Words: Tom Owen
Given the proliferation of cycling events that are out there and vying for your entry fee at this stage of the season, it takes something a little bit special to make us sit up and take notice here at Conquista.
Well, the West Africa Cycle Challenge is certainly different.
Starting in Bo in south-eastern Sierra Leone – yes, that Sierra Leone – the route head south through the country towards the Atlantic coast, crossing the border with Liberia, before finish 300km later in the city of Robertsport.
The event is run by British charity, Street Child, which focuses its work on helping children in both countries (as well as in Nepal and Nigeria) gain or regain access to education. The Cycle Challenge is a fundraising event which will support their projects in Africa and the route has been planned to give riders an opportunity to visit some of the towns and villages where Street Child is doing its vitally important work.
Not so smooth sailing
While 300km over four days of riding at first doesn’t seem like too big of an ask, when you put it into the context of Africa’s hard-packed dirt roads (tarmac only covers about 50% of the total mileage) then you begin to see how things could get a little bit more taxing. Temperatures are also expected to be around the high thirties throughout the expedition so there’ll be plenty of dawn starts to avoid the heat of the day.
Participants can bring their own bikes, but don’t have to. If they don’t Street Child will help source a ride – typically of the second-hand, mountain variety. Which could be fun.
The challenge was inspired by Florian Weimert, a keen cyclist and surfer, who was volunteering with Street Child in Sierra Leone and couldn’t resist the urge to explore the country further. He bought a second hand bike and hit the road, heading from Makeni in Sierra Leone to Liberia, staying in local villages.
“Cycling from Sierra Leone to Liberia was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. I got to know the unique hospitality and friendliness of the local people and remote villages, and cycled through beautiful lush, green and untouched landscapes. To anyone considering taking part, I would say: ‘Go for it, ride on and expect great things to happen!’” says Weimert.
As far as anyone know, he is the only person ever to have cycled this route. You could be the second.
The first, trail-blazing West Africa Cycle Challenge event leaves Bo on 30 May 2017, with places still available.
West Africa Cycle Challenge will be exhibiting at the London Bike Show from 16-19 February. Find out more at www.westafricacyclechallenge.co.uk. Or lust over some photos from the route on their Instagram.