Monthly Archives: August 2012

Bikes: Just get me to Zambia

I know I have now ordered my bike for the TdA. And I am really looking forward to getting my Genesis croix de fer. And I know that one of the major selection criteria was whether or not it would get me all the way from Cairo to Cape Town. But I am feeling a little less anxious today because I have just been introduced to a bike manufacturer in Zambia that is making brilliant bamboo bikes. So now all I need to do is get to Zambia on the croix de fer. If I break down there I can pick up a bamboo Zambike for the rest of the trip. Check them out at . An impressive story. Zambikes is “a social business that manufactures, assembles and distributes high quality bicycles, bicycle ambulances and cargo bicycle trailers to the underprivileged, empowering individuals to fight the mindset of poverty and address the economic and social needs of Zambia.” Zambikes was started by Dustin McBride and Vaughn Spethmann who visited Zambia on a University lead trip in 2004 and recognised the need for high quality bicycles, not only in Zambia but throughout Africa. While participating in an Azusa Pacific University class for entrepreneurs in 2006 they developed a business plan, and in 2007 launched the business in Zambia. Since Zambikes’ launch in 2007, they have:

  • Assembled and delivered over 8,000 bicycles
  • Employed an average of over 30 Zambians
  • Custom designed and manufactured over 900 Zambulances and Zamcarts
  • Built over 300 custom Bamboo frames
  • Purchased 20 acres of land in Lusaka West and built our warehouse and community center
  • Provided education sponsorships for over 15 staff members

Gotta get one.

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See # 10: Dr Julie Makani – Africa innovations: 15 ideas helping to transform a continent | World news | The Observer

Africa innovations: 15 ideas helping to transform a continent | World news | The Observer

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Training: broken spokes

I got up at 5:30 on Saturday morning because I had a ride at 6:30 and knew I had a flat that needed fixing. Too lazy to do it the night before. I thought I would fix the flat then have a leisurely breakfast. No such luck. As I was taking the tire off I noticed that I had another broken spoke – right at the nipple so it was hard to see. I had another spoke but I was also pressed for time. I had to leave at 6:15 to get to the ride start point. So I got out the tools, took the rear cassette off, pulled out the broken spoke, threaded in the new one, put the cassette back on, put a new tube in, found the valve on the new tube was defective, put a second new tube in, it worked, put the wheel back on, sort of trued the wheel and looked at my watch. It was now 6:10. I jumped into my shorts and shoes, filled water bottles, jumped on my bike and was gone. No breakfast. And …. I was the first one there. Should’ve had breakfast. Nice ride though.

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Sickle Cell Centre of Excellence

I had an excellent meeting with Dr Julie Makani of the Sickle Cell Foundation yesterday. We have done two new things. We have wrapped the Alan Knight Tour d’Afrique fundraising campaign for the Sickle Cell Foundation into the larger, US$2.7million fundraising campaign for the Sickle Cell Centre of Excellence at the Muhimbili Hospital here in Dar Es Salaam. And we have put together a corporate sponsorship appeal and have begun to go out to corporate sponsors.

This is all very exciting. The Sickle Cell Centre of Excellence is desperately needed in Tanzania. The team at the hospital and the Foundation are doing a great job of raising awareness and establishing a a world class facility. It is inspiring to see their dedication and professionalism.
If you would like more details on the Sickle Cell Centre of Excellence Campaign or the Corporate Sponsorship Appeal, let me know by sending a note to

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Training: Pande Forest Loop

I have had a few good rides this week but the toughest was undoubtedly the Pande Forest Loop yesterday – a 70 km ride with 50 km off road and well over 1000 metres of climb in the hills of the Pande Forest behind Dar Es Salaam. I went with Chris and Dan. Chris had a full suspension mountain bike. Dan was also on a mountain bike. I was on my hybrid with the 1.35 road tires. Not the best choice. The off road bits were very technical. Lots of sand. Lots of deep ruts and gullies, including one crevice about two feet wide, ten feet deep and forty feet long at the side of a single track. Lots of branches and thorns. Lots of very steep descents followed by equally steep ascents. Many must have been 15 degrees plus. It was grueling. The whole ride took 5 hours. I lost most of my time going down the hills. With the steepness and the sand I was afraid of wiping out on my narrow tires. Chris and Dan had no such fears. They blasted down the hills like kids leaving the classroom on the last day of school. I felt like the teacher, worn out at the end of a long year, trying to maintain my decorum and not collapse in a heap. I did find out that the hybrid can do these very technical tracks but not with any speed. So do I need to rethink my choice of a cyclo cross bike for the TdA? Should I get a hard tail? Shit. Thought I had made my decision. Off on an easier but longer ride to South Beach tomorrow.

