In Accra, people and their bikes create a subculture

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A 2010 World Bank study on Accra  estimated that only 1 to 4 percent of people in the city ride bicycles, whether to work, to school, to shopping activities, or for leisure. According to an earlier study by the Centre for Cycling Expertise, a Ghana-based, non-profit organization focused on promoting cycling and walking in cities, the estimate is much more likely around 9 percent, or almost one out of every ten people in the city of Accra.

In East Legon, a security guard takes a moment to show off his ride.
In East Legon, a security guard takes a moment to show off his ride.

How Many Bicyclists are Out There?
One of the challenges to finding an accurate estimate on bicyclists in the city is in the very fact that many transportation research studies fail to consider bicycling, even when they aim to consider the gamut of transportation modes in the city. 

Although not nearly as numerous in numbers as cars or tro-tros, bicyclists (of all ages, but almost exclusively male here in Accra), are ubiquitous throughout the city, especially in certain areas. While challenges and limits exist (such as drivers’ disregard for cyclists on the road, poorly planned or nonexistent bicycle lanes, and an overall automobile-biased orientation to planning) bicyclists are here to stay, and cycling presents an affordable, accessible form of transport.Another challenge is in knowing where to look to get an accurate reflection of this sub-culture. Some of the areas where bicycle ridership is the highest is in Nima, Maamobi, Newtown and Pigfarm, all somewhat centrally located, and all lower-income areas and with high levels of informal business activity. In addition, many of these areas lack a large number of major thoroughfares; given that throughout most of the city, bicycle infrastructure (bicycle lanes) are nonexistent, smaller roads can mean slower traffic, which is a safer option for cyclists who are forced to share the road space with private vehicles.

Abigail, 15, riding her bicycle around the East Airport area in Accra. Of bicyclists in the city, few are female.
Abigail, 15, riding her bicycle around the East Airport area in Accra. Of bicyclists in the city, few are female.

Secondhand Supply and Local Demand
Most of the bikes are secondhand, imported from Europe or the United States, which aids in affordability for riders. And the shops — informally set up where vendors usually sell the bikes along the road, in both small and large numbers, can be found throughout the city. That said, operations are concentrated in certain zones, such as major corridor in the North Industrial area (referred to as “Car Price”), but always in close proximity to local demand, such as areas like Nima or Maamobi.

For many, bicycling is more a mean to an end, rather than a luxury or leisure activity. After the initial cost expenditure and repair costs from time to time, cycling provides a no-cost form of transport for the rider. In a city like Accra where approximately 80 percent of the population is low-income, low-cost or no-cost transport is a daily necessity to ensure people can get to work, school to shopping, or other destinations.

The more common form of transport (tro-tro), the secondhand, mid-sized buses and vans that transport people along specified routes in the city, provides low-cost transport for the majority of the city’s residents (an estimated 70 percent), according to a recent study of city infrastructure and services. The tro-tro services are not without their challenges (which are, in fact, many – from quality of the vehicles and roadworthiness to ever-increasing prices in line with fuel costs to safety of drivers).Bicycling, although still done on a small scale, is important for riders for shorter trips, providing freedom to the rider to control his/her route, time, and in avoiding the traffic congestion on the roads.

Vendor selling secondhand bikes in Maamobi, Accra, Ghana. In certain areas of Accra, it's common to see vendors set up shop along the roads to sell bicycles, many imported from Europe and the United States.
Vendor selling secondhand bikes in Maamobi, Accra, Ghana. In certain areas of Accra, it’s common to see vendors set up shop along the roads to sell bicycles, many imported from Europe and the United States.