Which bicycles are the best ones for Africa?
It is true:
Lucky enough millions of such stable, low-priced standard bicycles imported from Asia (Wiikipedia: Roadster Bicycle) are in use and in many African countries this robust type of single-speed bicycle counts for more than 90% of all bikes available. Phoenix
China is meanwhile the worlds biggest bicycle producer, common in many African countries is the chinese "Phoenix"-brand.
Even a little bit cheaper and thanks to historical connections between Africa and India more frequently importet are bicycle parts from India to be assembled locally in African workshops like
If you want to order or import or just have more information about standard bicycles (all parts are packed in boxes ready for local assembling) please use our contact form, say to which country and give some details. Maybe we can give some advice. There are no such robust bicycles at a similar price produced in Africa and in most cases it's easier and cheaper than collecting and sending old bikes from Europe, Canada or America.
Millions of Positive Examples
What is typical of bicycle use in Africa: bad roads and paths, a need to carry heavy loads and people - bikes should be easily maintained with a minimum of tools and spare parts |
Africans have found solutions and developed their specific ways of bicycle use:
page under reconstruction - here at right just some remarks from 2001
Please find essential short lessons in the col at right concerning
Please find essential short lessons in the col at right concerning
|Lesson 1: |
Some organsisations and projects are collecting old second hand bikes in Europe/America to send them to Africa. But a good bike for Africa can-t be an European sports, fun or leisure-time bike. These bikes are usually not constructed for transport of heavy loads on bad roads. The parts are manifold, multiform and partly sophisticated which means the bikes rarely can be repaired cause spares are not available and if they are they are too expensive. High maintenance costs and short life expectance have been proved as typical.
The worst thing:
c) Worst of all cases is when such good-willing Europeans (without knowledge about the real transport needs) meet African modernizers (with the strong intention to escape from evrything what is 'primitive') and they encourage each other. The Europeans/Americans can say or are even convinced that there is a real demand from Africa. In this worst case there is no more chance for the rural population and their real transport needs. Recently an American Transport Institute discovered the modern young urban Africans as the real and main target group to promote bike use in Africa (and to export modern American bicycles). Unfortunately 99% of this target group will shift to the car or motorcycle as soon as they can afford it.
Indeed in some few special cases such nice constructions and bicycle add-ons may be useful. But for sure for more than 95% of all transports a usual stable standard bike is more useful. On normal stable carriers (like they can be produced everywhere in Africa) can be placed already enough load (and often enough normal bikes are overloaded) that there is no need for additional trailors. In most rural areas on small and rough paths it-s no fun to cycle while carrying a trailor behind. Lucky enough the idea to spend money for such 'inventions' seems absurd to most people. Peoples bicycle use is restricted cause they can-t afford cheap standard bikes. Families who are owning a bike, often had to save their money for a long time to buy it and have difficulties to buy spares and tubes and tyres to keep the bike running.
With time I had to learn that social arguments are not very interesting to most technology representatives. It seems hard to them to accept that the bike has been already invented. Some seem so proud of their own technical constructions that they feel the hint that people can-t afford their construction is meant as a personal attack.
In 1995 in a bike and wheelchair project in Mosambik I fixed some posters of usual standard bikes transporting goods at the workshops wall. The 'big boss' from the GTZ (German Technology Cooperation) removed them personally and told me that we don-t have to promote the import of asian standard bikes ("that is no development aid") but we have to develop, build and promote our own constructions. Before he left for a three weeks holiday to Germany he fixed his own poster: "No indian bike will leave this project during my absence!"
Who is Ernest Frederic Schumacher? Some of the appropriate technology representatives are referring theoretically back to a book "Small is Beautiful". They understood from that book that local self-production in small unities is better than mass production. If they were right African cyclists had to fear Ernst Friederich Schumacher a lot. Because African cyclists depend on low-priced bikes and spares which are only possible in mass production and which mean a blessing to them. Lucky enough bike parts made in Asia in mass production imported into Africa produce a lot of local work, activities and self-production. Local bicycle assemblers, bicycle and spare part dealers, bicycle repairers, locally produced parts (from carriers to breakshoes cut from old lorry tyres) and all the local activities, transports and business that are made possible by using cheap standard bikes. Kurt Schuhmacher once wanted to start "Small is Beautiful" with the sentence
In East Africa like in most other african countries there is not even a steel production for bicycle steel tubes. So what do people mean who promote "own national African bicycle production"? Answer: I don-t know and evidently most of the ones who used it during the last 20 years also don-t know except that the term sounds somehow nice and you sometimes can get applause for using it.
Others are declaring the simple assemblage of imported parts as 'national bike production' like Roadmaster Ltd at Kampala/Uganda. Roadmaster has been one of several Asian bicycle brands with a long successfull experience in importing readily combined sets of bicycle parts into Africa. Usually in one wooden box there are already all the necessary parts combined for six or ten bikes and a big advantage is, that these boxes can easily be transported to every place and the parts are screwed together locally (called assemblage). Only that there are duties on import of this bike parts from Asia. Roadmaster opened a factory hall for centralized assemblage of the same parts at Kampala and called it national Ugandan Bicycle Production and convinced the Government to allow free of duty imports of the same Asian bicycle parts for this so-called national production.
There are other examples where trials of so-called African bike production failed. I studied the case of Zimbabwe where it partly works: The national bike factory at Bulawayo produces frames with steel tubes from South Africa and many parts itself in Zimbabwe. (The background is that during apartheid times former Rhodesia was partly cut of from trade with foreign countries thus being forced to start own productions in many fields even when it wasn-t competitive). Unfortunately the bikes out of this national Zimbabwean production are high-priced and poorer people can-t afford them. The number by piece isn-t high (and can-t be high for high-priced bikes). But so as to protect the national bicycle production import duties on asian mass production bike parts have to be kept high. The effect of the national bike production is that cyclists in Zimbabwe are rare. The argument to protect the 'national bicycle industry' was "to save working places for Zimbabweans" (less than 200). To me the better way seems to open a reggae disco in the Zimbabwean factory and to abolish the import duties on asian bike parts. Besides improving the entertainment quality of the small town Bulawayo it could create lots of working places and activities, see above: local bicycle assemblers, bicycle and spare part dealers, bicycle repairers, locally produced parts (from carriers to breakshoes cut from old lorry tyres) and all the local activities, transports and business that are made possible by using cheap standard bikes.