t have made it to the next fuel point as the distance is quite a long stretch and we’d have gotten more tired so we’d be rushing to get home and wouldn’t have enjoyed the best part of a trip which is the road there.
So we therefore decided to use the same route through Uganda back. However we used Busia this time round for the border and the scenic route through Muhoroni and Londiani. By the time we got back home in Nairobi, we had covered 2601km that entire trip inclusive of our shenanigans of going to Burundi, hehe.
Hydration and Nutrition
A camel hydration pack is a must have for every rider because you get dehydrated. When riding a motorcycle on open road, we are exposed to the direct sun and other elements. Plus, the wind has a drying effect on the body. So, it doesn’t matter whether you are fully ventilated or not, dehydration does not vary with the outside temperature. You are not supposed to wait until you feel thirsty to rehydrate. You may not feel it at first but your body will start getting tired as you continue to ride.
As we were riding long distances, our brains were always focused on the road, we were consuming energy therefore very necessary to eat when we stopped. You can fall off your bike due to dehydration or hunger.
Refueling the body is of importance. Recommended fluid intake is 2 liters. We made sure we all took water at every stop and when we got to the hotels.
We did not understand how bikers fall asleep while riding until we took this trip. Riding for three days non-stop takes a toll on your body and mind. Have adequate sleep each night and this means no partying on the long parts of the trip. On the road, take advantage of the pee and fuel breaks to stretch and take energy foods and drinks.
Fatigue is dangerous as it only takes one second for one to close their eyes and into an accident.
Most importantly as you are riding, stick together; know who is leading and who is sweeping. This was never an issue for us; we stuck together throughout the whole trip. Share the information about the distance with each other. We knew what distance to cover for the next 2 hours so everyone was aware how long they were riding for. The person good at directions or with a phone holder or Bluetooth helmet was always at the front ready to help in case of anything. And having a powerful bike sweeping so that in case of any issues, the sweeper can dash to the leader while alerting the rest of the team to slow down to a halt.
As a group, there will be different riding speeds however the maximum and minimum speeds should be agreed upon beforehand and persons to be paired in twos or threes so that there’s at no point any one person riding alone.
Enjoy the trip
Last but not least, enjoy the ride! Every trip is unique, so take your time and enjoy to the fullest, stop to take photos, stop to appreciate the environment, stop to take a breather or to stretch. Just do you!
Figure 5 Always pray
Shish For Throttle Queens
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