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Posts Tagged ‘africa’

Africa Bike. Episode 152…

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012 by CGIT

The snow melted faster than it came. Over the weekend I stole the opportunity to fit the new Profile Imperial 44t ring – one tooth smaller than the one I removed for a negligible change to the bike’s gearing. 2.2% lower. Hardly worth mentioning…

The old chain was utterly worn out so I replaced it before it was able to do any damage to the new ring. I abuse and neglect my bikes, my guilt assuaged by the vague notion that I am somehow ‘doing product testing’. It’s not laziness, no. This bike and Big Blue live outside. A true utility bike must be able to withstand anything nature can throw at it. Failing to lube my chain regularly and not replacing it when it’s worn out is something that many people do to their bikes. The Africa bike is now running as well at it should have when I first built it from the box. Where the line is between slackness and product research I’ll leave you to decide.

Africa bike againIs this now the strangest looking Africa Bike on the planet?

Over the years, especially recent years, I’ve been slowly raising my bars. Partly it’s an age thing, but also my riding is more utility oriented these days. My road bike got sold and my mountain bike is in bits. And I don’t miss them. Until the weekend  the height of the bars on the Africa bike was limited by the length of my cables. What was happening, (and which I was very resistant to!) was that every time I raised the bars I wanted to raise them further. Those of you who have been riding about bolt upright in the Euro/Dutch stylee for many years will be reading this with a sense of ‘well duh!’ I’m sorry, it just took me a long time to latch on. With new cables on I was able to raise them higher still. And I think I’m nearly there…

I had the good fortune to encounter a Montego Mamafeits recently, and it scores where my Africa bike falls; the top tube length. If I want to be able to carry Rufus and have my bars nearer to me I really need bars with a greater sweep back and a greater distance from seat to head.

Is the Africa Bike reaching the end of its usefulness? Do I need to commission a new frame from Ricky Feather. Can he weld gas pipe?

Horrid Shi**no zinc plated chain will have to do until I can find a chrome SRAM or KMC one. The reflective stickies between the spokes deliver a woosh of light as the wheel spins when illuminated by headlights. Applied only half way around the rim – from valve to weld – gives a better effect in my opinion. A pretty good lightshow when combined with the reflecty side wall of the front tyre methinks.Bling. Ring.


Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 by CGIT

Yepp Windscreen

When I was an Industrial Design student I designed a hand held mobile phone no bigger than, say, a Nokia N97. This was 198cough and I was marked down severely because, according to the tutor, mobile phone technology would never be small enough to fit inside such a small unit. And later, inspired by the groundbreaking work being done by folks in the world of Human Powered Vehicles, I designed a handlebar mounted fairing-cum-windscreen for a bicycle I was marked down because there wasn’t and probably never would be any demand for such a product.

I’m not bitter.

But it gave me a great deal of pleasure to buy one of these here Yepp windscreens >>>

… from David Hembrow’s Dutch Bike Bits. To keep the wind and rain off my little Rufus. I shall let you know how it functions in a future report. My only gripe so far is that the bracket which attaches it to the handlebar stem is such an enormous great lump (designed as it is to carry a Yepp child seat with, presumably, a child in it) that I fear it may encroach on the crotchal area of our little boy. We shall see. Reluctant to take a hacksaw to it just yet…

Tall bike

And this:

Profile Imperial 42t ring

For the same bike. It’s lush, and now that every Beemexer on the planet is running compact – it’s now obselete! And hence very cheap! Which is nice.. To replace the (note: reversed to share the wear) ancient second-hand and knackered Profile ring which is on it at the mo.


Wednesday, January 4th, 2012 by CGIT

If my aim was to start the year off as I intend to go on then I’d better start again.

I found myself a little window of opportunity on Sunday the 1st to put my Africa Bike back together. It’s been sitting with its wheels out against the outside wall of the garage for several months now waiting. Waiting for me to order the new axle and brake shoe, then waiting for them to arrive from Holland, then waiting-waiting-waiting for me to get them to the bike shop, and for the bike shop to fit them and for me to pick it up and so on. I eventually found myself in the garage with a cup of tea in one hand and a couple of hours in the other.

