The boom in public motorcycle transport sub-sector has opened doors for importers of substandard motorbikes keen on cashing in on the new venture.
The motorcycles, priced lower than other better performing models, have shorter life and poor performance.
“Many people simply cannot tell the difference. It takes a trained eye to do that,” said Ochien’g Omollo, proprietor of Piki Piki Masters, a garage for scooters and motorbikes.
Though some consciously buy the fake models, industry insiders say that laymen are being duped into buying fake Japanese motorcycles bearing stickers and livery of genuine brands.
“Most of the low-quality motorbikes are copycats of longstanding Japanese models like Yamaha, Honda, and Suzuki,” said Omollo.
Fake motorcycles have been blamed for giving sub-standard service in the long run.
Frequent breakdowns of the motorcycles have made them expensive to maintain because of the surging costs of spare parts and garage fees.
Their road performance has been criticised as well.
“Kenyans like the thrill of riding motorbikes at top speeds. The fake motorbikes have relatively poor performance and when subjected to high speeds, their rate of tear and wear is quite high,” said Omollo.
There have been reported cases of the motorcycles being unable to climb steep terrains.
Motorcycle operators in the public transport business concur with Omollo’s view.
“It is true that genuine Japanese models last longer and are more reliable. However, the fake ones are still attractive given their relatively lower price tags,” Cyrus Busaka said.
Genuine Japanese motorcycles sold by major dealers range between Sh87,000 to Sh120,000 compared to low-performance models that are sold from Sh50,000 to Sh80,000.
The low-performance motorcycles include both clones of Japanese brands as well as cheap emerging brands—both types are made in China which has been the largest battleground between Japanese and fake Chinese motorbike wars.
According to analysts, a rise in China’s technology has made it easy to reproduce designs from established manufacturers.
China is estimated to account for up to 80 per cent of all counterfeit goods in the global marketplace.
Not only are counterfeits found in abundance in China, but China is also the leading source of exports of counterfeits exceeding a hundred billion dollars in value.
“The quality of design in parts’ appearance has improved, so they’re almost at the same level as genuine parts, except for some details. The appearance and design are of high quality, but the engine and chassis -- that’s another story, especially braking and acceleration and cornering ability,” Masayuki Hosokawa, Yamaha’s representative in Beijing said in an earlier interview.
There has been a proliferation of China’ own motorcycle brands as well as Japanese counterfeits which have not only shrunk genuine Japanese models sales in China, but are also exported to other countries where their market share is expanding.
“Everyone aspires to buy a genuine Japanese model sometime, but for starters, the price of Chinese motorcycles are affordable ,” said Busaka.
Dealers of genuine Japanese motorcycles are counting on the strength of their brands and customer support to fend off the onslaught from the Chinese imports.
“Unlike the case for substandard motorbikes, we have quality spares readily available and a service centre where customers can come for two free services after buying our products,” a source at Yamaha Motors Kenya told the Business Daily.
Motorcycle sales have sharply increased in the country following new business opportunities that have added on to their traditional purpose of ferrying parcels and documents between businesses and for personal errands.
In the recent past, a lot of motorcycles have been bought expressly to service the booming informal public transport in cities, towns, and even rural areas where they are steadily replacing boda bodas (passenger bicycles).