Motorcycles in Africa

All of the bikers out there will no doubt be familiar with KTM, the well known Austrian off-road motorbikes. However, most will probably be unaware of KTM’s presence in Africa, they are massive out here. KTM appears to have a completely separate product line which is more suited to the hard African conditions. They are extremely popular, travelling through Mali it seems as though everyone has one.

The latest automatic “Power K” model from KTM

An older manual KTM in front of the Djenne Mosque

For those interested, KTM here stands for KingTown TianMa Motors and is not related to KTM Austria. These machines are made in China. Obviously.

On a more serious note, its amazing what these guys can do with chinese bikes (not just the KTMs). These bikes can go anywhere and are the primary means of transporting goods where trucks cannot reach.

After buying the bike, the owner will re-enforce the sub-frame and use it as a taxi. They routinely carry 200-300kgs, which is good to know because that’s the weight of my bike.

A small bike can easily carry 2 passengers and a couple of large bags of rice, or 3 passengers at a push. Ideally suited for the school run, I have witnessed a young gent of about 9 years old lifting 3 of his mates home from school. Yes, they are so easy to ride that children can operate them. It is only a matter of time before the out dated laws preventing children riding them are changed.

They do however have problems, the most common being a failed suspension, which typically occurs several days after the 12 month warranty period has lapsed. It is not clear if the suspension problems are related to the excessive loads which these small motos are forced to carry.

A moto rider demonstrating the “paddle” technique

It’s extremely frustrating to struggle up muddy rutted track only to be overtaken by one of these bikes carrying 2 passengers. But then again, I am not really known as the fastest rider out there.