When I first put this hub (a SRAM 3 speed coaster) into this bike I didn’t do it right. In my hurry to get it up and running I failed to align the rear drop-outs after spreading the rear triangle to accommodate the wider hub. It’s a Golden Rule of any hub, but particularly for internal geared hubs that the drop-outs be aligned correctly. Ride any distance on a bike with skew-wiff drop-outs and you’ll bend or break your rear axle. It’s an eventuality as predictable as the sunrise. With its cogs and gears the bending of an axle in a geared hub is a potentially catastrophic event.

My Step-dad told me to be very wary of buying a car from a car mechanic. They often don’t attend things when they should, or to the best of their abilities. I guess because they have the skills to re-bodge them if or when they fail. His sage advice certainly applies to this former bike mechanic. When working on other people’s bikes I am meticulous but my own bikes suffer the ignominy of being roughly assembled, chucked together. I can only assume that other tradesfolk behave in a similar way, that chefs, builders and seamstresses do their best work for clients but adopt a more lase-fair approach to their own work. Not bodged exactly, more freestyle.

Anyway. Like the slacker that I am I never did get around to aligning those drop-outs and as sure as night turns to day I bent the damn axle. I did it to myself. And so the long wait I had to endure to get my Number One bike back under my butt seemed like just punishment.

I was determined not to repeat my previous screw-up. Before I installed the wheel this time I made absolutely certain that the drop-outs were perfectly straight and parallel. It went back together beautifully, I bolted it up with a nice new set of track nuts and took it for a spin. Tra le la.

It works, what joy.

Africa Bike in happier times....

Africa Bike in happier times....

I pedalled backwards to slow up but instead I came to a juddering halt. I had made a fatal error, an error so elemental, so profoundly dumb that I am mortified with embarrassment as I type these words.

I had failed to bolt the torque arm to the frame. And, with the mass of my fat ass behind it the torque arm, with nowt to restrain it was sent spinning around the hub until it came to rest hard up against the seat stay. It no longer turns forward or back. I’m no expert on internally geared hubs but I think it’s fair to say that the insides are mush. Like a broom handle in the spokes or a spanner in the works, I fear this is an event which no amount of adjustment or fettling can restore. It’s new internals time.

Which puts me firmly back at square one.

Happy New Year everyone.


Wednesday, November 17th, 2010 by CGIT

I discovered the African Bicycle Design Contest through Bicycle Design Blog recently. Unfortunately I discovered it too late to qualify for entry but I did have a good old think about the subject. Regular readers will be familiar with my Kona Africa Bike and my on-going efforts to make it a more useful machine.

We lived in Africa when I was a child; my father worked as an engineer in Malawi for many years and I remember vividly the big old-fashioned black Raleigh roadsters which were the bike of choice for well off Malawians. With heavy components, single speed transmissions and woeful rod-brakes the only real performance feature was their durability. Raleigh has long since been elbowed out of the market by cheaper Chinese manufacturers but the 100 year old technology has hardly changed. Bicycles have moved on substantially since I was a lad but most African cyclists are still lumbered with those heavy old tanks.

To a rural African the value of a bicycle cannot be overstated. When school, market, the next village or even the water supply might be several hours walk away, ownership of a bicycle can transform a life. Many cycle folk recognise this and work tirelessly to supply bikes to Africans. We’ve discussed the Kona Africa Bike Project at some length but there are very many more dedicated people and organisations working to populate Africa with bikes. Depending on the individual project these include new bikes  (such as the Kona Africa Bike) and schemes which deliver unwanted pre-owned bikes. To my knowledge there is no bicycle factory in Africa, every bicycle from each of these programmes is shipped in.

