By on January 1, 2011 in Africa, Culture

On the Move

Like most other people in the world, Africans need a practical and cost effective way to get from point A to point B. With a population of 1 billion as of 2009, and with numerous countries where the per capita income is $600 per year or less, cars are not an option for many. It is bicycles that have kept Africans on the move and allowed them to do everything from get to work, transport supplies, enjoying leisure time and much more.

In many ways, bicycles have become a powerful symbol of Africa. The proliferation of their use across the continent over the last many decades has proven that Africans have not let a lack of high-speed transportation stop them from living full and compelling lives. The demand in Africa for bicycles and bicycle parts from all over the world is greater than ever. There are thousands of bicycle shops in each of the 61 territories of the continent.

Africans have also become known for using limited and available natural resources to build their bicycles, especially when traditional parts are not available. As in many fields and endeavors, when it comes to constructing bicycles, the creativity and ingenuity of Africans and those who wish to help Africans never ceases to amaze.

Bamboo Bike

One of the keys to building a product that is sustainable is to use local and natural resources that are widely available and long lasting. For Africans, bamboo fits the bill and the bicycles they are building in some countries with this sturdy reed could revolutionize bicycle construction in all of Africa.

The Bamboo Bike project is one organization that is making strides when it comes to building high quality, eco-friendly and sustainable bicycles for Africans in poor and rural areas. They are well aware of the demand for bicycles across the continent and believe strongly that bamboo is the material that can truly revolutionize the bicycle industry. Aside from being available in abundance, bamboo is considered to be the carbon fiber of the natural world. It is extremely strong, light in weight, highly durable and very inexpensive. Best of all, it doesn’t require torches or other equipment to turn it into a bicycle frame. The Bamboo Bike Project hopes to establish a large network of bicycle factories throughout Africa, capable of producing over 20,000 bicycles per year. Those are the kinds of numbers needed to significantly improve the rural transportation situation in much of Africa.

While bicycles are used regularly for basic civilian transportation, they are also used in other surprising ways.

Ingenious Ambulance

Can you imagine being in need of urgent medical care, calling an ambulance and having a bicycle with a wheeled stretcher attached show up to take you to the hospital? If you live in certain portions of northern Uganda, this scenario is well within possibility. What’s more, it’s a system that actually works.

Here’s how it works. When a patient can’t afford to pay for a motorized ambulance, a friend or family member can borrow one of these bicycle/stretcher contraptions from the hospital and come and get them. In a recent case, a man from the Pawel area who was bedridden at home with a swollen leg ended up having a bacterial infection that needed urgent care. Not having enough money to pay for the motorized ambulance service, his brother went to the hospital and came back with a stretcher bicycle to pick him up. The stretcher had a comfortable foam mattress and it even had a suspension system that made bumps in the road more tolerable. The man made it to the hospital in a short matter of time, got some injections and tablets, and now he’s fine. The bicycles are properly maintained thanks to small donations made by community members. In very small villages where there is only one ambulance, this type of bicycle service is truly a blessing.

All over Africa, bicycles are having a positive impact on communities. Knowing how important bicycles are to the livelihoods of so many people, numerous organizations have sprung up to help.

Bikes Not Bombs

What do bicycles have to do with lasting peace and social justice? Ask the folks over at Bikes Not Bombs (BNB), a community based education and development project that promotes “bicycle technology as an alternative to war and environmental destruction.”

Based out of Massachusetts, BNB receives thousands of used bicycles and parts every year through donations and other sources. Expert bicycle builders, they recycle and rebuild these bicycles and parts into fully functioning vehicles and then ship them to many different economically challenged parts of the world including Tanzania, Ghana and parts of South Africa. The organization sends their bicycle technicians and tools to different start-up projects in many of these countries in order to teach locals how to maintain bicycles. BNB also uses their bicycles for a co-ed youth Earn-A-Bike program as well as to teach young people how to repair bicycles.

BNB considers itself to be “part of a worldwide movement for peace and responsible stewardship of the earth.”

Ingenuity Is Everything

Africans have proven time and again that they have the ability to overcome hardships, simply by using limited available resources and good old-fashioned ingenuity. Using bicycles made from natural resources, and using them for things like stretchers is a prime example of thinking outside the box. Furthermore, in this day and age of environmental consciousness, there could not be a better symbol of respect for our planet than to tread lightly on it with a pollution-free bicycle. Let’s hope that pedaling catches on in as many places throughout Africa and the world.


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