Traffic in Nairobi can be a nightmare and it doesn’t take much for the city to come to a standstill. More and more of us now depend on motorbikes to get around town or to run our errands – a reliance that Dutch entrepreneur Huib van de Grijspaarde became fascinated by when travelling through Africa a few years ago. As a development economist and perhaps additionally motivated by his love for motorbikes, Huib decided to try and improve the African motorbike industry by developing a well-made, commercially viable motorbike.
In 2011, Huib founded Koneksie B.V—a social enterprise in the Netherlands. And in the same year, working from the iHub UX Lab in Nairobi, the company convened user groups to get a better understanding of the market’s needs. These groups, made up of motorbike riders, owners, passengers, and mechanics, revealed that since most motorbikes used in Kenya are relatively inexpensive imports from either China or India, they are not fit for the Kenyan terrain (including poor roads or no roads at all) nor are they built to carry heavy loads and multiple passengers.
One year later, Koneksie hired Peter Veldhoven, an industrial design engineer. Peter and his team took a user-centric approach to the design process, and designed a motorbike based on the needs of these users. Four years and eight iterations later, the first bike from Koneksie was revealed—the K150. The bike is now assembled in 50 steps in a factory just off Mombasa Road and is the first motorbike designed specifically with the African market and its specific needs in mind.
The K150 motorbike has a sleek minimalist design and impressive features. These include a 150cc air-cooled engine; an exoskeletal frame that is perfect for attaching cargo; a 250 kilogramme load limit; a super spacious seat; an analogue and digital speedometer; vertically stacked headlights that act as each other’s backups; sports tyres with a unique tread for a smooth ride on-road and great traction off-road; and a balance shaft that reduces engine vibration for a less bumpy ride.
Not exactly a motorbike aficionado myself, I decided to do a ‘user study’ of my own and went to talk to my go-to boda boda guy Simon Maguta. This is what I found: Simon’s current bike is a SkyGo 150cc. He bought the bike for KES 80,000, a sale price that includes two helmets and two reflective vests. The helmets aren’t great quality: “it drops, it breaks,” Simon says matter-of-factly. This is Simon’s second bike. He sold his first bike after two years and intends to sell this bike next year. He has made a few modifications to his SkyGo, which include a metal screen at the front that protects him from the wind and cold and the addition of a small square piece of rubber to his brake pedal to stop his foot from slipping. The bike is far from perfect and doesn’t last for more than a few years, but Simon’s overall verdict: given the low cost, it gets the job done.
I showed Simon photographs of the K150 and while he was very impressed with the bike’s features, the main sticking point was the price. “If they want to make a bike for Kenya, if it is expensive sana it is 100K. They can have it in classes. For 80K they can find a market,” he tells me.
This seems to gel with Kibo Africa’s model. Kibo Africa is the company Koneksie established to make and distribute the K150 in Kenya. For 2016, the K150 goes for an introductory price of KES 295,000 (exclusive of tax). The company’s focus market is not boda boda operators like Simon, but businesses that use motorbikes—courier and security companies—and individuals who want a well-made and reliable bike to move around with.
The K150 is designed to run for much longer than the other motorbikes on the market and maintenance is key to this plan. The K150 sale price includes two free services, one at 500 kilometres and the other at 2,000 kilometres. The company also offers an annual maintenance contract at KES 30,000 for the first year and KES 36,000 for every year after. Kibo Africa has negotiated service agreements with Gulf Petrol Stations across the country and has plans to establish dedicated Kibo Africa Service Centres in ten major towns.
Having spent years developing a motorbike fit for use, Kibo Africa provides a two-hour introductory course on the K150, in particular on how the bike is operated and how the user can get the most out of it. The company has also developed an intense advance-rider training to help keep riders safe. The course includes lessons on braking techniques and collision avoidance and is available at Glen Edmunds Performance Driving School in Lang’ata for an additional fee of KES 24,000 per person.
Kibo Africa launched commercial activities in September of last year and has now produced 100 bikes and sold ten. I asked Daniel Moko, the Kibo Africa sales manager who sold the first K150 motorbike at a horticultural fair in Naivasha last year, why I should consider the K150 over other motorbikes in the market. His answer: “It is the first bike built in Kenya since time immemorial. It is specifically designed for the Kenyan environment. It is not going to disappoint you, at all, at all!”