At the core of the African Bicycle Design Contest is a subtly different approach. The contest organisers invited designers to submit ideas and visions for affordable and sustainable bicycle designs ; ‘Important criteria for the submissions were the usefulness in the African context, innovative aspects in design and manufacturing and market feasibility. Another very important criterion is the sustainability – durability of the design, possibility for local manufacturing, utilisation of local available and sustainable materials‘ (my italics). This is an invitation, not just to start from first principles from a design point of view but to actually create the seed of an African bicycle manufacturing industry.

(It’s been done before with wheelchairs. In 1980something I was working in a London bike shop when a guy came in in a wheel chair and had me fit a pair of protective discs to his wheels. He was about to embark on a journey to India. Twelve years later I was working in a Bristol bike shop when he came in (sporting the same wheel discs). This time around he was director of a charity; Motivation, which works to improve the quality of life of people with mobility impairment. One of the ways they do this is by designing and making affordable wheelchairs for people in developing countries. Motivation now produces wheelchairs from local materials in 17 countries and to date 25,000 wheelchair users world-wide have benefited from his endeavours.)

So. A local bike for local people. There’s a complex set of parameters to consider including fairly straight-forward stuff such as what the range of sizes should be, how many gears, what frame materials and methods of construction. Specifics about how will it be used and therefore what individual features should it have and then more complex considerations; from a spare parts perspective should it use component standards which are already commonly available locally or start with a clean sheet? Should it all be wholly manufactured locally or assembled locally from shipped-in kits? Most importantly (when my local supermarket can sell a ‘full suspension’ mountain bike shaped object for less than the cost of a tank of petrol) how do you design a bike to be useful, durable and yet inexpensive enough for an African wage.

Well I’ve had a think. Furtling my own Africa Bike has been a useful exercise for this and I think I’ve come up with a pretty good design. Modular, versatile, tough and inexpensive. Think plywood sandwich. The Plycycle! (rhymes with bicycle)

Rubbish sketches to follow.

George would like to point out that this is a vast improvement over the original sketch and that it should *not* therefore be labelled "rubbish"

Keep your eye on that competition, I’m really looking forward to seeing the winning entry.

“That’s what I’m talking about babay!”

Thursday, July 15th, 2010 by CGIT

Extended Africa Bike

The Van Andel heavy-duty frame-mounted front rack and Leco top-tube mounted kid’s seat were not particularly easy to fit but they have immensely increased the usefulness of the Africa bike.

The rack went on first, after removing the fork mounted rack which has been on the bike for the last few months. Heavy loads are more easily controlled when attached to the frame rather than the fork or handlebars. The first issue I encountered was the installation of the down tube mounted bracket. The Africa bike has a lovely curved down tube. The bracket is straight. Before I ordered the rack I’d had a good squint at a picture of it on the website of Practical Cycles and had figured that it would likely fit ok, and if it didn’t it would find a home elsewhere. In the event it went on with much fumbling and grumbling and the help of a few hammer blows to the clips which clamp it to the frame. The rack is designed to be removeable, two long prongs, plastic covered extensions two of the rack’s struts, slot into two tubes which form part of the bracket.

I’m guessing that some folk might like to swap the rack between bikes with the purchase of extra brackets. In use this removeability feature causes the rack to rattle over every imperfection in the road. And since it rests on the head tube (on my bike at least) it scratched the paint on the head tube within 100 metres. I’m not bothered about this, this is a utility bike after all, but it’s something to watch out for if you value your paint. But I do mind a rattle and it was easily silenced by strapping the rack to the bike with a toe strap (nb. There is a similar frame mounted rack available which attaches instead, without quick-release-ability, to the head-tube). In use it has transformed the bike. Front mounted loads no longer have any detrimental effect on the steering and the load capacity has increased substantially, so mission accomplished. It achieves precisely what I’d hoped it would.

