Sometime in 2014, Mr Njenga Mwangi was driving to Ishiara, Embu County.
His vehicle was doing 90km/h when suddenly a boda boda rider carrying tens of live chicken overtook him.
He found the speed of that biker to be alarmingly fast and thought it was time the motorcycles were fitted with speed limiters.
“What happens if he crashes?” he wondered.
Just ahead, an oncoming truck overtook a loaded pick up. The road had a barrier so the driver could not find space to manoeuvre because he had already started overtaking.
The boda boda rider could not find room to swerve or time to brake. “It is quite unfortunate that it was a fatal accident,” recalls Mr Mwangi during an interview with Enterprise at his office in Westlands, Nairobi.
It is this incident that sparked the idea to come up with a speed limiter specifically for motorcycles. The result – Salama speed limiter.
The chief executive of Alerby Logistics Innovation says he searched around but could only find speed limiters for vehicles. He says his gadget is the first speed governor for motorvehicles in Kenya.
Together with his partner, who is an engineer, they bought a motor vehicle speed limiter to understand how it works.
Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) directed that the speed limiter should match the standard of the current motor vehicle speed limiters. “We came to realise motorcycles are mechanical and not electrical. Basically everything in a motorcycle is physics,” Mr Mwangi says.
“That is why they have the engine below the gas tank so that it can use gravity.”
The task then became how to tap the speed of a mechanical wheel. The firm worked with a Chinese manufacturer, OEM, and the first prototype was unveiled in 2019.
A previous one developed in 2015 did not work. “The cost of production (locally) is very expensive and labour is quite high,” says Mr Mwangi.
Once they were able to tap the speed, then other security features were added, which include a tracker. The gadget works by, first, the maximum speed being set by an administrator, which can be done remotely.
“We have set it at a constant speed of 50km per hour but we can set the unit to any speed that the law agency tells us.” The gadget has a SIM card for collecting data and GPS receiver.
The speed sensor fitted at the back wheel transmits the data to the micro circuit, which then controls a relay that cuts off engine power.
“It is so seamless that you cannot feel it,” Mr Mwangi says. “You will just notice that you cannot accelerate past 51km per hour. Once you release the accelerator, the bike regains its power.”
He says the gadget will help formalise the boda boda sector. “If such an innovation is adopted by the government, it will be easy for the responsible agency to track and know where each motorbike is.”
Geo-fencing can also be done to ensure motorbikes cannot access areas where they are prohibited such as the current ban from Nairobi’s central business district.
“We have had issues with unroadworthy motorcycles, but now once we have a yearly inspection, we will be able to have roadworthy bikes on the road, which will also be a form of revenue for the government.”
The speed limiter, Mr Mwangi says, will also convert the motorbikes into assets that can be bankable with insurance firms and financiers.
Since the bikes can be tracked and the motorists’ riding behaviour monitored as well, firms could be willing to give loans to the riders.
“We have a big problem with boda boda getting stolen. Every time we talk to the operators, the first thing they ask is ‘will you be able to track our bikes on our phones?’” Mr Mwangi says.
The tracker, which is tamper proof, can reduce the theft as owners of bikes can know their location through their phones.
“If you tamper with the gadget or remove it, the motorbike cannot start. You just have to change the whole wiring.
“So you see it is even better to just buy a new motorbike instead of stealing,” says the innovator.
The speed limiter sells at Sh9,000. Mr Mwangi, however, says the price could fall to even Sh5,000 once production is ramped up.
“Once we start mass production and we start shipping them by sea - now we are shipping by air- definitely the production cost will really go down,” he says.
The firm is working with financiers who are willing to buy the gadgets and later distribute to riders who will pay Sh9 or Sh13 per day – depending on the agreement – for a period of a year or two.