A fine, jail or both

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It’s true, too many people are dying on our roads and we must do something about it. I lost a friend late last year to a road accident. He was a brilliant guy with a real and proper brain – the sort that would have invented something and he had a young family, but he was one of the many claimed by the many accidents on our roads last year. At this point I can imagine that you are expecting me to come out from behind the handkerchief and ask for tough laws and strong punishments to be implemented so that no other friend of mine may ever die again. I won’t, someone else already did that.

To make our roads safer, it is necessary to address the real problems. So allow me to paint the picture for you: Towards the end of Moi’s reign as president, things on the road were bad because roads were terrible and the police were corrupt. When Kibaki literally wheeled himself into power on a wheelchair, he read the best speech I’ve ever heard through a neck brace, saying that he’ll fix the roads so that even he, would never ever need the services of a neck brace again because there would be no road accidents. He fixed the roads but the police topped the corruption rankings yet again so lots of accidents continued to happen.

One of his henchmen was rattled by the alarming statistics and he introduced what is famously known as the Michuki laws and they were ever so simple – all public service vehicles would be required to drive a little slower, not overload and safety belts for everyone. In the first few months, there was a dramatic reduction in road accidents and people were very happy. The president was especially happy and he had the idea to appoint Michuki to oversee other things where he would hopefully make a similar impact but in truth, he made a complete hash of everything instead.

In the meantime, a man called Chirau Ali Makwere had been appointed to do the impossible task of sitting in an office and asking how good the Michuki laws were fairing. Instead he appeared on television denying that he owned matatus and that the increasing road accidents were the fault of drivers and not the police who once again had topped the corruption league table by an impressive margin.

Things got steadily worse until the two most unlikely men, Jakoyo Midiwo and Amos Kimunya, decided that too many Kenyans were dying and they needed to fix it by sponsoring a bill that proposed idiotically huge fines (naturally) for traffic offenders and expanding the mandate of policing the road not just to traffic policemen but to the entire police force. Basically any organized group with a name ending in police would have the mandate to erect some lanterns on the road at night. That was in November. So later at the end of the year, a man in spectacles appeared on Tv, shaking his head disapprovingly, as he awarded the police yet again, their customary end of year title.

After the election there was a lot of jubilation and posturing with shirts folded at the arms along promises of a brand new beginning. Soon a balding man, who had lost quite badly in an election, was appointed as chairman of the newly formed National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) and he accepted the job with an unnatural zeal. He appeared on Tv, together with the Transport Cabinet Secretary and declared that in the year 2014, only 2,000 people would be allowed to die on the road instead of the normal 3,000 plus.

They asked some bureaucrats to think of some things to make this a reality and Government workers, being the model professionals they are, came up with a couple of suggestions: Banning of night buses and the introduction of atrociously low speed limits on all roads. All the suggestions were illegal of course, but they didn’t care because while a wily old judge searched his office for his wig before he could drag himself to the courtroom to hear what the hysterical Kenyans had brought before him, several weeks had passed and the numbers of people not dead were adding up. Good job NTSA!

I’ll leave it here today but I will be writing a second part to this article where I complete the history and suggest to the NTSA a concept they do not understand – goodwill. I will also solve police corruption once and for all through the re-introduction of public flogging, and it does not involve flogging of policemen as you might be imagining. No, really, I’ve solved it. Stay tuned.

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Cruisers

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I received an email from a follower of this blog asking that I say something about cruisers. I ignored him, thinking that sense would prevail and he would ask me to talk about something else but then he wrote again. This time he invoked the power of marketing and he mentioned one of the bikes I sell, the Bajaj Avenger 220DTSI, which is sort of a cruiser. He demanded to know why I have never talked about it. So since I have to defend one of the bikes I sell, I feel obliged to explain my problem with cruisers.

Armpit Hair

I’ve never met a cruiser rider who does not spot at least 10cm of hair in that tropical sweat forest. And it’s the nasty type. The sort that gives the impression that he’s carrying a fashionable clutch bag made from expensive fur. I know their armpits look this way because cruiser riders prefer to get about with their arms raised above their heads. And where’s the fun in the whole thing for the rest of us since we can’t laugh at them because they are always riding in menacing packs of three or more?

