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African Bicycle Design Contest Winner- TU Delft

Team Delft trailer with modular cargo boxes

Team Delft trailer

The team from the Delft University of Technology won the African Bicycle Design Contest last Friday with a simple trailer design which features a modular box system to keep the cargo secure and separated. The idea for the modular containers was based on the team’s research into the transportation needs of local farmers and fishermen as well as the workflow of the current boda-boda (bicycle taxi) drivers. The simple modular trailer solution allows the boda-boda drivers to easily combine trips while keeping the various cargo loads (crops, fish, water, etc.) separated. Faster and safer transport means more income for the farmers and fishermen as well as for the boda-boda drivers, who are able to expand their business to include more cargo transport in addition to passengers.

The team put together a great presentation documenting their research, development, and proposal for implementation. Part of their business plan is to set up a “boda-boda association” which will handle the logistics of pick-ups and deliveries like a central courier service. By combining trips in nearby areas, and maximizing the efficiency of their routes, the boda-boda drivers can make more money and customers can receive goods (often perishable goods) faster. In addition to administration, the association will also function as a central hub for bike and trailer repair.

Team Delft trailer prototype

Photo credit: JanBeeldrijk on Flickr

Unfortunately, the team did not put as much time into their final prototype, which was quite rough and will need to be developed further. The jury was able to overlook the deficiencies in the prototype though based the team’s understanding of the transportation needs of the local people and their proposed solution for addressing those needs within the framework of the Kenyon economy.

As a member of the jury (judging the proposals from afar), this trailer concept was not my top choice, but I am coming around the more I consider it. From a design standpoint, the Delft team trailer was not the most exciting entry (in my opinion), but it was well thought out and feasible to implement quickly using local material and labor resources. After seeing the team’s presentation last Friday, the other jury members summarized the reason for picking this concept:

“The reason that this team has won the competition is because it scores well on context analysis, business proposal and affordability. It’s not only a nice product design, but also the business-case is well developed regarding the African context. A bicycle trailer isn’t very sophisticated or innovative, but above all simple, sustainable, affordable and it meets the demands of African families. According to the jury that’s the right mix for a successful product for the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ in Africa.”

I encourage you to read more about the winning entry, and see the concepts from the other finalists, in the African Bicycle Design Contest Jury Report Finals document. The TU Delft team will now travel to Kisumu, Kenya to refine the final design, train local mechanics, and start production of their trailer in the Cycling Blue Workshop. The idea is to set up the business plan and production so that it can continue locally long after the student team leaves Kenya. I’ll be looking forward to seeing how the Delft team project evolves from this point, and I will follow up in a future post once it is up and running.

By the way, the winning team is not the only one that is moving forward with their concept. Even though they didn’t win, the team from Michigan Tech also plans to implement their business plan in Kenya under the leadership of one of the participating students. More about that in a future post, but I really do hope that all of the teams will consider continuing the work that they started for this competition. There are certainly many people in Africa who could benefit from these ideas, so it is good to know that the final award presentation was really just the beginning.

Posted in Concept, Student Design, Utility.

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10 Responses

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  1. patrick says

    anyone else notice that flatted right tire?

    • James Thomas says

      Yep, that’s just one small issue with the prototype from what I heard. Like I said, it was a bit unrefined.

  2. Nick F says

    Unfortunate that the prototype and ideas didn’t finish strong together, but I guess it’s the ideas that count in the long run.

    I have my doubts about that hitch they’ve devised though… If research was this teams strong suit, they should have seen that virtually any bicycle trailer in existence has a simpler, more versatile, less cumbersome hitch mechanism. Especially since their concept stresses supporting the boda-boda industry (meaning a rider behind the driver) it is sort of confounding that they have the hitch arm right where the passenger would be sitting.

    Tip TU Delft: Knock off any version of a Burley hitch in sheet metal, and have it attach to the non-drive side chainstay/seatstay.

    • art says

      The problem with the Burley hitch is that it’s only versatile for working with bikes. It’s not shown in the rendering, but this prototype also has a grab handle on the hitch. It can be pulled by a person on foot.

      • Nick F says

        Good point. Didn’t see that aspect of the presentation. They can still use a better hitch mechanism though, as well as have it connect to the chainstay.

        If they moved the separation point on the trailer arm (as seen by two bolts in the photos) lower, towards the trailer, past the 70° bend, and drilled a second set of holes 90° off from the first, the trailer arm could have two positions -one where it traveled upwards as is currently shown for carrying on foot – and then a second position where the bend of the trailer arm travels parallel to the ground and attaches at the chainstay. This wouldn’t require any extra material or design, simply two additional holes.

  3. Johann Rissik says

    I just love it when “The North” designs for “The South” …..and then get bonus points for showing an “understanding” of the needs of the South. Gotta love it. And that prototype with a puncture, that’s downright sloppy. I wonder why “the Africans” didn’t think of it first? Oh? They did, like wow! Come on folks, an African Bicycle Design Contest? Who’s foolin’ who?

    • James Thomas says

      I understand your skepticism, and I agree that the prototype is quite sloppy (to put it nicely). Like I said in the post…from a design standpoint this solution was not my first choice. I certainly don’t think anyone is being “fooled” by this contest though. This trailer is NOT something that will be developed by a team in Europe and then pushed on the people of Africa. The winning team is going to work collaboratively with local people and organizations in Kenya to implement their solution, and the product and business plan will evolve from there. That one-on-one interaction with the people who will use and build these trailers is where these students are really going to learn something, and in the end, I think everyone will benefit.


      Cycling Out of Poverty
      is definitely not sponsoring the competition just to get publicity or to make a bunch of northern hemisphere designers feel good about themselves. The organization really is trying to make a difference, and I am confident that they will work with the TU Delft team and local organizations like the Cycling Blue Workshop and the African Bicycle Network to make sure that this effort really does benefit the local people. I’m looking forward to see how this project develops, and I will post an update at some point once it has been implemented and fine tuned. In the mean time, any suggestions on how to improve the design can only benefit the winning team…and the people in Kenya.

      • juliano pappalardo says

        In the name of the team I thank you for your attention and comments.
        Nick F, I will tell them the idea of turning the trailer arm, maybe it works nice.
        Johann Risk, I thought sometimes about the North developing `solutions` to the South, I realized that the most important thing in designing is talking to people and letting and helping them design their products, for sure we will learn a lot and then after probably we will help them somehow. Like when you go to stay for some weeks in a house you have never been, at first you try to help cleaning the dishes, washing the clothes, the last thing you do is changing an aspect you think have to be changed.

        CooP is being the vehicle of this exchange.

        Kind regards

        • Nick F says

          Cool! Good luck taking this to the next level.

  4. Johann Rissik says

    “That one-on-one interaction with the people who will use and build these trailers is where these students are really going to learn something” That’s very true.

    Access to a bike with a trailer can certainly change the life of a person in Africa.



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