Last week we randomly got an email from a woman in the U.K. asking us to post a video she made of guys doing tricks on bikes in The Gambia, Africa. There seemed to be a pretty interesting story behind the video and it got a handful of positive comments on the site, so the filmmaker sent us a story and some photos to help fill in the gaps. Seeing freestyle riding like this in its purest form can really make you think and be grateful for what you have…
Story and photos by martinib.eu.
So you love riding, but what do you do when you live a couple thousand miles away from your nearest BMX team, in a country only marginally more hilly than your average Pacific island, and you don't have your own bike? For Wuri Bah the answer was simple—all you have to do is start a bike repair workshop and assemble the country's first freestyle team.
I met Wuri when I realized that the bike I used back in the U.K. probably wasn't the most suitable for West Africa and I needed some help finding a decent bike in The Gambia. Everyone I spoke to told me, "Just go to the traffic light in the capital and ask for Wuri. He'll sort you out." Business interactions are not as swift and impersonal in The Gambia as they are in Europe or the U.S., and sometimes you have to be ready for the long haul. We sat down and had an attayah (local tea so sweet it makes your eyes sting) and bonded over our mutual awe for the latest Danny MacAskill video before he casually mentioned "Oh yeah, I started The Gambia's first freestyle team."
The Gambia is the smallest country in Africa and most people live on less than a dollar a day, so freestyle bike riding isn't at the top of everyone's priority list. But then the way you get out of poverty is by getting out and starting things—building something that wasn't there before.
Wuri left school early and started hanging out at his uncle's bike repair stall and found that although he really didn't like algebra he loved learning how to reassemble a crankset. He spent the next five years learning how to do everything short of welding a frame and eventually took over the day-to-day running of the workshop. That's when the real fun started. If you take your bike in for Wuri to fix, he'll do a better job than anyone in The Gambia and it will come back spinning without a noise, but you’ll have to accept that he’ll have also spent the afternoon on it trying out new freestyle tricks. So the Topcycles Workshop became the beginnings of the Gambia's first freestyle team.
There are only two places in the country that have decent surfaces to practice on: the parking lot of the soccer stadium, and the main road to the airport, so Wuri knew where to go to find potential teammates. It wasn't long before he spotted another guy standing on his handlebars while weaving between three lanes of traffic. In The Gambia word spreads like wildfire—talk to anyone in the capital and they’ll tell you about the guys at the traffic light who do freestyle like you wouldn’t believe—so finding the rest of the team and building an audience was not a problem.
The problem now is what to do next. The guys have performed for The Gambian president at the recent Independence Day celebrations, and they've been featured on the local TV station. Wuri says he thinks there are some freestyle teams to compete with in nearby Senegal and there’s even talk about the possibility of a BMX track. I mentioned that helmets should probably be featured somewhere in the plans, but when I talk to Wuri I'm never sure how much of what has happened was always in his plan. When you've finished speaking, he gives that smile that kind of says "I thought you'd say that," and I get the impression that the Topcycles team has already got more planned than he lets on.
Click the thumbnails for more photos.
Click here to see other videos from The Gambia.