As you hopefully already know, we are encouraging all of our supporters to embark on their own purposeful adventures this summer. We've already been inspired by what you have all been getting up to. To mark this week's theme of ‘people’, we wanted to spotlight a very special adventure that's truly inspired the whole team here at Trash Free Trails.
Back in 2019, Temi Lateef embarked on an extraordinary adventure, cycling from London (UK) to Lagos (Nigeria) to raise money for My Choice, a social enterprise supporting communities to have equal access to positive choices, and build awareness of the biking culture in Europe and Africa.
We sat down with him for a chat to find out more…
TFT: Temi, before you decided to make this trip, you didn’t really cycle. Can you talk us through what inspired you to ride all the way to Nigeria?
Temi: [Laughing] Sometimes in life you just need a little adventure! I actually saw a video on YouTube about a guy in Lagos (also called Temi!) who found a BMX in a flea market and taught himself to ride it. He’s been doing it for a few years now and has been encouraging loads of people in Nigeria and Africa more widely to pick up a bike and join in.
There is a huge lack of resources in Nigeria, and huge barriers exist for lots of the population. I wanted to support and help somehow. I got in touch and we built a friendship and would send bits of money each month to help out.
Somewhere along the line, I had an idea – what if I got a bike and cycled to Africa? I would ride to Lagos, and raise awareness of Temi’s work along the way.
TFT: How long did it take you to prepare for the ride?
The first thing I needed was a bike. I hadn’t realised how expensive they are, so bought a second hand one and did it up. I started training in January 2018. I wanted to cycle 100 miles each day on the trip, so I planned a ride from my home in East London to Southend and back; something like 80 miles in total. I didn’t even make it halfway on that first ride! It was then that I began to realise how hard this might be. I decided to postpone my ride for a year and trained for 18 months. I’d ride three times a day until it felt like second nature. I went to the gym, did yoga. I got myself into this rhythm and drive.
And you know what? During that time, living in London, I didn’t really see anyone else like me on a bike. Even now things have changed a little, but back then there was no one who looked like me in adverts. I thought it would be good to use myself as a role model on the trip and as well as supporting Temi, I wanted to raise the profile of cycling culture in all communities.
TFT: Can you tell us a little more about your background?
Temi: Yeah, I got in a fair bit of trouble when I was a kid. It culminated in being arrested for possession with intent to supply and I ended up getting sent to prison. I knew I was on the wrong path, and when I got out, I sought to help others in my community who were on a similar path. I want to show them that with time and determination, anyone can turn their life around.
TFT: Let’s hear a little more about the ride itself. It must have been an epic adventure
Temi: It really was. There were so many ups and downs; from getting hit by a car, to getting scammed by a bus driver in Senegal while trying to reach Ghana and get spare parts for my bike. I set off in November 2019; which made sense in my head. It’s hot in Africa, right? I totally forgot I had to ride through Europe first! I was hit by wind and rain from the start. I couldn’t work out why I was riding so slowly to start with, then realised that none of my training had been on a loaded bike! I would ride a 100 miles for a day, then rest for a day – working out the next stage of my route. I had a whatsapp group with my partner and some friends and they’d look ahead and book a hostel or AirBnB for me. There were times things didn’t go to plan and I ended up sleeping in bus shelters or at the side of the road. But, I learnt as I went. My legs felt stronger each day and even when I was mentally fatigued, I was sustained by the people I met along the way.
I had wanted to film my journey as I went, but I quickly realised the practicalities of that were too hard. I’d constantly be getting on and off the bike and the cheap GoPro knock-off I bought produced awful footage anyway. There were so many people on bikes that I’d talk to along the way. I tried to take photos of as many of them as possible with my phone camera, along with the other sights that I saw, and my partner would share them on the @my_choice_info instagram page.
Out of the fourteen countries that I visited, you know what the hardest to get into was? Nigeria! That’s despite holding dual UK and Nigerian citizenship, and having a Nigerian passport. The border guard just didn’t believe me when I said I had cycled there. It’s the kind of thing that rich people do. Weirdly, you see the same culture in the UK; cycling is either for the poorest to get around, or it is for the richest for fun. As soon as you put a bike to work, use it functionally, you are looked down on.
I obviously crossed the border in the end though, and got to meet and spend time with Temi and see the work that he was doing in Lagos. I returned home in January 2020, feeling inspired and empowered.
TFT: And what have you been doing since?
Temi: Through My Choice, the charity I founded, I have been working on loads of cycling initiatives to get more black and brown people out on a bike. I really want to change the narrative and tackle the lack of representation in bike magazines, cycling clubs and elsewhere. As an example, in general, the depiction of black kids on bikes is negative – they are shown as being dangerous and lawbreaking, rather than skillful and having fun. So, when I returned, I planned these weekly meet-ups. The concept was simple; turn up and ride and we’ll provide food. I told stories from my trip and we’d cycle all over East London. The community has seen their home in a different way – in a way that only cycling gives you the opportunity to – that sense of exploration from your doorstep. I’ve seen people get fitter, buy a new bike, upgrade the bike, develop the same passion for riding that I have. Businesses and bike companies have got involved; engaging with a new community.
Each year, I plan a ride to Southend, as a marker of that first ride that I did. It’s become a big event now, with folk training specifically for it – the biggest ride that many of them have ever done. This year's ride is soon; August 28th.
Then next year, I plan on repeating my ride to Lagos. This time with support from Trek, and I’ll be documenting my trip more thoroughly, recording the journey as I go. I’m also encouraging others to join me for some or all of the ride; sharing the adventure as I go.
TFT: Thanks so much for your time Temi. Any tips or suggestions for our supporters thinking about undertaking their own purposeful adventure?
Temi: As humans, we aren’t robots. We aren’t designed to do the same thing every day. We need to change sometimes. Like I said at the beginning, everybody needs a bit of adventure in their life!