252: They say you can't buy friends - but you can buy a motorcycle
The Yamaha DT175 sure seemed okay when I took her for a test ride. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Daily Updates are not edited and function more as daily journal entries – so if the plot seems to be all over the place or missing entirely and the tenses changes faster than a kaleidoscope, well, that's just the way it is.
THE motorcycle will have to be an obvious disaster for me not to buy it. With two sponsorship deals falling hard and the costs of living in Nairobi gnawing at my bank account, it's necessary to get back on the road as soon as possible. Even if I drive off on the motorcycle today, it will still take time to get her ready for the five-month battle through Africa.
The bike I'm going to see is a 2006 Yamaha DT175 marked at 1,250 dollars. She's a two-stroke, which is a completely different sort of beast than the four-stroke motorcycles I've been riding since the start of Dice Travels. A two-stroke has a lot more punch for the size of the engine, so a 175, can still kick. However, they aren't usually designed for long days of high-speed cruising, which what I'm planning on.
I'm sipping coffee at a gas station on the outskirts of Nairobi, or at least I think it's the outskirts, the whole city is so dispersed and disjointed that it's hard to tell. Though Yuri, the dirt bike guide from the safari, isn't the one selling the motorcycle, he's organized everything and will be picking me up.
The pavement ends and big empty puddles carve into the dirt road like craters on the moon as Yuri takes us to the shop. The shop is no more than an open-garage full of more than a dozen motorcycles in all conditions behind his modest home. A thick layer of dust covers a forest green, Russian Ural with a sidecar from World War II, a Sickle and Hammer painted on the side. Nearly a third of the bikes, including a BMW GS, would be a better fit than a DT175 for this trip – they would also cost a lot more money.
There are more than a dozen bikes at Yuri's shop. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
The DT175 is sitting on her kickstand in the driveway around the back of the house. Yuri introduces me to Sam, a round-faced Kenyan in a red wind jacket, before returning to tinkering on a Chinese bike that looks like it was designed off of some duel-sports Suzuki model.
“So, this is the bike?” I ask Sam after shaking his hand.
Having bought two other bikes for this trip, I confidently start poking around the machine. The teeth on the back sprocket are heavily worn, the front tyre is shot, the spedometer doesn't work. There's also bits of rust here and there, but nothing terrible.
Supposedly, the week of Sam dragging his feet to show up with the bike was him fixing bits and bobs. Yesterday, he was allegedly washing the bike – at least that's what Yuri said. However, the DT has not been washed, and it's hard to imagine what Sam was fixing on the bike given its condition. Not that it's in bad shape, but if he'd been working on the bike, he would have changed out the entire sprocket set and chain. For the last week, there was a new excuse trickling through the grape vine via Yuri about why the bike wasn't ready for me to test ride yet.
Every one of those days cost me money. It was my patients that was running out faster than my bank account.
“Where's the air filter?” I ask.
Sam pops off the side panel, revealing the air intake, but no filter. Who knows how much dust as been pulled into the engine.
“How long as it been like this?” I ask.
“Must be a recent change,” Sam says, assuring me that there isn't a problem.
Yuri fetches a spongy, used air filter and pops into the cage above the intake.
After more several minutes of examining the bike, both attempting to look like I know what I'm doing and checking the few things that I do know about, it's time for a test ride.
“First thing in the morning, you'll need to pull the choke here and let it run for a minute or so to warm up,” Sam says. “After that, it should start right up.”
I kick the bike, and she comes to life beneath me.
The engine gives a two-stroke whine – it's the same type of engine that's in a lawn mower, only bigger.
I stand on the pegs as the bike pops over speed bumps, the shocks compress as we land.
She's small. She's fun. She's my kind of girl.
The back brake feels pretty light. She does kick when I give her gas, but not too much.
There isn't as much power as I expected, but maybe this is what a two-stroke is like? I know you're supposed to ride them at a higher RPM so the expansion chamber – an instrument of sorts – turns over and opens up more power. But maybe that's still not same amount of torque and speed I'm use to.
Meet the new bike: Rafiki. Video: Isaac Stone Simonelli
I mentally committed to buying the bike before I even saw her, but now it's settled – what other options do I have?
“Yeah, she feels fine. Yuri, what do you think?” I ask.
“If you're just going to crank on it the whole time, it's not the bike for you,” Uri says. “Otherwise if it feels good to you, it should be fine.”
Yuri's mostly distracted by the bike he's repairing as he talks, his face not looking up to meet my eyes. I'd hoped he would drop some strong praise and fill the cracks that my lack of knowledge about two-strokes are exasperating in my confidence – instead, it's back to my call.
I could roll the dice, but what would the other option be.
After running Sam through a handful of small issues with the bike, I reconfirm the price, shooting for a small discount. The price shifts a few bucks my direction and he agrees to pay to have the sprocket set replaced, but I'm on my own with replacing the front tyre.
I message Michael, the friend I'm staying with in Nairobi who races dirt bikes. Based on what I'm saying, he says it's a good deal – he can't be certain without riding it, but it sounds reasonable. On top of that, Michael might have an old dirt bike tyre that will at least longer than one on the bike now.
“I think it's a bit more money than I was wanting to spend on it. It was that or a really shitty Boxer. Every time I buy a motorcycle it's more money than I want to spend on it, inevitably,” I say. “There's not one one motorcycle I've bought in my entire life now where I was like, oh well, that's exactly how much I thought I'd spend.”
“Yuri told me you're price range,” Sam says. “This is the best I can do.”
Buying and selling Yamaha DT125s and DT 175s is Sam's side hustle – I have no idea what is full-time job is. According to Yuri, who's well established in the Nairobi motorcycle community, Sam's legit; he buys the bikes from NGOs and then re-sells them.
Yuri checked Sam's stock when he saw my post on the Facebook group African Motorcycle Diaries.
“One of the guys in the post Yuri saw said, 'Double your budget.' I was like, 'Why didn't I think about that? Why don't I have twice as much money. Let's double up in the bank account',” I tell Sam with a chuckle.
Sam produces a contract from his pocket. It's in English, which is a nice change of pace. I lean over battered BMW GS parked outside the house and sign it. Yuri adjusts his narrow rectangular glasses before signing as a witness to the sell.
As usual, I pay cash. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
I hand the fat wade of cash – most of what's left in my US bank account – to Sam. He hands over the keys and all the paperwork for the bike, promising to give me instructions on how to legally transfer the bike. Without a Kenyan Tax ID Number I'll have to find a Kenyan friend whose name I can put it in.
Out on the highway, headed back to Westlands, I give the DT175 all the gas she'll take.
She's blowing more smoke than she was a half an hour ago, but with a two-stroke that's not cause for concern, it's only unused oil being expelled.
Even with a long stretch of road and little traffic, the bike doesn't feel like she's opening up to me. It's like when you're girlfriend comes home, tells you everything is fine and then stares at her laptop for the next three hours without a single word.
Doubt about the purchase gathers on the horizon of my mind, like storm clouds blotting the blue sky of the savanna. Maybe, this is part of the adjustment from moving from a four-stroke to a two-stroke.
I'll ask Michael to give it her a test ride when he has a chance; see what he thinks.