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Getting serious about training

I am starting to get a little anxious about training. In the past my only training has simply been to ride and then ride some more – with a little stretching.  And on longer rides there has always been an element of riding yourself into better shape. I accept that. But with my current work and travel schedule my riding comes in spurts.  I am home for three weeks and try to ride a lot. I am then away for two weeks and don’t get on a bike. I also don’t go on every ride I should. I was going to go on a ride this morning but missed the call to say when it was starting and before I knew it I hadn’t lifted my head from the computer for four hours and it was lunch time.

And then today I got a message in my inbox advertising fitness courses at a club I belong to. I typically delete these things without reading them. But today I read it. It was offering a number of courses, such as:

BODY TONING & STRETCHING – Helps strengthen muscles, joints, ligaments as well as the cardiovascular system, where stretching helps maintain flexibility.  These exercises will help prevent neuro-degenerative disease and muscle tension, and will increase blood circulation throughout the body.

Wow! But regardless of the excessive and questionable claim of preventing neuro-degenerative disease, would it be useful? I may change the habits of a lifetime and join a fitness class. Will I have to wear a neon colored leotard? I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Technology in the quiet zone

One of the things I need to figure out is what technology I will use to communicate while I am cycling across Africa. Don’t get me wrong. It is not as if I want to stay as wired as we have all become in the last couple of decades. I don’t. It is more a question of ‘what do I need to stay minimally connected’ so that when I need to communicate it is there and when I don’t it leaves me alone.

When I was 20, in the early 70s, I did a year at the University of Nice in the South of France. During that year, I had absolutely no expectation that I would talk to anybody I couldn’t see or touch. We wrote letters. Put them in envelopes. Put stamps on them. And put them in letter boxes. Odd. Phones were expensive, not something 8 year olds get for their birthday. In fact, the only time I phoned home during that year was when we were cycling in the hills behind Nice and found a phone box with a broken phone it. I think the coin mechanism was jammed. You could phone anywhere in the world for nothing. (You may well ask what we were doing testing phones in the hills behind Nice. Nothing drug induced or paranormal I’m afraid. We had simply received a tip that it existed so had rushed off to see if it still worked – or was still broken.) Unfortunately when we tried it again the next week it had been fixed.

But traveling through Africa is a different challenge. There is that tension between voluntarily entering the ‘quiet zone’ and the need to stay connected. Some times the quiet zone will be enforced, but not always. So I need to figure out what will be best. Do I take laptop? Or just a smart phone? Or neither? Do I just take a ‘bog standard, doesn’t matter if I lose it’ phone. Do I buy local SIM cards or get a ‘covers all’ data and roaming package? Or do I just take a pencil and a notebook and use Internet cafes when and where I find them? Any type of phone, laptop or netbook will need to be charged. That means more technology and more time babysitting it.

Back in the 70s I would not be asking myself any of these questions. At the end of the 70s I lived in Northern Nigeria for two years. I didn’t talk to my parents – or anybody else outside of Nigeria – for those two years. I didn’t feel deprived or lost. I was in the quiet zone and that was fine.

I thought this was just about riding a bike.

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More and more bikes (3)

Here is a good example of the way in which bikes are becoming symbols of exclusivity instead of inclusivity. This is from an ad on Craigs List from ‘a dude in SAN LUIS OBISPO’ trying to sell a ‘fixie’ (The language itself is a sign of exclusion. What’s a ‘fixie’? A ‘fixie’ is a fixed wheel bike. That is, it cannot coast because the back wheel is fixed. As long as the bike is moving the pedals keep going round and round. It has only one gear and no brakes. You stop by pushing back on the pedals and skidding. Most bikes when I was skid were a type of ‘fixie’ but they had a coaster brake, that is a brake in the rear hub activated by pedaling backwards.)

Anyway, here is the ad:

I tried so hard. I dated a girl from Portland. I criticized cheese. I applied the term artisanal to every inanimate object that went in or on my body. I burned and singed my forearms just to make it look like I was going to culinary school. I grew Carol Brady hair. I got itchy from the finest flannel and I cut off circulation from the waist down with jeans that made my ass look like an elevator button.

… And I rode a fixie.

No more. It’s all gotta go. The hair, the macrame, the texting overages, the Netflix and Hulu Plus. The record collection (have you ever tried to box up and move an effin stack of LPs?!) … and the bike.

This guy seems to have had no interest at all in cycling. He only seems to have been interested in the ‘exclusivity’ it lent him and what it supposedly said about him – or should I say his ‘brand’.

