THABISO PHIRI: MY JOURNEY IN BIKING
My name is Thabiso Phiri and this is my story.
I was initially introduced to bikes, like most of us black people, by seeing bikers coming through our neighbourhoods on weekends. We called them ducktails for some odd reason. Being a young boy from Soweto, I was fascinated by these bikes, but felt like they were an unattainable conquest only reserved for the elite white people.
I grew up to finally landing my 1st job and the prospects of owning my own bike became a bit more clearer. There was one little challenge though, as with most black families, “Black Tax” is a hurdle we often have to overcome before even daring to accumulate any of our assets and other accessories. My dad had passed on and I had to wear the pants of the house from an early age. My brothers, after boarding school and varsity, basically never came back home.
After some time, I finally moved out to my own place. I met and married my high school sweetheart. This all happened during a time where and when I had planned to purchase my 1st bike. Oh, and we finally welcomed a new member of the family, my son Oratilwe.
When I finally felt I was ready to get a bike, disaster happened. A friend of mine who was already a biker, Steve Tlholoe, passed away from a motorbike accident. My dreams took a bit of a back seat. About two years later when I was ready to get a bike, another friend, this time, Steve’s younger brother, Chumane Tlholoe, also passed away from a motorbike accident. My wife, who initially loved (and still does) motorbikes was now worried about me getting into something which now seemed so dangerous. This didn’t help when we lost another friend, Darkie, from another motorbike accident. This all happened in a period of less than 2 years.
In 2014, it got to a stage where I just couldn’t resist the urge of owning a bike anymore, without my wife’s consent, I secretly enrolled for riding lessons with King Donut of Soweto Motorbike School. When I was done with my lessons, I started buying gear and keeping it in the garage. I then bought my 1st and thus far last bike, a 2010 Kawasaki Z1000. My wife was not pleased at all, (since this purchase was done behind her back) but later warmed up to my decision. The biking lifestyle obviously brought many arguments at home, but also many smiles on my face whenever I rode.
It was around this period of my riding life when King Donut decided to start Soweto Motorbike School Forum for his students that didn’t feel comfortable with joining clubs felt the need to ride with other bikers. This was an awesome idea and gave a lot of us a sneak peak into what “club” riding was like. We had our own patch and colours. That’s when I got the name, Titan. It gave us a lot of confidence when going to day jols and rallies to have something that allowed us to be recognized as real bikers.
One of the most unfortunate circumstances of becoming a biker is that you end up attending a lot of funerals of other bikers who have lost their lives due to motorbike accidents. Avoiding to become a statistic, I opted to try out track riding with a group of friends from SMS (Soweto Motorbike School). I fell in love with it. It improved my riding and obviously felt much safer to ride the way I wanted, without worrying about potential hazards normally experienced on public roads. I got a few of my other biker friends to join us on track days for them to also experience the safety and fun of it.
During my on the track excursions, my then only son, Oratilwe, would also come with to watch and got super excited with the sport. While paging through a SuperBike Magazine, I came across a pocket bike from 3Bore, a pocket bike shop in Strydom Park. I paid them a visit and bought my son his own motorbike. He fell in love immediately with his new toy. A while later, we got invited by 3Bore to one of their pocket bike track days at Vereeniging Kart Circuit. My son had super fun doing what he had seen his dad do. He was immediately hooked. We signed him up to start racing the same year. His cousin, Katlego Makhene, also developed an interest and joined us. With my training and experience from track riding, I started training them to improve their skills. At the races, they were regularly towards the back of the grid but laptimes gradually improved.
With us starting to become regulars at the pocket bikes races held by MotoSA, we noticed a lack of black children taking part in the sport. I then decided to purchase 10 more pocket bikes to start training black kids from different townships. I sold my car and bought a vehicle I could tow with, and also got a trailer to house the pocket bikes. This is how Titan Bikes Riding Academy was born.
Over the years, we have trained nearly 100 kids on how to ride pocket bikes. Some of these kids have also gone on to race and have had some success. My own two sons have made me very proud with Oratilwe having a few championships over the years and Amohelang, who only started in the last two years, having won his Novice year and 2nd place in another championship the following year.