Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here. This is Zikoko’s What She Said.
Today’s subject on #Zikokowhatshesaid is Fehin Okegbenle, a 30-year-old Nigerian woman. She talks about her childhood love for motorcycles, why she waited until she was 28 to ride one and handling the stares when people realise she isn’t a man, on her biking trips across the country.
What’s something you’ve always wanted to do?
Biking. I can’t remember what age I was, but I know it started with watching people ride motorcycles in movies, and video games like Need for Speed. I always thought it would be cool to ride one too. I brought it up a few times, but my mum wasn’t having any of that talk. To her, biking was a dangerous sport. I eventually had to settle for basketball and swimming, but I knew I wanted to bike.
I didn’t circle back to that conversation until I was 28 though.
What happened before that?
Life. I had to focus on earning money after I decided to leave uni early. I got in for physiotherapy in 2009 because I thought I’d love the idea of taking care of athletes. But I realised it wasn’t for me, so after my first year, I left. Hustling to make money took centre stage from then on.
Did not having a degree at the time hold you back?
Not really. I didn’t feel the need to go back to uni until 2016. Figuring things out didn’t feel daunting because I’d always taken care of myself. When I was eight, I’d learnt how to cook for myself, wash my clothes and generally survive without needing any help from my parents or two older siblings. The post-dropout phase was no different. I just needed to make money.
I’d taken up a few jobs, like ushering, but the first one that had me travelling a lot was in 2013. I worked as an amplifier, marketing the company products from state to state. I loved travelling, but it was stressful to always be on the road with no breaks. When I saved up enough money, I rented my first apartment and quit the job at the end of that year .
But did you have a plan though?
I thought about biking again, but my mum still wasn’t having it. I didn’t exactly have a plan, so when Valentine’s Day was around the corner, I decided to sell gift boxes.
I was selling out at first, but everything crashed barely two months in, when I was scammed by the guy I paid to develop my website. I didn’t have money for myself or the business to keep going after that, so I ended up moving into my sister’s house. She’d just had a baby, and it made sense to be there to help out.
It was great not thinking about bills, but after being independent for so long, depending on someone else for everything was hard. That was the first time I couldn’t figure things out alone.
Thanks. To get by, I sold bottles of zobo at my old university. It wasn’t easy, but I enjoyed having something to do while I thought about what I really wanted. Other than biking, I loved fashion.
As a kid, my mum sold clothes for women her age. She loved fashion, and I remember always loving it too. While I’d been a sporty kid, dressing up was something I enjoyed. So when I thought about setting up a clothing business in 2015, it made sense to try it out. I saved up about ₦7k selling zobo and ordered my first batch of clothes from online stores abroad. The exchange rate wasn’t as horrible as it is now. I made enough profit to keep buying and selling, and I’ve stuck with it ever since.
LOL. Not yet. Biking is an expensive hobby to get into. My release at the time was still basketball. If I wasn’t at the court, then I’d be home. Fast forward to 2018, and my brother-in-law wondered why I didn’t go out more. I was 26 and still enjoyed my time alone.
Since my family wanted me to socialise more, I joined a Telegram group for foodies in Lagos. Back then, everyone was on Telegram, and I liked the idea of hanging out to eat food. I started going out more and connected with a biker group at one of the foodie hangouts.
The event was called Jollof and Palmie. Lagos bikers attend the show too, riding around and displaying their bikes throughout the event. Actually, that’s why I decided to go. Coincidentally, I met a family friend there, who’d been riding bikes for a while, and he introduced me to other bikers at the event. One of the guys let me get on top of his bike to ride with him.
After the event, I had people in my DMs calling me “engine burster”.
It was an inside joke. The guy’s bike had probably been revved above the Rotations Per-Minute (RMP) recommended for it. That means it had been used for a longer time than it should have without getting checked or serviced properly. Either way, they joked about it being my fault his engine burst. Next thing, the group was asking me to join their Telegram group for bikers and biker enthusiasts. Since I had a family friend in the group, I felt comfortable saying yes.
I followed them for a race in Benin City. When I got back and told my mum about the bike ride, she didn’t seem so bothered by the idea. I’d only been on the bike for a short distance to the track, but I didn’t feel the need to clarify since she didn’t ask. She practically said nothing. I took it as my cue to get into biking.
I paid for biking lessons for four weekends in 2019. My family and friends were concerned about safety, but once I had my helmet on, the rest was about taking control of the bike. Paying for the bike wasn’t cheap, but I was making enough profit from selling clothes to cover it. Besides, I had other bikers on the road with me. They eventually stopped stressing because this was a passion I really wanted to pursue.
How did biking on your own for the first time feel?
Freeing. It was a moment of escape from thinking about anything other than just driving. I can’t fully describe what it feels like to move at 90km/h on the freeway, but I’m sure nothing beats that rush of adrenaline.
Lagos traffic gets in the way sometimes, but like driving a car, I’ve learnt to manoeuvre it. My first solo trip out of Lagos was about three months after my first ride. I took a trip to Ibadan with the biker group. At first, I was scared of being on my bike alone because I thought I wouldn’t make it all the way.
When I got to Shagamu, I realised I was doing alright and the rest came easy. The fear wasn’t unusual. Even more experienced bikers feel the same way whenever they’re exploring new places or taking long rides. After Ibadan, Ile-Ife was my next trip outside Lagos. I was alone on that trip, so imagine the anxiety I felt. Getting to Shagamu calmed me down. It was some kind of safe zone for me.
Beyond your solo trips, what’s a milestone you’re proud of?
It’s hard to pick because I did about 10 trips after Ibadan. But biking to Onitsha and back to Lagos alone in 15 hours in 2020 was an important achievement for me. I’d never biked that far. I covered my longest distance — 1000km — in less than a day.
It was. My next milestone was a trip around the country, but before then, I had one of my toughest experiences at Mambilla Hills in Taraba. It was hilly terrain, with so many turns, and cattle obstructing the whole place. Definitely a tough ride, but making it through was amazing.
In 2021, I biked across 22 states in seven days with my team. It’s called Across the Nation, and we do it every year. That was my first time, and it wasn’t exactly great because my bike had issues, but the stress was worth it. The best part was how the terrain switched from trees in the west to miles of hills and mountains as we moved up north.
On the first day, we went from Lagos to Ogun. The next day, we moved to Oyo and stopped at Kogi. We went on through the north, Kano to Kaduna, and kept going until we circled back to Lagos.
Mad! I’m curious. What’s it like to ride a bike as a woman in Nigeria?
A lot of stares. Until I take off my helmet, people assume I’m a man. Sometimes, people are rude when they realise I’m not. For instance, when I was in Taraba in 2021, a fuel attendant didn’t agree to sell fuel to me. Not until one of the guys on the trip asked him to fill up my tank. So yeah, some Nigerians haven’t evolved past the “only men can do this and that” narrative.
After that incident, I stopped taking off my helmet on trips. Even when I do, I make sure I’m stern with my approach. I’ve also learnt that it’s important to never let anyone tell me I need a man to feel safe on my trips. I can take care of myself.
Love it. And how about your fashion business?
It’s grown to the point where I don’t always need to be present. It took time, but I’m happy I get to make money from what I love while turning a childhood passion into a brand.
In four years, you’ve been to almost all the states in Nigeria. What’s next?
I’ve been to the borders of Togo, but I want to take a tour around West Africa. After that, I’m aiming to be a part of the European Bike Tour.