Sleeveless Leather Jackets

I know it is a necessary accessory if the rider is to display the center piece of his riding – the armpit hair. What I don’t know is the use and meaning of all the hand stitched insignia. It’s always hand stitched and the insignia is always meaningless because it features words like “Langata Outlaws” and you know the man is not an outlaw because he pays rent and has a number plate on his bike.

There’s only one cruiser rider in Nairobi who has the nuts to call himself an outlaw. He’s about 120cm tall, rides a bike that’s the size of a tractor and I’ve never seen him with a helmet or Kenya number plate.

The Gangs

With the benefit of hindsight, I can see why cruiser riders need to always ride in gangs – It’s difficult to watch the road while shouting at the people laughing at your hair. So they need each other to share duties.

I appreciate the appeal of the occasional group ride but cruiser guys take it too far. They are always together; where I live there are two permanent gangs and a guest gang that shows up every weekend. I wonder what they talk about when the engines fall silent.

Head Gear

It’s only a cruiser rider that will wear a Gor Mahia hat (the sort of safety hats worn by construction workers) on a trip to Nanyuki. I have no idea how they pull it off. I’ve got to admit it looks exciting to wear a used sufuria that’s been enhanced with spray paint and I am in awe of how they manage to convince a bandana to offer head protection.

**

Having said that, have you ever laid your eyes on a Yamaha VMAX or a Suzuki Boulevard M109 B.O.S.S.? I have. On the internet, and I am always overcome by an overwhelming urge to ride bare chested. They are brutish and imposing and if this is the feeling my cruiser friends get each day then I must congratulate them for the high degree of modesty and decency they exhibit by riding in sleeveless jackets because if it were me there would be no leathers.

Look up the Harley-Davidson CVO Road Glide, the Victory 8 Ball and the Indian Chief Classic and tell me you don’t get that urge as well. Cruisers retain the original feeling associated with bike riding. They are the torch bearers of a tradition that’s been handed down generations of riders. A CBR 600RR might be a wonderful piece of machinery but a Harley Davidson Fatboy stirs the soul. I only wish I understood it’s riders. I try.

avenger220_thumbOh, the Bajaj Avenger 220DTSI is a very decent entry level cruiser that’s perfect for the daily commuter. It has the personality and presence to allow you to stitch some insignia on a jacket while retaining daily practicality and good  value.

Engine: 220cc 4-stroke, single cylinder, DTS-i, air cooled with oil-cooler

Fuel Consumption: 35 – 40 km per liter.

Price: Ksh 290,000. Duty paid. Fully registered.

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Pillion Riders: The good, the bad and the ugly

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riepe01finishedCarrying a passenger is no doubt one of those feel-good things about biking. It is an opportunity to share your enjoyment of the 2 wheels with someone else, to let them see the world as you see it and a validation of your choice.

Is there anything, more exciting than that very pretty girl in the office demanding that you make a point of taking her for a ride? Not even the four horsemen of the apocalypse can pull me away from such an opportunity; I always make sure it happens and in such an exciting way that she squeals with pleasure every inch of the way.

But the realities of life mean that you are more likely going to be carrying someone you don’t desire very much in circumstances that you don’t enjoy or are downright inappropriate. Here is my hate list:

Warm testicle man

I hate this bastard! Why does a man feel the need to hop onto your bike and then press his warm crotch right against you? I always react by elbowing them the hell away. That’s why I like bikes with grab rails at the back. A place for these creeps to hold onto and steer their testicles clear of me.

The fidgets

There are people who like to move about, adjust themselves and do anything but be good pillions. They turn to look at everything. When you are leaning into a corner they lean in as well and give you more to worry about than is necessary. They point at things, tap your shoulder and react to everything you do by moving about.

The lazy sods

These are the people who do not realize they are riding a bike or are too lazy to act right. They head-butt you from behind every time you brake, they are thrown off each time you accelerate and they slip off the seat when you are taking tight turns.

