The other day I had a brilliant idea.

“I have so many potential connections scattered around East Africa,” I thought. “What if I were to visit all of them in some huge whirlwind tour?  Northern Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda, Tanzania… It could be really cool. And what if I did the whole trip… by motorcycle???”

The more I thought about it, the more it got me excited.  It wouldn’t happen until spring of 2012 at the earliest, but the idea wouldn’t leave my head.

There was only one problem with this brilliant plan.  I had no idea how to ride a motorcycle.  That is, until last week.

Our sweet ride.

On a trip to rural Kenya with Pastor Fred, I had the chance to learn.  While visiting his childhood home, his elementary school and his in-laws, Fred suggested that we hire a motorcycle to make transportation a bit easier.

And he let me drive…

Needless to say, we survived.  It wasn’t pretty, but we both lived to see another day.

Through my inaugural experience as a hard-core biker, I learned several important lessons which I now want to pass on to you.

The next time you find yourself learning to ride a motorcycle in rural Kenya, you can refer to this culture guide for some invaluable advice.  :-)

So here it is… 5 tips on learning to ride a motorcycle in rural Kenya.

Tip #1 – Get a state-of-the-art hog to ride

If you want to really learn, you’ve got to start with a powerful machine to learn on.

Oh yeah… four stroke engine, shiny old-fashioned kick-starter, broken speedometer, classically rusted exhaust pipe and balding tires.  I think I gained honorary membership to Hell’s Angels just for getting the thing to start!

The first “road” I drove on.

Cruising past crowds of onlookers at our top speed of 40mph, I could easily interpret the bewildered looks on everyone’s faces.  It was envy.

Tip #2 – Smooth roads are for sissies

My first half an hour of riding was down a treacherous dirt road that looked more like a dried up riverbed than an actual street.  Boulders the size of cows were scattered across our path.  Actual cows were scattered across our path.

You think keeping the clutch, gear shifter, accelerometer, hand brake and foot brake straight is tough, try doing that while careening down a narrow dirt path, dodging old ladies and car-sized potholes while tree branches slap you in the face.

I know what was going through the minds of the farmers we passed as they saw the look of genuine horror and panic on my face… “That guy is scared to death about how cool he looks right now.”

Tip #3 – Find a faithful riding companion

When Pastor Fred agreed to be my first passenger, I don’t think he knew quite what he was in for.

Pastor Fred, contemplating the meaning of life after a day fraught with near-death experiences.

The first time we came to a speed bump, I forgot how to slow down while downshifting.  The result was an epic launch in which we both hurled into the air, only to have the motorcycle die the moment we hit the ground.

Most passengers would have been frightened by such a skillfully done motocross move, but Pastor Fred just laughed and encouraged me to keep going.

Nevertheless, at the end of the day I could see that my phenomenal skills had taken their toll on Fred.  After getting off the motorcycle, he had a twinkle in his eye that spoke of a fresh lease on life.  While praying for dinner that night, I could tell that his faith in God’s protection had increased ten-fold over the course of the day.

Tip #4 – Don’t be afraid to stick it to the man

At one point during our journey, we were stopped by a police officer standing in the middle of the road.

“Excuse me. Do you have a license to drive that motorcycle here?” he asked me.

“Um, not really. I’m just learning.  My host thought it would be ok,” I said, bravely pointing back to Pastor Fred and placing all of the blame on him.

The policeman shook his head. “This is dangerous to you. This is dangerous to him.  This is dangerous to everyone!” he said in a stern voice.

Visiting Pastor Fred’s in-laws. At least they weren’t too frightened of my helmet hair.

“Um… I’m sorry?” I said.

All of a sudden, the policeman smiled. “No, it’s ok,” he said with a chuckle. “Fred called me earlier to say you’d be coming by.   You can keep going.  Have a good day!”

I laughed nervously and said “Ok. See you later…”

I struggled to start the motorcycle again, using the kick starter over and over while a giant bus crept past us on the right.  Despite the fact that all was well again, it was a painfully awkward situation.

Once we finally got rolling again I smiled, confident that I was above the law.  Yeah! You got nothin’ on me, coppers! (Is that something we outlaws are supposed to say? Not sure…)

Tip #5 – Don’t forget to take in the view!

Driving between towns was amazing.  While on the nicely paved roads (meaning that I only had to swerve into the other lane to dodge gaping holes occasionally), I got to take a look around.

Rural Kenya is beautiful!

Rolling hills, beautiful farmland, a swiftly flowing river… Rural Kenya is gorgeous!

Of course, when giant oncoming semi trucks swerve into your lane to miss potholes on their side, belching exhaust and kicking up dust like furious death beasts hell-bent on your destruction, it’s best to keep your eyes on the road.

But despite these regular heart-stopping moments of life-flashing-before-my-eyes panic, the view was really quite nice!

In the end, despite being sore from head to toe at the end of the day and despite having a pretty severe case of “helmet hair,” my first motorcycle “lesson” went off without a hitch.  Not a single crash. Not a single dead cow.

I’d call that a pretty successful first day, wouldn’t you?

Ride on!!!


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About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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  1. Willys Nyakeri said... 


    August 1st, 2011 at 7:01 am  

    Hilarious blog post! im in Kenya and think we have met before at a Zanaa Africa office, Megan’s place!
    Great stuff and keep writing about your Kenyan experiences!

  2. Pam said... 


    August 1st, 2011 at 7:03 am  

    Since you survived and gleaned all of this useful knowledge to pass on to the masses, I feel justified in laughing as much as I did when I read this 😀 Next time I’m in the same situation or if the topic comes up at a party I’ll be well-versed on the subject 😉 Too funny…

  3. Katie said... 


    August 1st, 2011 at 7:58 am  

    That’s awesome Barry. You are a brave man. Thanks for the post. Made me laugh. :) safe travels home!

  4. Dave Rod said... 


    August 1st, 2011 at 12:52 pm  

    haha yeah…brilliant idea! Love that Fred got you good!

    Ride on!!

  5. Sharon said... 


    August 1st, 2011 at 2:09 pm  

    Hilarious! This goes along with the Ukranian sauna and the Indian goat hoof curry stories for “Travel Adventures with Barry”! :-) Sounds like you might be able to carry your “training” to Haiti, as well.

  6. Jenny Fitzgerald said... 


    August 1st, 2011 at 2:34 pm  

    Great post, Barry. Have to admit…I’m so thankful the motorcycle can only get up to 40 mph… =) I so appreciate your passion for adventure and your love for people…that would drive you to have this experience. So wonderful ~ you’re out there living, living, living…and all for the glory of our Savior!

  7. Jim.M said... 


    August 1st, 2011 at 8:19 pm  

    Hillarious post.

    Please put safety as a topic for the next meeting, also motorcycle insurance in out of the way rural foreign territories. Barry, seriously…If God wanted us on motorcycles he would have made us with large plastic coated heads and bubble wrap skin that auto inflates like a blow fish when the threat of impact is imminent.

    Glad to hear you are enjoying your final days on this trip. :) I think eating large spiders was safer.


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