The easiest way to get around Kano, the hectic hub of fast-growing northern Nigeria, is by motorcycle taxi. Easiest doesn't mean safest -- the local journalist I'm working with here looked aghast when I told him I used them. "Rolling coffins," he said. But to me, the bikes easily beat being trapped inside an A/C-less taxi, and you can go the length of the city for less than $1.
The bikes are the most common vehicle on the roads, and 99 percent of these are Chinese-made. With a variety of makes -- Jincheng, Lifan, Kanchen, Nanfang and Zongshen, to name a few -- Nigerians aren't starved for choice. Except that, upon closer inspection, all the bikes look pretty much the same, from the handlebars to smoke-spewing exhaust pipes to the tail lights. Even the location of the logo is the same. It's as if they were all built in one factory and had different plastic nameplates slapped on them at the last minute.
The Chinese don't need my help running a business -- and certainly not in Africa, where for the last several years they've done a bloodlessly efficient job of selling the stuff people here want at prices they can afford. The bikes you see here sell for about 75,000 Naira, or $500, I'm told. But I have to wonder, why the naming nonsense? Isn't it silly to have five different names for the exact same thing?
I guess that's the brand-obsessed American in me. Everyone I've asked about this in Kano has pretty much the same response. "The bikes are fine," they say. "They're cheap."