The problem is compounded when you are a sports bike rider and your lazy sod pillion is a person, whom the world vast cannot accurately describe. Imagine having her/his vastness lying on your back, pressing you against the tank squeezing the wind out of your lungs.

The co-rider

These are often bikers themselves and if you are one of them hang your head in shame now. These people have opinions over everything you do on the road. I mean everything! “Turn now”, “Overtake from this side”, “That’s not how to do it”, “This space is enough”…..

They may mean well but their interference usually leads to anger and if you listen to them more than you should, an accident.

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Review: Bajaj Pulsar 200NS

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I really hate this weather because it makes riding a bit of an undignified affair. There’s nothing as horrible as arriving at a client’s office with a wet crotch. Nobody takes you seriously as you stand there, trying to greet people and later in the boardroom, the women will be sneering as you make your presentation. So if you are huddled at your desk right now with wet trousers, let me give you a story to warm your loins and perhaps speed up your trousers drying up.

The story today is that of an Indian made motorcycle called the Bajaj Pulsar 200NS. NS for Naked Sport. I have been riding one for a couple of weeks now and I’ll let you into some of the things I’ve discovered.

First impression

It is a good looking bike. I mean, really good. A few bigger cc riders have stopped me to walk around it while making interesting noises. An old man raised a thumbs up and almost everyone I pass turns around for a second look. Yes, I too know how to check for approval on the mirrors.

But I know none of this matters to you until I tell you that yes, I have made several new friends in the neighbourhood. They say they like the bike very much and it would absolutely make their day if I were to take a ride with them. I will not say who these friends are for fear of Mrs. Queen, but just know that it’s their dress their choice.

Engine

The 200NS has a one of a kind single cylinder, triple spark plug, water-cooled, 200cc engine. And this is amazing in several ways but there’s something you need to know at this point. Bajaj went into a joint manufacturing venture with Austria’s KTM and so in the same factory in Chennai, India, the KTM Duke 200 is produced side by side with the Bajaj Pulsar 200NS.

The two bikes share the same engine short block and that is a testament to the quality of the 200NS engine. If you have no idea what a short block is then check out the diagram down here. Basically, it is the heart of the engine.

Bajaj enhanced the short block by fitting a head that carries three spark plugs in a single cylinder. This means that the fuel is ignited at various stages depending on how you are riding giving maximum power and amazing fuel efficiency.

It is a very clever engine that gives really good power. Perfect for city riding and the occasional long distance trip.

Gearbox and Speed

A six speed gearbox for a bike this small is something of a novelty. I owned the Pulsar 180 for several years and if there’s one thing I was always desperate for then it was a sixth gear for long distance cruising.

As a general rule, I always subtract 20kph from the quoted top speed of most Indian bikes in order to get the true top speed. But not this one because it gets beyond 120kph with amazing ease. I didn’t break out the timer but it certainly gets there in under a minute. I still had a few thousand rpm to go so it is an educated guess that it truly gets to 136kph.

Tyres, Brakes, Wheelbase and Ergonomics

This to me has got to be the best part. I love the width of the tyres; they make cornering a joy. I love the brakes even more, the rear disc brake especially. It still surprises me how fast they bring the bike to stop. If you have been riding a bike with a front only disc brake (say the not so magnificent Apache RTR160) then you should try this, you’ll feel much safer.

Compared with the Bajaj Pulsar 180, the 200NS has a shorter wheelbase. I didn’t think I would notice the effect of this but it is glaring. It makes controlling the bike a lot easier and with the help of the rear disc brakes, it flicks into corners in ways that can only be described as amazing.

The handlebars are slightly higher and the mirrors are more tucked than most street bikes so riding in between cars in traffic is a lot easier. The split seat gives an enhanced riding position but like all previous Pulsars, the seat is as hard as a church pew.

Bottom line

The Bajaj Pulsar 200NS is the best 200cc motorbike in the world in terms of value for money. For what it costs and what it gives and stacked against its reliability, no other bike can match it. Spare parts are cheap but honestly all that you ever have to do for years is to service it right.

It might be slightly more expensive than other similar cc bikes available in Kenya but it certainly is a much much better and modern bike that will exceed your expectations and make you proud and happy.

