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Need for speed: Riding with Abuja’s bikers

Sport bikes are considered by many to be dangerous, with riders seen as reckless, even. But a ride with some of Abuja’s most dedicated speedsters…

Sport bikes are considered by many to be dangerous, with riders seen as reckless, even. But a ride with some of Abuja’s most dedicated speedsters tells a different story. 

 

Uchechukwu Chukwueke, 48, had always wanted to go fast, but this isn’t why he got his first sport bike. When he worked in Central London, his concern was mainly about being able to get through traffic quickly. That was the beginning, and then he started following the races, understanding more about it. This built up his interest, and at the beginning, his then girlfriend kicked against him getting a bike, so he spent months trying to convince her. The week she finally agreed, a biker crashed right in front of his doorstep and died. “I couldn’t bring up the conversation again,” he laughed. His family, however, never really frowned at his interest, because at the time he did purchase one, he was older, with kids, and a lot of responsibilities.   

 

Speed racers

Today Chukwueke is the Chairman of 09 Motorcycle Club located in Abuja. So far, he said, the most dangerous thing he has done while riding is go fast to the point where he was unable to look at the speedometer. He said on that fateful day, the last time he dared to check the speedometer, it read 305 kilometres. “I went so fast that the number plate light at the back of my bike melted from the heat,” he told Daily Trust.

Abuja Bikers

A few weeks later, Chukwueke travelled to Houston, to buy the melted part of his bike in a Yamaha shop. The seller asked if he had been in an accident, or if the bike was parked near a fire. The man was shocked by the story, and said he was going to get on the phone to Japan immediately and tell them that model has a design flaw. “And as he put it, some Africans had melted it,” he chuckled. 

Another rider, 49-year-old Udeme Bethany, agreed that some bikers actually have a need for speed. He in particular, has done almost 300 kilometres per hour, many times in the past. But at his present age, he said, he is trying to slow down and has bought a cruiser, which is less for speedier endeavours, and more for regular riding.

“I still have my sports bike though, but I am just trying to slow down a bit. I have never really had any major crash in all my years of biking. I’m grateful to God,” Bethany said. 

About 280 kilometres on Airport Road in Abuja is the fastest Umar Adnan, 47, has ever gone. The Property Developer and Business Management Consultant told Daily Trust: “I’ll never do that again; I did it only once and I have flashbacks thinking what if something had happened?” 

But why do they, sometimes, need to go that fast? Chukwueke, who’s a Construction Project Manager, admits that maybe at some points, it is a need for speed, the thrills. “There are lots of people who ride bikes that aren’t fast. A cruiser, for example, can never go beyond 160 kilometres per hour, so will you say that’s a need for speed? The sport bikes, yes. The wind in your face concept, as I put it, is an attraction in itself. The freedom to do as you please without recourse is an attraction in itself, which is why, for someone like me, there are different bikes.”

Many people see riding as a dangerous pastime, reckless even. But Chukwueke said it’s all about perspective. “My bike has gotten me out of situations before,” he said, giving an instance: During fuel shortages, he parks his car and uses the bike, so he gets everywhere quicker. Also, he can drive into any petrol filling station and get fuel without queuing for hours. He also said: “And you’re not likely to get robbed on your bike. I have come across armed robbers on the highway, and when they see a bike, they hail you and you zoom past, scot-free!”

Abuja Bikers

Pack mentality

Asked about the notion that bikers are reckless people, Chukwueke shot it down as a fallacy. “For some reason, people tend to group bikers as one. They believe that all bikers know each other, and that we are all affiliated. In Nigeria, as far as they are concerned, you are all Charley Boy’s boys,” he told Daily Trust, adding: “Nothing could be further away from reality.” 

Chukwueke pointed out that biking is a brotherhood, not a form of pack mentality. “You learn a lot from fellow bikers. You pick up the latest kits, innovations, technology, and people that share your interests. There are a lot of people that go hiking together because that is what they are interested in. It’s also because they share that common interest that they go swimming together, or whatever,” he explained. He added that negative narratives on bikers come from portrayals in movies, with biker gangs bearing names like ‘Devil’s Angels’ and so on. This, he said, adds to an image of bikers that isn’t really what is obtained in Nigeria.

