You’ve probably seen a lot of bikes before, but how about these?
Above: It may look old fashioned, but this bike is revolutionary. All World Bicycle Relief bikes include a heavy duty centre stand with a lockout lever. The twin top tubes are for extra strength when heavy cargo is carried on the frame.
World Bicycle Relief's Contribution
In April 2008 I visited Zambia to see World Bicycle Relief in action. Before I left I’d already seen pictures of the bicycle that World Bicycle Relief has developed to survive the harshest conditions.
Quite frankly, it looked a little ‘clunky’ to my eyes, which are more used to seeing a parade of expensive carbon fibre bikes coming through our office for test riding.
But nothing could have prepared me for seeing the local alternatives. Many bikes in Africa come from India. Indian bikes can’t compete in wealthy countries because their quality is too low and their technology is too outdated.
The all steel, ‘bullet proof’ World Bicycle Relief bike is also made in India. It’s actually more expensive than a low end aluminium framed bicycle from China, but in the African bush, there is virtually no chance of an aluminium framed bicycle being repaired when it breaks. They just don’t have the appropriate welding equipment.
So the World Bicycle Relief bikes have to be steel framed, to meet their mandate of being culturally appropriate. Likewise the components must be as ‘backward compatible’ as possible with what’s already on the market. Otherwise, bush mechanics won’t be able to easily service and repair them.
World Bicycle Relief’s founder, F.K. Day, travelled extensively through India, visiting bicycle manufacturers and searching for the toughest components. He then sends samples back to SRAM engineers in the USA for testing.
Through this process, he’s been able to create a bike that has quickly developed an enviable reputation in Zambia as the strongest on the market. But no matter how hard he’s looked, F.K. has still not been able to find some components in India that are up to scratch.
The bikes to be assembled in Zambia during the second half of 2008 will feature Chinese made, Taiwanese brands of saddles, pedals, spokes and spoke nipples. In all cases, they feature more modern design and technology, that will make the World Bicycle Relief bikes stronger, more durable and even a fraction lighter!
In the footsteps of Henry Ford’s revolutionary Model T, which brought reliable motoring down to an affordable price, the World Bicycle Relief bicycle also comes, ‘…in any colour you like, so long as it’s black.’
There are men’s and women’s frame versions to choose from, although many women prefer the men’s frame, for its extra strength. There is also a 26 inch tyre version and a three speed hub gear version is being tested.
At around US$109, who knows? This bike could become a cult item in trendy Western cities. As F.K. fondly describes it, “It’s 60 pounds of looove!”
That may sound heavy, but the ‘bush bike’ pictured here makes the World Bicycle Relief bike look like a lightweight racer. It’s hard to believe that this bush bike is for real. There are a lot of patched together bikes in Africa. They’re kept going, long after they would have been sent to the scrap yard in any wealthy country.
But even by African standards, this particular bike wins the gold medal for never say die bicycle repairs. The owner obviously had pride in his machine, adding extras such as a car sized rear mudflap, complete with Toyota badge.
I can report that the World Bicycle Relief bike rides smoothly, with little effort required to glide along on the flat. I wasn’t game to ride the bush bike. Just wheeling it into position for this photo shoot was hard enough work! I think its most fitting destination would be a museum, rather than back on the road.