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Brake Time

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A few months ago in Nairobi, I was at the Uhuru Highway-Haile Selasie Avenue roundabout waiting for the green light before proceeding onto Mombasa road. Being on a motorbike, I was at the head of traffic, giving knowing looks to the other motorbike riders alongside me hoping that one of them would be interested in a race once the light turned green.

Being a competitive but unfair soul, I set off just as the light turned orange and something totally unexpected happened just as I was halfway out of the roundabout: a policeman launched himself onto the road, right on my path as he inexplicably tried to stop the traffic coming from my side of the road. I braked hard and the next thing I knew, I had hit the tarmac, knee first, bike falling to one side and me right on the path of the other bikes I had left behind as I took off.

This was terrible and very undignified.The policeman did not even give me a second look, he kept on doing his thing. I could see matatu drivers having their sides split with laughter and some woman in a Mazda Demio quickly rolled up her window. A pair of sweating handcart guys came to offer me some advice but I could not understand anything they were saying.

When I had collected myself and at home licking my wounds, I got to thinking: Ordinarily such hard braking would never have resulted in the front wheel suddenly locking causing the bike to skid. What could have happened? Well ladies and gentlemen, I give you brake fluid.

Brake Fluid

About a week before the embarrassing incident, I had been riding as usual and under very routine braking the front wheel had seized momentarily. Everything returned to normal and I didn’t give it much attention, I thought it was my fingers that had grabbed the brake handles a little over zealously and so I forgot all about it. But that was a sign that my brake fluid had lost its effectiveness because it could not apply a consistent force to the brake pads. Another sign, now that I can think about it, was that I needed to pull hard on the brake handle for the bike to stop. If it were a car, the brake pedal would feel “spongy” and it that would require the pedal to be pushed little harder to stop the car.

So to save you from driving into the back of a lorry, I shall give you a few facts about brake fluid. Change your brake fluid after one year, but don’t exceed two years if you are late. It does not matter that you own a Ferrari F50 and you only drive it on Christmas Eve, brake fluid is hygroscopic and this means that over time, it will absorb moisture, which will lower its boiling temperature (yes I said boiling) thus reducing its effectiveness. I fear that I will bore you with words like hygroscopic, poly-glycol and silicone but bear with me as this will help you choose the type of brake fluid to buy when it is time to change.

Yes, it boils

It will be clearly indicated on your car’s brake fluid reservoir cap that you should use Dot3, Dot4, Super Dot4 or Dot5.1. All these Dots are poly-glycol based, the only difference between them being the temperatures at which they boil. The general rule here is this, the faster your car goes, the higher the Dot it requires. Very fast road cars and racing cars would use Dot 5.1.  Ordinary cars and bikes will do well with Dot4.  Super Dot4 has the advantage of boiling a little later than Dot4, but they are essentially the same thing. If your car or bike demands nothing but Dot3, I suggest you sell that old bucket of rust! Dot3 is an older standard but still in use and in some cases interchangeable with Dot4. I will not bother you with the details of the rarely used silicone based fluid called Dot5. Just know that it is quite different from all the other Dots and you should never use it when not specified.

You need to know what you are doing!

Do not attempt to change the brake fluid on your own if you have no idea what you are doing, or if you don’t have patience. If I could borrow Jesus’ words, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for brake fluid to be correctly replaced in a brake system. What you must do after draining the very corrosive and poisonous fluid, is to fill the reservoir with the new fluid and do something that sounds a bit gory – bleeding. Bleeding is the expulsion of air bubbles from the entire brake system. The bad news is that there are millions of air bubbles and that makes bleeding one of the most arduous jobs in car maintenance if you do not have tools such as vacuum pumps to make the work easier.

Besides brake fluid there could be other wrong things with your braking system such as worn out brake pads, leaking master and slave cylinders, punctured brake lines, broken seals or damaged brake callipers. The thing I must emphasize is that you should treat matters to do with brakes with extreme caution.

All diagnosis, maintenance or repair of any component in the brake system must be handled with utmost caution and preferably by someone that actually knows what they are doing.

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