Boda Boda Style

Inspire • Pulse #4 • 3 min
By Robert Jack

Meet Mad Max Driver, Machete, Vibz Kartel, Ghost Rider, Red Devil, Lion and The Rasta Rider — they’ll spark your imagination! Boda Boda motorcycle taxis are a common feature of urban transport in East Africa, weaving their passengers through congested city streets. There are so many of them that some drivers build fantastically-themed motorcycles to attract the attention of those seeking a ride. Ugandan-Kenyan fashion designer Bobbin Case and Dutch artist Jan Hoek were so fascinated by the creativity of some Boda Boda drivers in Nairobi, that they decided to collaborate on a project, ‘Boda Boda Madness’, which saw them design dazzling new outfits to match customized bikes in the Kenyan capital. They selected seven Boda Boda drivers with the most awesome bikes and sat down with each of them to create unique biker outfits. Jan then photographed these real life action figures in front of Nairobi scenes. He introduced them to Pulse.

Ghost Rider

“The first driver I met was Ghost Rider, says Jan Hoek. He was already well known in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi. He’s the fastest driver in town and he’s completely fearless. You can hear him from far away because he has modified his bike so that its noise is amplified. Today he’s achieved celebrity status. Local documentaries have been made about him and he has also starred in a video by Kenyan artist Osborne Macharia.”

Machete Rider

“This driver had a bike inspired by Machete, the action film from cult director Robert Rodriguez.
When we talked to him about his costume, we soon decided that a Machete-like weapon should be involved. The first ‘gun helmet’ was made by a prop maker from Nairobi, but it was too realistic — we feared that would get him arrested! So we asked metal artist Meshak Orio to make a new gun that looks more surreal.”

Mad Max Rider

“This driver from Kiberia is a fan of Mad Max, and that was the inspiration for his bike. Now he has an outfit to match from Bobbin Case, so he can drive around as if he were a character from the postapocalyptic action films.”

Red Devil

“Like his fellow drivers The Rasta Rider, Lion Rider and Vibze Kartel Rider, Red Devil is from Ngong, a town located south west of Nairobi. His favourite football team is Manchester United, nicknamed ‘the Red Devils’ so Bobbin made a football-themed outfit, but one that is not too cold to ride in!”

Vybz Kartel Rider

“This rider’s favourite reggae artist is Vybz Kartel. Since his idol was imprisoned at the time of the photoshoot, Vybz Kartel Rider wanted an outfit inspired by jail — so small ‘prison’ bars have been added to his helmet.”

The Rasta Rider

“If you are The Rasta Rider, what’s more tragic than having to conceal your beautiful dreadlocks underneath your motorcycle helmet? That’s why we made a special helmet for him with two holes so that his dreads can wave in the wind as he gives his customers a real rasta ride experience.”

Lion Rider

“To photograph this Ngong-based rider against such an empty background we had to begin shooting at 5.30am, when the streets are relatively quiet. The Lion Rider really likes his new outfit, but in everyday life he thinks that the pants and top are a bit too much together, so he normally only wears one or the other.”

Who are the Boda Bodas?
In a class of their own, Boda Bodas are motorcycle taxi riders in East Africa. Some say their name comes from the expression ‘border to border’, due to their ability to transport people across a border without all the paperwork needed with a car. Cheaper than car taxis and faster than bicycle taxis, which make slow progress through the congested cities, there are believed to be around 500,000 Boda Bodas in Kenya alone, earning the country €3.5 million a day!

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