I’ve made an observation early on in my trip while trying to get around Freetown: motorbikes in the United States are safer. Motorbikes in Sierra Leone are more fun.
Are you risking your life every time you hop on the back of a motorbike? Absolutely. But is there a faster, more exciting way to get around Freetown? I’ve yet to find one.
The first time I rode on a bike, I actually rode with a third passenger behind me. I was heading down to the beach with a friend from work to play some football, and we waved down a bike as it zoomed toward us.
Michael looked at me, with an expression on his face that said, “are you sure you want to do this.” I hopped on, and held on, as we tore through the streets of Freetown.
Winding between cars, flying through both lanes of traffic, I saw in the distance a very large truck driving toward us. I assumed that since I (who was riding in the middle of two people) saw it, the driver would too.
The truck got closer and closer and I cringed more and more while I wondered if my journey to Sierra Leone was going to come to an abrupt end. As we passed a taxi on our right the truck was meters away. My body started to tighten up just as we ducked back into our lane of traffic and dodged certain doom.
I let out a big sigh of relief and looked back at Michael, who just smiled back. Once we arrived at our destination and got off the bike, I was still shaking with adrenaline. Before I could even think all I could say was one thing.
“That was awesome!”
Then I said I would never ride a motorbike in Freetown again. That lasted until the next day at work.
It seems the fastest and easiest way to get around the big city is by motorbike. While it can be more expensive than a taxi, it’s incredibly more fun and, on warm days, the breeze feels spectacular.
Sometimes, the drivers even have helmets for me to wear. This is nice, because then if the bike doesn’t dodge the big truck in time and my entire body is crushed, at least the top of my head would be ok.
I’ve decided that I prefer riding on the back of motorbikes with drivers who are not wearing helmets. I feel like they are just a little more careful, because if there is an accident, they are in a bad place to be. While those who wear helmets might use that as an excuse to push the bike to go a little faster, or to pass a vehicle that it might not have time to pass.
This type of motorbike driving happens in some big cities in the United States. In places like New York City and Los Angeles, drivers will swerve in between cars stuck in long lines of traffic. But they don’t do it nearly as fast as they do here in Freetown.
Where I live, this is not allowed. However, my father has a motorcycle (the way we say “motorbike” in America) and has taken me for countless rides since I was a kid. His motorcycle, a maroon and black Honda Shadow, has a little seat on the back for a passenger to sit in. There’s also a bar to hold on to and a helmet waiting.
We’ve gone fast on open highways with no cars on them, sometimes even reaching speeds upwards of 100 miles per hour (161 kilometers per hour).
I’ve smiled while cruising around on the motorcycle my father nicknamed “Hagrid,” after watching one of the “Harry Potter” movies. He said it was because they’re both giants and kind. I think he just likes the name “Hagrid.”
One summer I even received a few driving lessons from my father, who tried to teach me how to drive his large, rather heavy motorcycle. They didn’t go all that well. I could get going every time, but stopping was another story.
Twice I tipped the motorcycle over and tore up the earth while attempting to stop it. I was on the way to repeating the same result for a third time when my leg came in between the ground and the motorbike. It was painful. We’ll just leave it at that.
Despite my inability to stop the vehicle, I’ve always wanted to get a license in America to be able to drive a motorcycle, and my father and I even talked about taking a class and getting certified once I return from Sierra Leone. I am now more confident than ever that we will do that when I get back, so that I can cruise around cities in America, and remember what it was like to dart through the streets of Freetown.
For safety (and legal) reasons, I will drive the American way once back home. However, until I get there, I’m going to enjoy as much Salone motor biking as I can.
By David Krueger