But he’s changing, so I guess it’s back to basics for this ‘dude’ (does he need to meet Grant Petersen?). Or is it just brand repositioning?

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More and more bikes (2)

Another thing that is changing is our discourse on cycling. If you look at ads for bikes over the last century you will see a perceptible shift from a very inclusive discourse to an increasingly exclusive discourse, from a ‘bikes are for everybody, the prices are coming down, gain more access to your world’ discourse, to a discourse of specialized knowledge, high tech materials and clothing and skyrocketing prices.

1920s ad

modern ad

How much does the bike community’s own discourse on cycling negatively affect the number and type of people who are willing to give life on two wheels a try? How many people are put off by this discourse and avoid cycling because they feel excluded by esoteric vocabulary, physical requirements and price.  On the other hand how many people buy expensive bikes only because of the exclusivity they feel it gives them and actually have no interest in cycling.

Those of us who do cycle are all complicit in this discourse.

On the other hand, in reaction to this ‘exclusivity discourse’, there is a growing back to basics bicycle thing happening. There is even a Bicycling for Dummies book – a series of books usually reserved for explaining the complex and technical for the layperson.

Bicycle designers and builders are also speaking out. A guy by the name of Grant Petersen, a bicycle designer and the founder of Rivendell Bicycle Works,  has just published a book titled: Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Bikes, Equipment, Health, Safety, and Attitude. The PR for the book declares that ‘his wise words will muffle the noisy show-offs’.  He is not alone. The liner notes for another book I looked at recently said it was all about ‘deflating the smugness associated with bikes’. Wow!

So where is the discourse of the Tour d’Afrique?

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More and more bikes

According to one source, “there are more than a billion bicycles in the world, twice as many as automobiles. In recent years bike production has climbed to over 100 million per year (compared to 50 million cars).”

Go to to see up to date data on bicycle production.

One would like to think that this means that bikes are overtaking cars and that the real answer to climate change is the bicycle. Not really.

Unfortunately the usage trend may be going the other way. China is the biggest owner of bikes with over half a billion on the road. But if you have been to China lately you will have seen that roads that used to be rivers of bicycles twenty years ago are now clogged with cars.

The Japanese, Korean and Indian car manufacturers all see China as their major growth market, to say nothing of the emergence of new Chinese manufacturers.  Some facts published in the Daily Telegraph in Aug 2011:

  • In 2009, China surpassed the US as the largest auto manufacturing and consuming country in the world.
  • In 2010 China’s automobile output and sales volume both exceeded 18 million, setting a new world record.
  • Currently, there are more than 72 million private cars on the road in China, and a total of 217 million vehicles.
  • In 1999 the country had just under 4,000 miles of motorway, now it has more than 40,000 miles.
  • A total of 11 cities, including Beijing, Shenzen, Shanghai, Chengdu and Tianjin, have more than 1 million cars.
  • Beijing itself has more than 4.6 million cars, and recently introduced restrictions on the purchase and use of vehicles in an attempt to limit pollution and congestion.
  • There are now 60 private cars for every 100 families in the country.

This is happening in Africa as well. According to one estimate, there were 36,000 cars in all of Tanzania in 2001. There are now close to 30,000 cars arriving at the port of Dar Es Salaam every month and there are now 1 million registered cars in Dar Es Salaam for a population of 4 million.

Bikes never really took off in Africa the way they did in China – in spite of their popularity is some pockets. As an Economist article from 2008 said: “Africans tend to turn their back on bikes as soon as they can afford anything with an engine.”

And if you have a car you tend to use it. The widely accepted average for car use is 12,000 to 15,000 miles a year.  How many miles did you ride on your bike last year? Too many bikes sit in the garage or shed unused from one week or month to the next.

Bikes and cars also compete for the same road space. Who do you think will win? Research done in Australia shows that 87% of car/bike accidents are caused by cars.

In the UK in 2011, 107 cyclists died as a result of accidents involving motor vehicles and over 19,000 were injured. In the US in 2010, 618 died and 52,000 were injured. And these stats come from countries that take bicycle safety seriously and provide bikes lanes.  I don’t have stats for China or Africa. I don’t think I want to see them. But a month ago, here in Dar, a friend was knocked off her bike by a water truck. She is now ok. It could have been much worse. But it is symptomatic.

So what do manufacturing numbers really tell us? In general, bicycle riding is shifting from transport and work to leisure and sport. In developing countries those who can afford it leapfrog to anything with an engine as soon as they can. In emerging nations that once depended on the bike, cars are taking over. In developed nations lots of people have good intentions about getting fit. And there must be storage sheds full of bikes somewhere. What will the Martians think.

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