Have you ever wondered why most of the bodaboda cyclists in Uganda use motorcycles made by Bajaj? It must be uncanny if you have not noticed the Bajaj logo on most of the bodas including bodaboda hailing cyclists such as Safeboda, Uber Boda and Bolt.
I was also very curious because it is the Bajaj motorcycles that are reported stolen the most, probably because of their high resale value and demand. The rest are usually accidentally mistaken for Bajaj in robberies.
This might be different in other areas of the country such as western Uganda where formally, TVS was the most used and demanded motorbike, whereas Central, North and East, it’s mostly Bajaj.
Bajaj is an Indian motorcycle manufacturer with a large presence in Uganda, but they are not the only ones, there is also Mahindra and TVS, all from India too. TVS might be the one that comes close to Bajaj in usage in Uganda.
I took time in 2017 and last year in 2019 to ask some friends who own bodas and the cyclists who would ride me around town. The responses I got were very interesting and often similar. Some that I got who had TVS or Mahindra were in the process of saving to sell and get a Bajaj.
Why Bajaj is the most common motorcycle brand in Uganda
Some mentioned that the Bajaj was very durable, in fact, that it could take a thorough beating and still work. A few patches in a workshop, new paint job and you could never even know that a truck hit and drove over it.
I didn’t believe this until it happened to a rider I knew. I was converted in thought, but it still didn’t make sense because there are smaller Yamahas that look like the Bajaj models we have that are as durable and efficient.
To this, I was schooled that most of the Yamahas in the same class are not comfortable and don’t look suited for customer hailing. The ones that would come close are expensive to purchase, maintain or repair.
This didn’t explain though why Mahindra and TVS weren’t enjoying the same running as Bajaj in major cities, was it marketing? Not really.
Apparently, TVS ages terribly and is not smooth to ride at all after thorough beatings, which are a given in our country especially with off-beat roads and potholes.
TVS models are almost exact replicas of Bajaj, they look alike and almost perform alike, except from the durability and in some cases pricing as I have come to learn. However, the boda models are priced the same, sometimes even cheaper than those of Bajaj.
I asked about Mahindra, and every rider didn’t leave out how damn fast it is. It is an A+ there, looks amazing and sporty, but it is too damn loud and isn’t as fuel-efficient as the regular boda.
Fuel efficiency and maintenance cost are a deal-breaker for most boda riders because they have to make a profit off the fare they charge for every trip.
Most bodas under the Mahindra make are apparently ridden by riders whose owners bought them and hired a rider to make them money without consulting them first about what works best in the market and why. How true this is, is yet to be vetted.
We came back to the good old Bajaj, which I had the opportunity to ride for about a week to understand and get a feel of the bike and why it is such a big deal. These things are quick, especially the newer models that now go beyond the original 80km/h to 110km/h.
The engine sounds robust, capable and healthy. They barely guzzle anything, most are 200cc. So UGX 10,000 worth of fuel could manage a full day of trips within the city. That’s pretty efficient, and it means you can save enough money from trips which explained how many can earn close to UGX 600,000 per month.
Bajaj has numerous sales and after-sales partnerships which have made it easier to purchase, own and maintain
On the marketing and strategic side of things, Bajaj also has numerous sales and after-sales partnerships which have made it easier to purchase, own, maintain and repair their motorbikes more than the other manufacturers.
For instance, many bodabodas are acquired on loan from institutions such as Pride Micro Finance, which allow the riders to buy a brand new bike through hire purchase where they pay a stipulated sum per month until they can fully own the bike, but they still ride and make money so they are able to pay.
In the bodaboda circles, some bodaboda riders and even external parties do this as well. They will buy a brand-new bike and loan it to the rider who must pay a specified sum per week without default until they finish the total sum agreed upon and they own the bike.
Defaulting can cost them a bike and it is not uncommon. It is a risky yet lucrative venture for those who understand it.
Whether other manufacturers such as new exploring Chinese motorcycle assembling companies will disrupt and offset this Bajaj domination anytime, is a question yet to be answered, but for now, Bajaj is the king of the motorcycle and bodaboda business.
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Lawrence writes about tech, lifestyle, politics, business, crypto and occasionally entertainment. He writes for Newslibre and Spur Magazine while consulting with numerous international companies on strategy, community management and marketing.
He has contributed to the journalism, open source, film, youth, web, Andela and Mozilla communities.