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Posts Tagged ‘malawi’


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.

Interview with David Osborne (a.k.a. Puncture Kit)

Friday, September 17th, 2010 by George Goodwin

David Osborne has a unique street act, Puncture Kit – he’s adapted his bike so that it doubles up as a frame for a drum kit.  We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask him about his life, work, future plans and (of course) his bicycle drum kit…

Puncture Kit LiveAre you a cyclist or a drummer?

Both!  I started them at the same time as a kid.  I had a toy bike and toy drums, although then they were obviously separate.  I kept on cycling right through my childhood.  As for the drums – I messed around in garage rock bands, but it was never anything too serious.  I really just developed my drumming recently with Puncture Kit – I thought that if I was going to make a living as a drummer I’d better get good!

What’s the story behind Puncture Kit – what gave you the idea to mount drums on a bike?

I moved to London to travel and to see the world.  I played in bands here and did some recordings.  I had a part-time job before while I was at Uni in Adelaide, but I didn’t want to do the same sort of work over here.  I tried working in cafés and so on while playing in bands but couldn’t really afford to live.  Then I saw London buskers playing buckets in the street and though I’d try it.

I bought my bike when I got to London.  I’d had electric drum kit back home – the pads were mounted on a frame.  I looked at my bike frame and figured it was basically the same thing.  As first I thought about bolting buckets and pans to the bike, but I fixed children’s drums instead.  Puncture Kit has literally been evolving constantly over the last two years.  I didn’t have a workshop, so the first incarnation was somewhat bastardised– the drums were hanging off and loose and were shaking all over the place.  I got by though and managed to get it sorted out ergonomically.  It’s nice and strong now though, it can take loads of punishment.

What make and model of bike is it?  It looks like a fixie.

It’s actually a single speed bike – it has a free wheel.  It’d be suicide to use a fixed wheel with all the pannier bags on the back, there’s about 20kg on there.  It has a steel frame, it wasn’t very expensive.  The wheels were the first thing to upgrade – the original wheels folded, so I spent some money and got the perfect wheels.

What modifications did you have to make to the bike?  Has its role as a drum kit affected its ability to be a bicycle?

I had to add brackets that hold on the drums.  I’m actually a metal worker, but couldn’t find anywhere in London that I could go to to do that kind of work.  After a while I ran across some cool African guys near Finsbury Park.  They were making gates in the crudest workshop on the floor – they were sitting there welding with no helmets.  I went in and scratched around and found some gate hinges that I used for brackets.

I moved to Brighton about a year ago and reworked it all – I made some proper brackets that I’d wanted from the start.  They’re all MIG welded on in line with frame, and the whole thing is powder coated so it’s all integrated.  The bike’s quite simple really.  But the bike now has a tom-tom, a kick drum (from standard kit) all fit in now really well.  I’m happy with it.

Is there anything special about the kit you use?

I started with kids’ drums from Argos; I’ve used them for a while and recorded using them.  I’ve also got a charity shop that sells bike bells… I use cow bells as well.  All the basics are there though – there’s a hi-hat and cymbal.  I’m always changing things around – right now I have a really good jungle snare, and I’ve just bought a 6” secondary snare.  I add and subtract percussion based on the sound I’m after.

I really love clicky electronic sounds and organic, electronic music.  I also like jungle music, drum and bass and funk.  I play all the drum and bass tracks.  More recently I’ve been getting into and studying African and Latin music – obviously it takes a long time to learn new styles of music, so it’s all brewing.  I’ll be coming back next year with new stuff after Africa.

Do you use any of the components of the bike as percussive instruments?

The frame near the wheel stay near the back is the same height as the hi-hat; I use the frame a lot there, it’s really worn out.  It gives a crisp, clicky sound.

I’m not using the bike as a gimmick – that was never the intention – I just thought the bike was a logical place to bolt drums on to.  I don’t use bike pumps or anything.  People like Frank Zappa used different things as musical instruments (he also used a bike) and there are people around who use all sorts of stuff.  I like the drums though – for me that’s where it’s at.  The bike is just the best way to get drums around.

Are you planning to develop the drum kit further?  Are you completely happy with the way it is now, or do you have further plans?

I do have further plans – it’ll be a similar sort of thing, but I want an electronic version.  It could be underway whenever I want it to be but it’ll take time and money.

What’s busking like in London?  Is it well received?

People think London is a busker friendly city, but it’s not – I get a lot of negativity from policemen and shop owners.  The council thinks busking is annoying – they’ve recently banned musicians around Trafalgar square, and of course you need a license to busk in London.  Since I’ve been busking I’ve found out a lot about what it’s like – it’s brilliant so long as you don’t get arrested.  I guess I’m a bit cynical about how London portrays music and arts and culture, but it’s not like people imagine it at all.  I got a couple of events for the council through people seeing me on the street, but they’re not really interested in general.  They try to stop you rather than encourage you unless it works for them.

I think there are a lot of other musicians in the same boat.  Drums are different to other instruments because they’re loud.  But there are jack-hammers constantly making noise in London, so it doesn’t really make sense to me.

Do you cycle to all your gigs?

Yeah!  Unless it’s in the country – there I’ll take the train, or an aeroplane if it’s overseas.  From there it’s riding a bike as usual.  It’s the same for all live gigs.

Puncture KitHow did you end up performing at Glastonbury last year?  What’s the success been like for you?

I was just there to do some busking around the dance village.  I didn’t have a live show since I was just starting to work with electronica.  I took stuff for a live show just in case – as it happened, a show manager saw me and got me on stage.  It takes a long time to build up credibility to get ready for festivals, so it’s still early days.

What are your plans for the future as a performer?

This year I’ve been preparing an album with a producer in Brighton which is ready to go, although I’m not necessarily looking for labels.  The album is mostly drum and bass and jungle – there are a few tracks on my website.  I’m just taking my time and doing things organically – I’m not pushing things too much.

When it comes to live electronica I work with another guy – it’s a new partnership.  We’re building up a catalogue together.  It’s a mix up of everything – funk, hip-hop, jazz.  Before promoting Puncture Kit live though I want two or three really good live shows to get out there.  I’m not too concerned if I’m not doing lots of  live shows – I’d rather take time and do good gigs.  I’ll be at the Lake of Stars festival in Malawi later this year; hopefully next year I’ll get lots of festivals.

Why Malawi?

My girlfriend manages charities – in June she got offered to manage a charity in Malawi so she’s been over there a while.  I then got an offer to go over there, and I took it up straight away.  I’ve busked in winter for three seasons, and it’s not something I really want to repeat.  I’d rather ride round Malawi villages.  Y’know, to go over there stay in a cheap hut and do something different.

I’ll be over there from October until May next year; I’ll be travelling to feeding centres and villages and jamming with musicians, kids and youth groups.  Just seeing what happens is a big part of it.  I’ll do some more recording and I’ll be keeping my blog up to date on the site.

I’m a bit of a musician myself – I’m having a bit of trouble fitting a harpsichord to a penny farthing, do you have any advice?

*laughs* Drilling holes in the frame would be a good start!

You can listen to some of David’s songs and read about his journey around Malawi on his website,