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Most Of The Coastal Tribe Of Matatu
Is Of The Fourteen Seater Body Type

Coastweek -- This week we will consider the last of the big four matatu tribes in Kenya and that is the one from the coastal part of the country, writes TETI KAMUGUNDA.

The main residence of this matatu tribe is in the city of Mombasa and its environs but there is a sprinkling of the tribe in all the towns.

The matatus in Mombasa have all the general hall marks of their relatives in the other parts of the country.

There are some that are plain white and the only way one knows that they are in the business is because they have a yellow dotted line around the equator of the vehicle.

Others have plain lettering that shows that they belong to a particular SACCO registered cooperative without the other razzmatazz associated with matatus.

The largest number are those that are moving works of art.

Just like their upcountry relatives, the art is varied in style and narrative.

However, the really massive works that have body panels changed and so forth are not that many.

Most of the coastal tribe of matatu is of the fourteen seater body type.

The larger thirty two seater are present but they are not that many.

In addition to the variety of art, the one thing that distinguishes the Coastal matatus from their upcountry relatives is what I call the race to the sky.

Part of the pimping process of the matatus after the art work is the mechanical additions.

At the coast, they do all the hardware additions to the bodywork in differing quantities.

However, the outstanding feature is the raising of the rear end of the matatu.

Most matatus have wider and thicker rear tyres that are supposed to allow them to go faster than the speed limiter that is required to be fitted in the matatu.

The principle is that the   thicker the tyre the larger the circumference.

This means that if the wheel makes the same number of revolutions as a thinner tyre, it will travel a longer distance in the same time hence move faster.

I am not a mathematician myself but those I have talked to tell me that the theory is sound.

However, the gain in terms of the increased speed is only a few percentage points.

The key thing about the coastal matatus is that the funkier matatus have the rear ends raise in the extreme.

It is almost as though the owner wants to create stadium seating so that the passengers all have a clear view of the front.

However, the reality is that with the back end raised, the passengers sitting towards the end of the vehicle will have their forward vision reduced and they will generally be shown the dirt in front of the matatu.

Ironically, the seats at the back are preferred by passengers.

I asked one of the matatu drivers why the craze to raise the rear ends of the vehicle.

He told me that it was because it brought them more passengers as the higher the rear end the more macho the vehicle would be considered.

He told me that they would tend to get the buffed guys and their petite followers as well as the buffed chicks! I wasn’t convinced and went to ask another driver.

The next driver told me that the main reason they raised the back end of the vehicle was because of the bad condition of the roads in and around the coast.

This saved them from having to carry out numerous repairs on the bodywork mainly but also to some of the items attached to the body.

The only exposure then was the drive train but even this was less exposed.

This has a ring of truth in it as the roads have generally been bad at the coast for a long time compared with the upcountry roads where the government was focusing in most of the recent past.

However, in the last few years they have started repairing and upgrading roads in the region.

It is also true that increasing the tyre depth would result in the drive train being higher off the ground.

However, the real macho matatus also raise the body very high compared to other vehicles.

This height means modifying the suspension system and also altering the mechanics and dynamics of the ride of the vehicle.

They will be more likely to roll when handled badly round corners compared to normal matatus.

The other body components will also wear out rates which are probably shorter than design because of the very different forces they will be subjected to.

I am also reliably told that the insurance companies are reluctant to insure such vehicles so they are lowered when going for assessment and then raised for the rest of the year.

This means that the passengers in such a vehicle are most likely uninsured though the vehicle may have an insurance sticker.

The exceptions tend to be in the fine print and you as a passenger in a matatu are not privy to such information.

It is therefore riding at one’s own risk in these extreme coastal matatus.

They are popular and very rarely do we hear of one of them upending on a corner so we can be complacent and ride in them.

However, be warned!

As Kachumbari says, we wish to emulate the frog in cold water that forgets to jump out as the water is gently warmed!




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  This year’s rally will be
flagged off at Sarova
Whitesands on November
23rd and finish at the same
venue on December 1st.


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