Chukwueke further added that people who can afford bikes in Nigeria have slightly more-than-average purchasing power. “Motorbikes cost between one and five million naira, so not everybody can afford them.”

Rough reputation

Another biker, Musa Shehu Shagari, 51, works with a national agency in Abuja. He believes reckless bikers would equally be reckless driving a car, or even flying a plane. “It’s all about the individual’s attitude,” he told Daily Trust. “Anything that moves on wheels is potentially dangerous,” he pointed out. 

Abuja Bikers

Abuja Bikers

But Ayodele Jackson Femi added that the impression people have about bikers isn’t unfounded, because there are irresponsible bikers too. He is a Property Developer with a first degree in Computer Science and Masters in Applied Mathematics, married with three kids. Unfortunately, he said, people always tend to take the negative things more serious. “What you are seeing is from a distance, you never get to meet the people and experience their lives and what they do. It’s part of the reason 09 was founded,” Femi said. “To create awareness that bikers are not all irresponsible. This is something we have achieved to a large extent.”

When it comes to safety, Chukwueke explained, their club’s motto is ‘Safety First’, especially for younger bikers. Some of the club’s members are in their 50s, 40s, and 30s, with the younger ones in their late 20s. Interestingly, a lot of girls want to be bikers, but because of what it takes to become one, a lot of them don’t actually go through with it.

Some bikers have stories of crashes they have been involved in. Shagari had his first one in 1982 while approaching Kano. He prefers to travel long distances with his bike. “I love touring and seeing places. I dislike riding in the city because it wears out my bike faster. You apply brakes more, and make more turns without acceleration. There’s also the issue of fuel consumption, plus it’s riskier,” he said. 

The farthest distance Shagari has ever travelled was from Niamey to Abuja. He spent a night in Sokoto and got to Niamey the next day.“From Abuja to Zaria, it’s just like any other place around Abuja, but from Funtua to Zamfara and Sokoto, it’s a savannah and clearer, so you hardly see something crossing your path without seeing it from a distance,” he pointed out. 

Till date, Shagari’s dream bike trip is an Abuja-Senegal trip. This, he plans to accomplish when he gets a cruiser, one that will withstand that distance.

Adrenaline junkies?

Femi described biking as an “escape”, and he didn’t hesitate when he agreed that bikers are indeed adrenaline junkies. “There’s no-one who will get a bike, and isn’t an adrenaline junkie. But it’s about doing it responsibly and that is what we promote at our club. I’m perfectly comfortable doing 140 kilometres from Abuja to Kaduna and back, listening to music and just enjoying the ride,” he told Daily Trust.  

Femi started riding about thirteen years ago in the United States, aged 25 when he came back with his bike. He has been riding consistently since. He later discovered that the best biker-friendly roads in Nigeria are those in the Northern part of the country. “This is as a result of the terrain, which makes the roads last longer, and there’s not that much traffic,” he explained.

Abuja Bikers

When their club was founded, Femi got to love every riding experience he shared with members. What started out as a biking brotherhood turned out to be a band of brothers. “We are intertwined in so many ways now besides biking. We do a lot of business with each other,” he said. “At a point, it’s the people you see every day that you start to trust.  You get to know their character, and because of that, most of the businesses a number of us do, is within the biking community.”

Motor bikers often experience an exhilarating feeling when they get their very first bike. Bethany recalled how excited he was, in 1989, when he got a Suzuki 250. A fan of outdoor sports, he used to tell his elder brother in the United States to send him a power bike. “He told me he couldn’t afford it. Nobody was going to buy it for me, so I bought it myself,” he narrated. 

But people around him were not happy, like his mum and girlfriend, who later became his wife. At the end of the day, they accepted it. “I think they just pray for me, although sometimes they get worried,” he said. Biking means different things to individuals. It gives him pleasure, and a lot of peace. “Especially when you’re biking responsibly, it’s a lot of fun,” he smiled.

