Ogbonnaya Kanu is the co-founder of the Easy Riders Motorcycle Club of Nigeria and Superbike Clubs Association of Nigeria. The 48-year-old chemical engineer from Abia State shares his adventurous moments in this interview with ALEXANDER OKERE
What motivated you to embark on the risky but adventurous intercontinental trips on a bike?
I didn’t consider any of my trips as risky per se and I didn’t really think that I would get into adventures. I saw the trips as a new challenge; something I could do that would beat something I had done before. I first started taking trips interstate then to the neighbouring countries. So, it just became natural to go farther and farther. So, that is the way I look at it – new horizons, new challenges. It was just a way to improve myself. I decided to beat my old accomplishments by superseding them with something tougher, something bigger.
You were born to a Bulgarian mother. How did your parents meet?
I was born on May 29, 1971, in Lusaka, Zambia. My father, a Nigerian and medical doctor, was doing his residency in Zambia. My father and mother got married while he was a student in Bulgaria. Of course, she left with him when he went to Zambia. I had my primary, secondary and tertiary education in Nigeria. I studied Chemical Engineering at the University of Benin. I have a master’s degree also in Chemical Engineering from UNIBEN.
Were you adventurous as a child?
In a sense, yes I was. I remember dismantling things. I always had a thing for mechanical things. I was always interested in things that were going on with my father’s car. When anything stopped working, I would open it up to see what it was. So, maybe to an extent, I can say that I was adventurous. I don’t know why I was or why I’m still adventurous.
As a chemical engineer by training, what was your occupation before you took to biking?
I haven’t made biking an occupation. I am still working as a chemical engineer. What I do is water treatment. I run a company of dedicated and committed young people, who pursue my dream with me to offer water treatment solutions to industrial clients. So, we get people to give us money and while they do that, we offer them solutions that would save them even more money than they give to us. This is something I still do today. Motorcycling, for me, is not an occupation; it is just a way of expressing myself.
How many countries have you visited so far and how did you know your way around?
I have visited 30 countries so far. There are so many (navigational) tools available; we have maps, GPS and local knowledge (by talking to people). So in Africa, I started in South Africa, Namibia, Angola, (Republic of) Congo, DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), Gabon, Cameroon, Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Mauritania and Morocco before going to Portugal, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, England and Wales, Mexico, the US and Canada, among others.
So, would you say you’ve achieved your set target?
Well, I don’t know that I have a set target. My target always seems to change as the years pass and I do stuff and find that I can always do more. By God’s grace, every target I have set for myself, I have achieved. My goal right now is to develop motorcycling in Nigeria – the touring side of it, where we ride around Nigeria and visit places where we’ve never normally gone on our own. We would visit these places on our bikes; that is my target for now.
How many more countries do you intend to travel to on a bike?
I really would like to explore Asia on a bike as well as New Zealand and Australia. These areas of the world intrigue me. I would love to visit North Korea from Nigeria. I don’t know how or when it will happen. But that is probably what I will do in the future.
Travelling long distances on a motorbike requires adequate provision for fuel and maintenance. How do you manage to meet these requirements?
The truth, generally, is that anywhere there is a road, you will find petrol. So, for those times when I get information that the stop between filling stations is greater than the range of the bike, then a keg of petrol comes in handy. So, I would usually make those kinds of trips with a 10 or 20-litre gallon strapped to my bike and fill them with petrol for emergencies. To an extent, I have some mechanical proficiency and I travel with a set of basic tools. So, generally, I can take care of most issues that would come up in the operation of my motorcycle on the road. Before I go on such trips, I try to do as many of the things required. I don’t want to change brake pads and spark plugs on the road. So, I do all those things before I set out on the trip because I want to do as little as possible on the road.
What do you live on to survive during your trips?
Everywhere I go is a place where people live and where people live; people must eat. I am not a picky eater. I am also very adventurous when it comes to food. If people eat something, chances are that I have the courage to eat it. Like they say, when in Rome, do like the Romans. So, it is for me; anywhere I go, I eat whatever the local people eat. I have never experienced food poisoning or diarrhoea on account of having eaten on the road.
Were there times you were stranded?
There was no time I was not able to make progress. I might not have been able to make progress at the speed I would have liked to or in the manner I would have liked to but there was always a way to proceed. I live by the mantra of turning around and going back the way you came, if you cannot go forward anymore. So, there was never a time I was really stranded.
How did you fund your trips?
All my trips were funded from my pocket. Everyone chooses what they spend their money on. Some people spend their money on houses; others spend their money on clothes. Some spend their money on travelling and shopping but I spend my money on my trips. When I plan for my trips every two years, I save up all the money I would have spent travelling and holidaying for two years and pay for my trip with that money. Some people would rather travel for summer or go to the village; for me, I would get on my bike and spend time riding. That, for me, is my escape, holiday and fulfilment.
Were your trips devoid of accidents?
By God’s grace, there was no trip of mine where I had an accident in which I could not proceed. An accident could be that my bike falls to the side of the road or I slip and fall. But I never had a collision such that I could not proceed. I guess if you are in the right state of mind and are able to see the hazards properly and correctly, you are going to be able to avoid them.
What were your scariest moments while globetrotting?
There were always scary moments. When you move from the known to the unknown, there is usually some fear accompanying it. When you go into a country you do not speak their language or know their culture or you have heard some negative things about its people, you are put on an edge. But the truth is that people want the same thing; everybody wants to be happy and once you pass the initial fear and start interacting with the people, you’d discover that all of the fear is unfounded and very quickly, one relaxes and goes with the flow. The other part of the fear would be about not succeeding in the goal, like trying to cross a border and getting held up or being turned back. Those kinds of things also came as fear but they were nothing that later didn’t dissipate and become a distant memory.
How did you manage issues with immigration and border crossing?
Before I embarked on any trip, I made sure I had all the visas and other requirements to enter the country I was going to visit. Border crossings are usually time-consuming. You have to be patient, learn the process, follow the process, and ask questions and, eventually, you will come out on the other side of it.
Was your wife afraid you could lose your life on the trips?
I don’t think that was her concern but if it was, she has never told me. My wife is very supportive and so are my children and they never expressed the fear that I would not come back. Somehow, they always encouraged me.
How did she react when you first told her about your intention to make an international trip on a bike?
Travelling on a bike to Europe was something that I had been building. So, over time, my wife had got used to the fact that I would go for a number of days travelling around on my motorcycle. I guess, for her, it was nothing new; she knew that I always would take up a greater challenge. I guess, for her, it was just natural that I would want to do more. As far as I am concerned, her reaction was that of encouragement. It was just very exciting to start a trip and getting home was the ultimate.
How did it feel becoming the first Nigerian member of the World Toughest Motorcycle Riders (Iron Butt Association)?
I really felt I had opened a door. A lot of people feel encumbered that there are certain things we cannot achieve. So, I felt really accomplished that it has been done and by doing it, I have opened the door for others to do it also. I have been an inspiration to other people who have joined the association. The most important thing about my riding a bike is to inspire other riders to do more. Achieving certain accomplishments is integral to my goal of inspiring others. I want to be part of the pioneers doing what has not been done in motorcycle touring because if someone starts it, it would encourage others to do the same.