The "Working in Ghana" Project

Cycle Repairman

[Mr. Twumasi has repaired bicycles and motor bikes in a suburb of Accra for the past five years. He is 24 years old, and single. He has completed middle school. He told his story in the Twi language to Ebenezer Mensah at his work site.]

During my childhood, I had an interest in wheels and how they work. I started making a lot of them with any moveable round object. I was fortunate to have an uncle who repairs bicycles. I often visited him and asked questions. During my middle school days I already knew how to repair almost all major and minor faults one can imagine on a bicycle. After my schooling, I apprenticed to another man to learn how to repair motor bikes. I added engine repairs and servicing to my skills. After two years I had learned all I could but I did not have money to pay for my "passing out" fee. (Apprentices must pay a fee upon completing their training in order to be certified.) I then drove a taxi for six months to earn enough money to pay my passing out fee. I used the little that remained to buy a few boards and roofing sheets to erect the workshop which I am using presently.

Every day I start working at 7:30 a.m. and close at 6:30 p.m. Since I repair both motor bikes and bicycles I always have a lot of work to do. My workshop is not a safe place to keep motors and bicycles waiting for repairs. I normally take all of them home and lock them up. Every morning I bring all the bicycles and motor bikes back to the workshop. I have two assistants who help me move the bikes. When they are all back at the workshop, I start repairing the ones for which spare parts are available.

A friend with whom I started learning motor repair work could not complete it. He has decided to continue the training with me. I also have a young boy who is my first apprentice. I normally pass on the minor repairs like wheel bearing replacements, change of spokes, and other little fittings to them. I concentrate on the engine faults, brake linings and electrical faults on the motor bikes. Whenever my assistants are facing serious problems I assist them. Most of the faults on bicycles are in the wheels and the peddles. It may either be a worn out ball bearing which needs to be changed or a spoke which is bent, calling for replacement. Other faults may be the bell which might be locked so that it does not sound. Most of these problems can easily be handled by my friend and my apprentice boy. I do not entirely leave it to them, however. I monitor whatever they do because if they do a bad job, I will be lose my customers. I make sure that even the simplest fault receives the serious attention it requires. I have gained a lot of customers through the perfect job I do for them.

On the motor bikes, I repair engine problems ranging from replacement of some special part or a complete overhauling of the engine. This is a major job which takes me the whole day or sometimes two days to complete. Some may even take weeks if a particular part is not available.

Sometimes I have to go to look for the original spare part since there are a lot of imitations in the market. An inexperienced person would not be able to tell the difference between the two. Some of the repairs may also be the brake linings of the motor bikes. They may either be replaced or I create a suitable substitute to replace the worn out one. A lot of the spare parts can be molded in my workshop. I normally make them when the owners have problems getting the spare part or have no money to purchase it. I also service imported motor bikes for the Ministry of Social Welfare, which imports second hand motor bikes for their field officers.

A company in Tema also imports motor bikes and assembles them for sale there. Whenever a shipment arrives, I am called to help assemble them, either at Tema or at my workshop.

My hidden location (one must walk down a lane to reach his shop) might suggest that I don't have jobs but the faithful way I go about my repair work has brought me a lot of customers. My charge is also very moderate. I am the poor man's friend. I take on repairs that other places would not. I am always very prompt. When I tell a customer to come for his bike at a particular time, I make sure that his bike is repaired and done well. I don't like to disappoint my customers. This is the secret of my success as a young repairer.

One of the disappointments I have experienced is when somebody complains of a lost item on the bike. Many people decorate their motor bikes with lights and stickers. Some children playing around might play with them and take them off. When customers come and see something is missing, they force me to replace the items before the bike leaves the workshop. Another problem is that fuel in motor bikes evaporates when the they stand in the sun for long hours. When the customers return, they think I might have used the motor bike for my errands. To keep such problems from arising I ask the customer to take inventory of all the things on the bike. The petrol in the tank is measured so that such misunderstandings do not arise.

About three months ago my apprentice did not take good care of a bicycle belonging to a military man. The lighting decoration on the bicycle was removed by a passing child. The military man threatened to lock up my boy if he did not replace the decoration. He thought my boy had used it to decorate somebody else's bicycle or that he may have stolen it. The matter ended up in my apprentice's house where his parents agreed to pay to replace the decoration. Since I introduced the inventory procedure I have not had any such problems. Where possible I tell my customers to remove items that can be removed so that we don't face problems of theft at our shop.

Sometimes I repair a motor bike and the owner will not come for it. For months I have to carry this burden (he points to a motor bike) to the house and bring it to the workshop every morning, thinking that the owner might come for it. This is very discomforting to my assistants and me.

My satisfaction on the job comes from my ability to detect faults and repair them to the satisfaction of the bike owners. Some people come to you with a problem on their bikes which other workshops could not detect or repair. I first study the whole mechanism and then I try to identify the fault. When I repair it and the owners are satisfied, I become satisfied myself. I have the feeling that I have improved my skills and servicing knowledge. I normally gain a lot of experience and understanding as I face more problematic repairs. I sometimes think I can manufacture a motor bike when the opportunity comes.

My income levels are not stable. There are times when I make a lot of money, while at other times very little. On average I make about forty thousand cedis (then, about $80) every month. I divide all the money I get into four parts and give one fourth to my friend apprentice. I don't give the other apprentice any wage apart from paying him food money every afternoon and transport fare to and from his home.

I must pay a workshop license fee of about twelve thousand cedis (about $24) every year and a tax of three hundred cedis (about 60 cents) a week. In a particular week when I am not able to pay due to certain financial problems I explain that to the collector and ask him to come another time. This means that the next time he comes I have to pay double. I like the weekly payment plan because it is easier to pay than a single fee at the end or beginning of the year.

There is a bicycle repairers' association which is not very effective. The motor bike repairers' association, however, is very powerful and effective. It seeks the general welfare of the motor bike repairers. We also fight for tax relief from the government through this association. They have rules and regulations governing conduct of all motor bike repairers and rules governing the training of apprentices and their passing out ceremonies. This includes the fees apprentices have to pay when they are learning in the repairer's workshop in order to open their own workshop.