In Tandem with Africa and Asia
Not only building bicylces but changing lives: A visit to Zambikes
A punchy claim from a 26 year old Californian who looks like he had just stepped off the latest series of baywatch but one that I think can certainly be justified by Africa's leading manufacturer of bamboo bikes...
I first came across one of Zambia's bright yellow Zambikes when I was visiting Beyond Ourselves projects in the copperbelt last summer. At the time, I was contemplating putting together a group ride (link to video/blog) on local bikes that we could then donate to the schools. They would need to be good enough for unfit Londoners (no offence Jono & team!) to cycle 900km in 9 days but not too expensive or flashy to be inappropriate for the students & teachers. The bikes, affectionately known as Amaka Sana ( translated as "very strong") seemed to fit the bill, after a 50m trial ride around the j31. Of course, I knew that I would be cycling Thandie so it wouldn't be me suffering the following summer!
1) A student from Janna School enjoys a ride on the zambike. 2) Danni, the Zambikes mechanic, who helped on the group ride
When I subsequently sent a message to Dustin Mcbribe, founder and director of Zambikes in the Autumn of last year, his enthusiastic but professional response confirmed my gut that we could develop a successful partnership for the ride. Dozens of emails & telephone conversations later, it was great to finally meet him and his team. To think that he came out and set up this enterprise, fresh out of college with his business partner Vaughan, speaks volumes and certainly is something that would have been beyond me 10 years ago. If we always did things within our comfort zones, I thought to myself, wouldn't the world be a boring place.
I had organised to meet up with Tikki, Zambikes' sparky head of sales at Radio Phoenix's studio in town, where we did a brief interview with report Billy Kasoka. The station is one of Zambia's independent radio stations, and we hopefully provided a welcome break from the election fever that was fast gathering momentum ahead of the 20th September vote.
3) Interview at Radio Phoenix
Tikki then gave me a lift out to the assembly plant, some 15kms out of town. Dustin had arrived here and built it from scratch in 2008, alongside his house - an elegantly designed but simple structure where he & Vaughan and what seemed to be a constant stream of visitors abode during the year. Anton, who ran the plant gave me a tour and patiently talked me through the production process. Having cut the bamboo, it is then treated, dried and put in a jig. It is then wrapped with hemp and epoxy, dried and sanded to perfection. Finally, it is painted wit two coats of poly-euothene coat to keep it 100% weatherproof.Interesting, a group at Columbia University in New York are researching the viability of ramping up bicycle manufacturing from Bamboo.
4) Anton with a Bamboo frame
It is a labour intensive process but the finished article, fitted with carbon forks and high quality shimano componentry, makes for a great ride and is making inroads into the US & European market at $1500 a bike. I'm looking forward to getting one when I get home, if I have any money left over!!
As well as the signatory bamboo bikes, their standard model Amaka Sana is simply made from sturdy steel and assembled at the same plant. They also make a Njovu (meaning Elephant), designed to carry 300 kgs. Given how many goods are transported to market on bicycles, this model is a great help to traders trying to get a competitive advantage on their rivals. Their other model, the 'zambulanace, is used to help get rural patients and pregnant women to clinics. I was skeptical of this at first but the evidence Dustin provided seems to suggest it plays an important role. It was this idea that he seemed most passionate about. There are over 900 Zambulances throughout Zambia right now being used to help sick & pregnant people get to and from rural clinics.
5) A Zambulance - comfy but fingers crossed I don't need to use one..
All the best to Dustin & his team with their next 5 years in Zambia, hopefully expanding production & providing sustainable employment in this region. The world needs more people like him. You can find out more about Zambike at www.akerfa.org