LETTER FROM ALGIERS
Sunglasses, leather vest and motorcycle never far away, all the codes are there. We are not on Route 66 in the United States but in the western suburbs of Algiers, at the “Biker Den”. A place where Algerian bikers like to meet to buy equipment or have their bikes repaired. On the walls of Two Wheels, the adjacent café, posters showcase legendary motorcycles. In the parking lot, sporty Harley-Davidson and Suzuki roar as the bikers arrive.
“In Algeria, there are all kinds of places that we do not suspect”, explains, amused, Ahmed Menacer, president of the club “Passion to Ride”. It was in November 2020, during a loop of 3,400 kilometers through the cities of Béchar, Taghit, Timimoun, in the Algerian South, that this group of enthusiasts united.
“We spent ten days together. We went to the South as part of a humanitarian action. When we returned to Algiers, everyone went back to their work, their studies… But we didn’t want to lose sight of each other, so we created the group ”, says Ahmed Menacer. No matter the type of motorcycle or the social background of the rider, “It is its values that interest us”, continues, in a deep voice, this 57-year-old official with a shaved head.
Beside him, Anis, 30, nods. “Our club’s approach is qualitative. The members are integrated by a vote », specifies the young man for whom the motorcycle “Is a family affair”. A family, that’s what this club made up of eighteen members has become. Less than a year after its creation, Passion to Ride has already organized a dozen outings on the roads of the country.
Women on two wheels gain visibility
During the road trip to the south, Hayet (the first name was changed at the request of the person) was the only girl in the group. Now, there are three of them to be part of the adventure.
For Hayet, 36, the year 2020, marked by the Covid-19 epidemic and lockdowns, was a trigger. “I passed the license after being with a passionate trainer who doesn’t care whether you are a girl, a boy, fat or thin, explains the petite young woman with long hair. Sometimes motorists are surprised, teasing. The remarks are not mean, but I make sure to put my hair in the helmet so that it is not necessarily seen that I am a woman. “
They are still few in number, but women on two wheels are gaining visibility on Algerian roads and on social networks through discussion groups. While some join clubs, others, like Ikram Bencherif, prefer to ride alone. “I’m not a fan of biker groups, but it makes some people feel confident, surrounded and supported. It is important “, notes the young woman of 25 years. At its beginnings, three years ago, it had to overcome a certain apprehension: “I thought that the Algerians might be frustrated, self-conscious or would take it badly, but in the end, I have very positive feedback. I find people to be kind enough to me. “
The hardest part was reassuring her mother, who for a long time opposed her passion for security issues. “The roads are not suitable for all motorcycles and driving cars is dangerous, concedes Ikram Bencherif. And it’s even complicated to find equipment for women, especially approved jeans that have reinforcements at the knees and hips. “
Cost of approved equipment
In January 2020, the death of a young biker had moved the bikers community and revived the debate on the degraded state of the roads, many of which are strewn with potholes and dotted with poorly indicated speed bumps.
To have more weight in the public debate, six groups have come together in the Coordination of Algerian motorcyclists, explains Ahmed Menacer. With his club, Passion to Ride, the 50-year-old regularly carries out awareness-raising actions. “We are talking about clothing and padded outfits, especially for young people who ride without a helmet, without gloves, drive in shorts or flip-flops”, he specifies.
In the country, the high cost of approved equipment makes it difficult for users of two-wheelers to access them. However, this mode of transport has become a solution, precisely for those who cannot afford to buy a car in a market where the prices of vehicles, even used ones, have skyrocketed.
Two-wheelers, which represent “2% of the national vehicle fleet, generate 20% of accidents”, underlines the president of Passion to Ride. Faced with the dangerous behavior of certain young drivers, who film their acrobatics and sometimes broadcast them on the Internet, measures penalizing all two-wheelers have been taken. For the past few months, access to the bypass that leads from Algiers to Tipaza, a coastal town west of the capital, very popular with bikers, has simply been prohibited for them on Fridays and Saturdays.
To denounce dangerous behavior, a helmeted vigilante appeared on the roads of Algiers. Equipped with a front camera, “El Motard el Makhfi” (“The Invisible Biker”), followed by more than 55,000 people on Facebook, regularly shares his motorcycle trips, punctuated by meetings with young drivers that he tries to raise awareness. wearing safety equipment and good behavior.
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