Upgrade in all its glorious detail

My girlfriend’s boy Rufus is approaching his 4th birthday, until now he has been hauled around in a good old Burley trailer. The morning school run features a great volume of barely moving traffic heading in to York city centre. The Burley, useful though it is, doesn’t excel in this environment. It is a royal pain threading its wide track through the stationary cars lining the route, all you need is one schmuck to stop too near the kerb and you’re stuck, sometimes for an age. Hence my interest in the Leco top-tube mounted child seat, again from Practical cycles. The Leco was a proper fiddle to fit and, it appears, uses medieval agricultural machinery technology. The seat itself is a rather fetching black plastic number. A bracket with a welded-on seat-post stump bolts to the frame via a sheet of rubber strip, to which the seat, with a rudimentary back rest bolts to with a regular old school seat clamp.

I’m not looking for carbon fibre in a product at this end of the market but Jeebus. I’ve been to museums, I’ve seen how blacksmiths used to make things. Actually I reckon that a medieval blacksmith would have drilled the holes so that the supplied bolts could fit through them. No matter, I own a drill. High tech it isn’t. Getting the bracket tight enough to stop it moving on the frame required so much tightening of the bolts that the bracket itself bent. Hopefully it’ll stay tight in the long term but I anticipate that I’ll have to adapt it at some point (but actually, having used this product I’m almost inclined to strip the frame down, take it to the engineering shop down the road and have them simply weld a seat post stump to the top-tube).

In use this little seat is an absolute delight. Rufus and I went for a test ride around the block and we just laughed the whole way. Half way round he shouted; ‘That’s what I’m talking about babay!’ We can communicate easily and he can ring the bell and wave to people as we glide by. The back rest, which is also the mount for the ‘safety belt’ lasted only a few minutes before I took the hacksaw to it. It really got in Ru’s way when climbing on and off the bike. And actually if the worst happens and we do have a fall I don’t want him to be attached to the bike. He rests his feet on the new front rack and he’s big enough to hold on all the time. We love it.

We’ve been to school on it a couple of times and most evenings we pedal with his big sister Phoebe up the lane to feed the horses but the real test was last Sunday when we rode ten miles to a picnic spot and back. At the end of a very long day he was falling asleep and wanted to climb into his trailer but it was a total success and we got smiles and nice comments from people all day long.

Give a man a fish….

Thursday, July 1st, 2010 by CGIT

As the song goes; ‘Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he’ll eat forever’. Which strikes me as more than a little condescending, people know perfectly well how to fish. If they are lucky enough to live far enough away from the industrial scale exploitation of the world’s dwindling resources to find an unpolluted body of water of course.

At this time of year the road from Lands End to John O’Groats is packed with individuals and groups pedaling for good causes. Cycling seems to attract charity events but individuals and companies connected to the actual business of making and selling bicycles are no more likely to be involved in charity work than the folk who make double glazing. The cycling industry is no more given to charity work than any other.

Which is why we particularly admire and wholeheartedly support Kona’s brilliant Africa Bike programme. It’s a clever concept; Kona designed a bike which is suitable for the needs of African cyclists. And a bike designed for to be tough enough for Africa works pretty well on the streets of your average North American or European city. They sell them through their international network of dealers and for every two units sold to western buyers they send one out to Africa. They are given to health visitors, midwives, small holders to get their crops to market and the like.

An Africa Bike very far from Africa.

The fact is; it’s a great bike. I have one myself and I love it. I have a garage of flashy road and mountain bikes at my disposal but I invariably select my Africa Bike for the half hour ride to the office. It’s not fast but it can haul a huge shopping load, happily tows the kid’s trailer without a grumble and can be locked to a railing with little risk of attracting thieves. It’ll take a full sized mountain bike tyre too. Fitted with IRC tungsten studded 1.95s it got me to work safely all through this year’s icy winter. Kona have produced a winner. If you know someone who’s in the market for a cheap to run, durable, easy to use ’step-thru’ you could do a lot worse than steer them towards an Africa Bike, it’s a worthy cause.

And a brilliant, brilliant bike.

Give a man a rod!: Read about the Africa Bike in Cyclorama