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22.04.2021 Cameroon

Two wheels good: Giant motorbikes are a lifeline in remote Cameroon

By Lambert Ngouanfo
What, no kitchen sink? A giant motorbike in Cameroon takes a driver, six passengers and plenty of luggage.  By Daniel Beloumou Olomo (AFP)
LISTEN APR 22, 2021
What, no kitchen sink? A giant motorbike in Cameroon takes a driver, six passengers and plenty of luggage. By Daniel Beloumou Olomo (AFP)

Laden with eight people,the vehicle heads down the dirt road, turning the heads of everyone it passes.

Eight up is hardly a big number for a truck or even a car in western Cameroon -- but this is no ordinary form of transport.

The head-turner is a giant motorcycle -- an outrageously-customised leviathan more than three metres (10 feet) long that has been specially adapted to meet a gap in Cameroon's transport market.

The beasts are used to take farmers and crops to market and bring goods back to outlying villages.

Farmers in Baye say the giant bikes are a lifesaver for getting to market in Bafoussam, about 15 kilometres (nine miles) away, on roads that are no more than tracks.

"These bikes help us a lot. The cars don't go out to the countryside. It's only the benskineurs (motorcycle taxi drivers) who come out for us," said Elisabeth Ninkam, a farmer.

The giant bikes are able to transport goods and people to remote villages on tracks that are almost impossible for cars and trucks.  By Daniel Beloumou Olomo (AFP) The giant bikes are able to transport goods and people to remote villages on tracks that are almost impossible for cars and trucks. By Daniel Beloumou Olomo (AFP)

"if we didn't have them, our plantains, our taro roots, the corn or the beans would rot in the fields. Where we live, cars can't get through because of the state of the roads. It's only motorbikes like these which can get our crops to market," said another grower, Makam Rose.

A "benskineur" with a super-sized rig can make a good living -- two or three times more than an ordinary motorcycle taxi, which typically brings in about 5,000 CFA francs ($9 / 7 euros) per day.

Emmanuel Wembe, centre, gets to work customising a motorbike for heavy duty.  By Daniel Beloumou Olomo (AFP) Emmanuel Wembe, centre, gets to work customising a motorbike for heavy duty. By Daniel Beloumou Olomo (AFP)

In Bafoussam, two mechanics, Emmanuel Wembe and Kuate Bachile, work in an earth-floor workshop to put the mega-bikes together.

The motorbikes are essentially tailor-made -- the mechanics weld together a new chassis for a powerful motorbike and upgrade the suspension.

"We make it according to the order -- from four-seaters to 10-seaters," said Wembe.

The converted bikes may be useful, although the ride is hardly comfortable and road safety is rather a roll of the dice.

Room for one more: The bikes need an uprated suspension to cope with the heavy load.  By Daniel Beloumou Olomo (AFP) Room for one more: The bikes need an uprated suspension to cope with the heavy load. By Daniel Beloumou Olomo (AFP)

"There are many risks, especially when it comes to managing the balance," said Ngaleu Michel, a teacher in automotive engineering at Bafoussam's technical college, pointing to the danger from punctures or a passenger falling off.

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