Other sides to biking

For Femi, a bike is a getaway. If he is stressed, he can get on his bike to clear his head. Once, while still in the United States and a doctoral candidate, he was stuck on one mathematics problem. “I sat there for more than four hours trying to work out the problem. I let it be, went home, got on my bike and went on the back roads, cleared my head and came back. It gave me a clear direction on where I was to go. It happens in real-life situations now,” he told Daily Trust.  

As far as Femi is concerned, it’s very unlikely he will retire anytime soon because there are different types of bikes to ride at different stages of life. “I have somewhat left sports biking. I now ride a tourer,” he added.  

Talking about retirement, Adnan confessed that he is no longer an active biker, even if he remains a trustee of the 09 Club. Back in the day, with about five others, he used to ride in Abuja. Then, sports bikes weren’t popular, and they developed a habit of riding every Saturday. There was a more mature gentleman amongst them, who suggested that they form a club, like there are in Lagos, and Port Harcourt. They founded their club, getting the name ‘09’ from the telephone code for Abuja. 

Adnan had to retire for several reasons. He was given a traditional title, and then there was a lot of pressure from his family. Finally, there was a time he had his bike parked for six months, due to a nasty accident that had him unable to lift his arm up for six years. “But I will not say I am totally retired. I’m just resting. Being a biker is something, to be honest, that you can’t get out of. It’s in your system. But if I do go back to biking, I’ll probably be what I call a ‘good weather biking person’ who goes out once a month on a Sunday, visits fellow bikers, and later parks his bike at home,” Adnan pointed out, adding that he has no regrets and if given the chance to go back in time, will still be a biker.

“In my opinion, there are two types of bikers. There’s the one that just wants to buy the bike and pose. Also, there’s the one who’s a bit of a piston head, really loves the hobby, and is really into it,” Adnan said. “I’m more of a hobby person.”

Making and changing impressions

Chukwueke explained that they spend a lot of time trying to correct the negative impression people have about biking. “But I have found with my interactions with officials in Nigeria that there’s a lot of ignorance about it,” he said. “I can bet you that out of all the members of our club, there’s not one person I can call irresponsible, who goes speeding down the roads, exhaust pipes roaring and scaring drivers off the road.”

Once, when there was a bombing at Banex Plaza and security reports said the person came on a sports bike, the machine was banned in Abuja. So, people riding through Abuja to Jos had their bikes seized. “It was chaos and madness for a while, and we had to go and speak to the authorities because the military were harassing bikers and seizing bikes,” he said. 

Chukwueke added that what was infuriating was that as far as the authorities were concerned, all bikers were the same. “I had to ask one of them, if somebody driving a Mercedes Benz robs a bank, do you ban all Mercedes Benz cars in Abuja? He couldn’t answer me, because from his mind-set, all bikers are the same.”

Charity begins from the club

Chukwueke added that there’s something 09 Club does that they don’t broadcast, not even on social media. Every month they host a charity event where members put a certain amount of money together. “What we typically do is get up on a Saturday morning, pick a hospital and ride there. We get there, talk to the head matron to please give us five or ten indigent patients whom N2,000 or N5,000 can make a lot of difference to. When they do, we hand over the cash to them directly and leave, no hoopla,” he told Daily Trust, adding that they also visit orphanages. 

The bikers’ charity work appears to be endless. “If I was on my own, I probably won’t be doing this or even think about it,” Chukwueke confessed.“But because I have people, brothers I spend time with – and we know we are privileged – we decided to give back to the society together. It encourages all of us. We tell each other to prepare, and tell our families we are about to go on another charity event, and they send whatever they can.”

In addition to all these, the club serves as a business for members. “There’s a lounge and rooms, like a hotel. This is because we found that when we ride, we go to people’s establishments to rest, and we spend money. We decided to set up a business for ourselves, and we did and somehow it’s profitable. I like the fact that we are able to employ a certain number of people. We have a wage bill that tops over N20 million a year, all from a hobby and sport we love. From this, the club gets funds it puts back into things like charity,” Chukwueke explained.

The 09 Motorcycle Club’s next stop is a village somewhere. There, they are going to look for people to help. “These stories are never told, except the negative ones,” Chukwueke shrugged, as he got on his bike and rode away.

 

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