A Cargo Bike for Uganda

Utility 3 2

Some of you may have noticed that posting has been light here at Bicycle Design lately. One reader recently emailed me to ask if I have “lost interest in the blog”. No, not at all. The truth is that have just been very busy with work, outside projects, and personal responsibilities lately. Based on a few looming deadlines, I will probably continue to be burning the candle at both ends through at least the end of this month. In the mean time, bear with me if I am sometimes unable to post frequently or respond to blog related emails. My schedule will be back to “normal” soon (whatever that means), but for now the blog is getting a bit less of my attention than it usually does.

Tuesday afternoon, I did take an hour out of the workday to watch the IDSA sponsored webinar titled “Design With the Majority: The Collaborative Design of a Cargo Bicycle for Uganda”. It was definitely time well spent. Jason Morris, an Associate Professor of Industrial Design at Western Washington University, discussed his project and showed slides from his recent trip to Uganda. I don’t want to go into too much detail (you can read Jason’s pdf and watch his video for more information about the project), but I do want to point out a couple of things that interested me. Jason had a prototype bike built prior to his 3 week trip to Uganda, and he talked a lot about communicating and working directly with the target users, Ugandan bicycle couriers called boda-boda. The time he spent with those potential users, who tested his initial prototype bike and suggested revisions and improvements, is well documented in his pdf. User input is important in the research phase of any design, but when designing for people who live drastically different lives than the designer, that input becomes even more valuable. No doubt Jason received valuable input about his design on this trip. Based on his presentation though, it sounds like he got a LOT more out of this experience than simply design feedback.

Something else that interested me was Jason’s target cost of around $80 (USD) for the bike. He pointed out that an Indian made Hero bike, based on a 1913 British military design and commonly used throughout Africa, costs around $65. Rather than rely on donations to subsidize the cost of each bicycle, he wants his design (at least the frame) to be produced locally and compete with the Hero on the free market in a very cost and value sensitive culture.

I am certainly not giving the project the attention it deserves with my quickly written impressions, so again I encourage you to download the pdf and read more. You can also check out Jason’s blog to see how this project continues to develop. I will certainly be following along and look forward to seeing the 2.0 version of his design.

Since I haven’t posted in a week or so, I want to quickly pass along a couple of additional links that I have seen recently.

I mentioned the Factor 001 bike from BERU F1 Systems in a 2007 post. Lately, that bike has been seen all over the internet as it is currently being unveiled at an exhibition in the UK.

Speaking of bike designs making their way around the web, these tensegrity bikes on Core have been getting some attention. If you are not familiar with term tensegrity, take a look at the wikipedia entry or better yet Kenneth Snelson’s website. I just happened to finish reading “The Mind’s Eye of Buckminster Fuller” by Donald Robertson (one of Bucky’s former patent attorneys), so the concept of tension and compression structures was fresh in mind when I saw these two bike concepts.

I have quite a few more links to pass along, but the post is getting long so those will have to wait until next week. Speaking of next week, don’t forget that the Taipei International Cycle Show starts on Tuesday. I will be looking forward to seeing what is new and interesting at that show.

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James Thomas

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3 Comments

  1. David on Formosa March 13, 2009 at 5:20 am -  Reply

    Thanks for the wonderful story from Uganda. I’ll be at the Taipei Cycle Show next week too. I just posted a report on my blog about Taipei’s new bike sharing system with some comments on design.

  2. Anonymous March 13, 2009 at 10:17 am -  Reply

    Tensegrity – an interesting concept yet to be successfully developed into a dynamically acceptable bike.

    The arrangements that have so far been designed are always going to be very poor in torsion.

  3. Benjamin May 19, 2009 at 9:41 am -  Reply

    Nice work and good intentions, but this is reinventing something that already exists. The Mundo Cargo Bike already mass produced and distributed in Africa
    http://yubaride.com
    or the work from worldbike, http://worldbike.org

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