Three-Wheeling Through Africa

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Three-Wheeling Through Africa is an autobiographical book and a best seller written by James Calmar Wilson [1] in 1936 about the first motorcycle trip crossing the continent of Africa. [2]

Autobiography account of the life of a person, written by that person

An autobiography is a self-written account of the life of oneself. The word "autobiography" was first used deprecatingly by William Taylor in 1797 in the English periodical The Monthly Review, when he suggested the word as a hybrid, but condemned it as "pedantic". However, its next recorded use was in its present sense, by Robert Southey in 1809. Despite only being named early in the nineteenth century, first-person autobiographical writing originates in antiquity. Roy Pascal differentiates autobiography from the periodic self-reflective mode of journal or diary writing by noting that "[autobiography] is a review of a life from a particular moment in time, while the diary, however reflective it may be, moves through a series of moments in time". Autobiography thus takes stock of the autobiographer's life from the moment of composition. While biographers generally rely on a wide variety of documents and viewpoints, autobiography may be based entirely on the writer's memory. The memoir form is closely associated with autobiography but it tends, as Pascal claims, to focus less on the self and more on others during the autobiographer's review of his or her life.

James Wilson was a long-distance motorcyclist and author of the autobiography Three-Wheeling Through Africa. His five-month 1927 journey from Nigeria to Eritrea on a Triumph sidecar with Francis Flood may have been the first motorized crossing of Africa by motorcycle.

Motorcycle two- or three-wheeled motor vehicle

A motorcycle, often called a bike, motorbike, or cycle, is a two- or three-wheeled motor vehicle. Motorcycle design varies greatly to suit a range of different purposes: long distance travel, commuting, cruising, sport including racing, and off-road riding. Motorcycling is riding a motorcycle and related social activity such as joining a motorcycle club and attending motorcycle rallies.


James Wilson and Francis Flood were sailing around the coast of Africa as Flood was writing travel articles for his newspaper in the United States. On a lark, Wilson talked Flood into traversing the continent on 5 horse-power single-cylinder Triumph motorcycle. They encounter many trials along the way, often resorting to pushing the bikes where the paths were not suitable as they doggedly pursue a route through jungle and desert from Lagos, Nigeria to the Red Sea. Throughout the book Wilson refers to their adventure as the "Flood-Wilson Trans-African Motorcycle Expedition". Later Lowell Thomas encouraged him to write a book. It includes many encounters with tribal people, poisonous snakes and officers and expatriates from England and France in African colonies and outposts. [3] It was briefly reviewed in the Montreal Gazette in 1936. [1]

Triumph Engineering Co Ltd was a British motorcycle manufacturing company, based originally in Coventry and then in Solihull at Meriden. A new company, Triumph Motorcycles Ltd based in Hinckley, gained the name rights after the end of the company in the 1980s and is now one of the world's major motorcycle manufacturers.

Lagos Metropolis in Nigeria

Lagos is a city in the Nigerian state of Lagos. The city, with its adjoining conurbation, is the most populous in Nigeria, and the most populous on the African continent. It is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, and also one of the most populous urban agglomerations. Lagos is a major financial centre in Africa; the megacity has the highest GDP, and also houses one of the largest and busiest seaports on the continent.

Lowell Thomas American journalist, news analyst and businessman

Lowell Jackson Thomas was an American writer, actor, broadcaster, and traveler, best remembered for publicising T. E. Lawrence. He was also involved in promoting the Cinerama widescreen system.

Only two years prior had any motor vehicle crossed the continent, that was by automobile. Flood and Wilson chose a route that took them above Lake Chad. Flood and Wilson are noted among long distance motorcycle riders.

Lake Chad lake in Africa

Lake Chad is a historically large, shallow, endorheic lake in Africa, which has varied in size over the centuries. According to the Global Resource Information Database of the United Nations Environment Programme, it shrank by as much as 95% from about 1963 to 1998, but "the 2007 (satellite) image shows significant improvement over previous years." Lake Chad is economically important, providing water to more than 30 million people living in the four countries surrounding it on the edge of the Sahara. It is the largest lake in the Chad Basin.

List of cities, villages and forts listed in order by Wilson in the book

Lagos, NigeriaNovember 100Atlantic Coast
AbeokutaNovember 1866
IbadanNovember 20114
IlorinNovember 25220
JebbaNovember 31275
Ushiba2 nights from Jebba
Bida, Nupe-landdeparted on December 54063 days from Jebba
Birnin Gwari
ZinderDecember 24
GoureDecember 25
Maine-SoroaDecember 31
Rig RigNorth of Lake Chad
Mao, Chad
Abeshermodern maps show "Abeche"
Geneinamodern maps show Al Junaynah
El Fashermodern maps show Al Fashir
El Obeid
Umm Ruwaba
Sennar Dam
MassawahRed Sea, Modern day Eritrea


Wilson, James Calmar (1938) [1936]. Three-wheeling Through Africa (fifth ed.). Blue Ribbon Books. 

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  1. 1 2 "'Literary Log' from the Book Room". Montreal Gazette . October 31, 1936.
  2. Radel, Cliff (January 17, 2001). "Documentary in the Making: Westwood Couple Work to Tell Story of Explorers". The Cincinnati Enquirer .
  3. Wilson, James C. (2007). "Three-wheeling Through Africa". In Jenkins, Mark. Worlds to Explore: Classic Tales of Travel and Adventure from National Geographic. National Geographic Books. p. 49–54. ISBN   978-1-4262-0044-1.