A 4,000km tandem ride to create Gambia’s first cargo bike

Janyis and Chris
"You don’t choose your passions – they choose you."

And it was the combination of the passion for travel and the passion for cycling that chose its unwavering adventurers, Chris Szcerba and Janyis Hyatt. Lovers of the wild and the unexplored, they have been braving paths unknown to mainstream tourists for the past years, with previous trips including the Morocco’s Atlas Mountains in 2009 and a 7,000 km tour over 12 European countries in 2010. 

With their Hase Pino tandem bike, on the 15th October of 2013 they took a ferry from Portsmouth to Santander and started a journey of a whopping 4,000 km from Spain to Gambia.

Hoping to arrive before Christmas, these 50 year-old adventurers made their way along the pilgrim route of the Via de la Plata to Seville, then on to Tarifa on the Spanish southern coast, before crossing over to Morocco and continuing along the coastline to the Western Sahara, Mauritania and Senegal. Fuelled by veggie meals, they passed through places like Rabat, Essaouira, Dakhla, Nouadibhou, Nouakchott, Saint-Louis and finally Banjul, capital of The Gambia. All this while competing with fierce African truck-drivers and helped by forgiving desert winds.


WYCE graduates in Gambia with their bicycles supplied by Re~Cycle

Their goal was to reach the town of Medina Salaam, a quiet place 45km away from the buzz of the Gambian capital. There they would help Re~Cycle by training mechanics to refurbish the bicycles shipped from the UK, to later be sold or given away by the local Gambian charity WYCE (Wonder Years Centre of Excellence).In this way they helped achieve the NGOs objective of providing education and healthcare for the village of Medina Salaam, while providing economical transport for people, jobs for mechanics and funding to run the NGO.

We were very impressed by the efforts of two small charities working together to create good things in Africa. We’re here to train mechanics, fix up bikes, get our hands dirty and generally enjoy the experience of a simple and friendly life in Medina Salaam

write the cyclists on their travel blog, The Spoke & Words. "And it’s worked out pretty much as planned. There’s a blue sky canopy over our days, shade under mango trees and on the ground there’s the steady motion of life within the WYCE compound."

In their collaboration with WYCE, they let the gears of creativity work towards the creation of a new type of bike – the first (known) cargo bike of The Gambia! 

The bicycle is an essential transport tool in The Gambia. Cars and vans are too expensive for the vast majority and bicycles are often adapted with wide rear racks to carry loads such as palms and water containers.

explains Chris. Using parts of incomplete bikes, they were able to improve them in strength, length, versatility and, most important of all, safety. “Cargo bikes appear to be appropriate technology in The Gambia” he concludes, stating that the WYCE bike could be used to distribute bread for the new bakery the NGO is starting.

Gambia's first cargo bike
Cargo bike number 1 towing cargo bike number 2. Chris and Janyis gave WYCE the knowledge to continue developing this technology.

Across towns, beaches, mountains and deserts, risking their lives on the roads or off them and fixing and tweaking their bike with the help of locals and fellow travellers, Chris and Janyis finished the final stage of their journey on the “smiling coast of Africa”. In the true spirit of voluntourism, they spent 7 weeks working with the staff of WYCE on a project that can enhance life in Medina Salaam and hopefully even spread to neighbouring towns.

Working on this project gave us a chance to mix our trip between travelling and some level of integration into village life. A nice contrast for us and it added texture and meaning to a great personal experience.

As they very well put it:

This was an adventure. And the bicycle was the vehicle for that adventure.

Thank you Chris and Janyis for your help! 

We look forward to seeing what’s down the road for you yet...

WYCE – www.wyce.org.uk 

The Spoke & Words - https://thespokeandwords.wordpress.com/