Which bicycles are the best ones for Africa?

 It is true: 
  • Bicycles in Africa are mainly used for work and transport (goods and passengers), not for sports and leisure. The best bike for Africa must be
  • stable, suitable for heavy loads and bad roads
  • affordable, low-priced
  • a standard bike with standardized spares
  • produced in Asia, cause there is a cheap mass production of bike parts possible
  • freely imported without or with very low taxes
  • assembled and repaired in Africa
  • 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. good bicycles for Africa 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 the best bicycles for Africa
    Hero India

    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.

     But why 

  • would some Africans like to have their own bicycle production?
  • do Europeans and Americans like to send 2nd hand bikes to Africa?
  •  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:

  • use and import of non-expensive strong stable standard bikes from Asia
  • improved locally made strong carriers
  • with seats for boda-boda bicycle taxis
    Development and help organisations are sponsoring stable standard bicycles imported from Asia for social work and health care. There is nothing wrong with these bikes only that there is a need of bigger numbers ... read more

     But why 

  • would some Africans like to have their own bicycle production?
  • do Europeans and Americans like to send 2nd hand bikes to Africa?

    page under reconstruction - here at right just some remarks from 2001

    Please find essential short lessons in the col at right concerning

  • 2nd hand bikes from Europe
  • special bike constructions
  • inner African bike production
  • 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:
    a) Young European or American bicycle enthusiasts starting such projects are often good willing people, who really want to support bike use in Africa, and it-s very difficult to explain that they aren-t doing a good thing because they feel personally disappointed. Especially as it-s often combined with a lot of necessary work to organize to collect and pack the bikes and to find funds for the high transport costs.
    b) Young Africans with the strong will to be modern like such nicely colored modern sports and mountain bikes (which can be indeed usefull to a small percentage of people in town without the transport needs that are typical of the majority).

  • A bike project in Mozambique (near Chimoio) was started originally with the idea to support the local people. Used bikes from Europe and lots of sponsored spares for these bikes were sent with two containers. Instead of supporting the rural population the bicycle workshop people have been fulltime busy in repairing the mountain bikes of some boys of richer parents in town (who could afford mountain bikes) and sponsoring free spares to them. And European bikes really need a lot of repairing when they are used in Africa.
  • Another project in rural East-Africa (Rwanda) has been supplied with only 20 second hand bikes sent in a container from Germany. Some boys should be trained there in bike repairing for the villagers. But the boys kept the colored modern bikes for themselves and their friends, refused to repair old fashinoned black transport bikes and even started to steal spares of the villagers bikes to keep their modern bikes going. It took two months to 'tame' them and to make them repair roadster bikes. At another workshop in the next but one village some guys started after being supplied with tools succesfully repairing and maintaining the villagers bikes from the first day.
    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.

    Lesson 2:
    "Appropriate Technology" support for Africa in the field of cycling, what is that?
    Answer: I don-t know. In 1986 I contacted GATE (German Appropriate Technology Exchange) for the first time to ask them if they could imagine to support besides their projects in so many different technical fields also a BICYCLE project in East Africa. The answer was "No, because we are dealing with appropriate technology but not with bicycles". Suddenly a few years later the same organisation started to promote special bicycle constructions, sophisticated foldable carriers and bicycle trailors "to faciltitate the transport of the rural poor in the Third World".

    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
    "The production phase of bicycle parts is neclectable compared to whats happening during a bicycles lifetime starting with the assemblage of the parts."
    But than he changed his mind and thought that-s too profan. E. F. Shoemaker is our friend.

    Lesson 3:
    Own National African Bicycle Production - wouldn-t it be nice? Jo, the term 'African Bicycle Production' sounds nice at first sight but no longer if you get a more exact imagine about "What is Bicycle Production?":
    There is no producer who produces all bicycle parts like tubes, tyres, frames, spokes, rims, hubs, seats, pedals, chains... at the same time. There are producers of bicycle parts and composers of the different bicycle parts. In many cases the factory which produces the frames buys the other parts from other producers. But even when such factories 'produce' bicycle frames, it usually doesn-t mean that there are also steel tubes and forks and fork fitting sets produced at the same place, but the frame 'producer' buys steel tubes of different types and lots of different parts for his different bicycle compositions from different 'parts producers' mostly from different countries. Usually the readily composed bike wears the name (brand) of the one who has combined or corded up the set of different parts produced in different factories.

    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.

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