I think I may have found the most technologically appropriate bike for the Tour d’Afrique. It’s made of wood and weighs about forty pounds. But you don’t have to worry about punctures or broken spokes.
I saw a couple of these on display when I went to the National Museum in Dar a couple of days ago, fantastic pieces of sculpture – and they work (this guy is actually in Rwanda and not one of the ones I saw, but you get the idea). The two bikes at the museum that I did see had seen good use. One was made of sawn lumber, was painted canary blue, had the pedals off an old Chinese Phoenix and a real chain. The other was made of four-inch diameter branches chosen because they had approximately the right shapes for frame and handlebars, a wooden crank and pedals, and a chain made of rope – amazing piece of bush engineering. These things are used in the bush and ridden on mud and sand as well as tarmac. They are solid and heavy and often used instead of a wheelbarrow or pull cart to carry heavy loads.
I can’t imagine riding one for more than a couple of miles though. The saddle was just a lump of wood, no padding at all. And it was small. It would tear you apart. I don’t even want to think about the possibility of splinters. The only brake was a piece of wood that you could press against the back wheel, also wood, with the heel of your right foot. I imagine that at 60kmh going down hill there is a very real chance of ignition. I have broken a few wheels but I have never had one burst into flames underneath me.
I googled wooden bikes and got 24,600,000 hits. So somebody must be doing it. Unless it’s code for some fetish I’m not aware of.