Thank you for joining us as we again look at the Congo Transport to Market Bicycle Project Update. Chuck Regier and Craig Calfee traveled to Congo in July 2015. Last week we learned of their initial observations on the work. This week we continue with the following excerpts taken from their 2015 report. These excerpts have been edited for clarity on our website.
Chuck and Craig began their work with a team meeting (see photo above) to review the project since their visit in 2013. They discussed what worked (click here to see last week’s blog), what the problems were, and how the bikes could be improved.
Main technical/hardware problems:
• Freewheels were not all functioning. Most bicycles being used in the village had the chains removed when pushing loads—freewheels it appears are not meant to be coasted continuously.
• Infinitely variable hub. Team appreciated having variable speeds, and the basic hub seems to hold up well. Work needed on a simplified more durable shifter to allow effective use of these hubs.
• Most of the brakes had worn out or were not working. We reviewed the process of how brakes should be installed. Brake pads are not expensive. There are lots of replacements in inventory so keeping brakes operational should be possible.
• Several of the frames showed signs of insect activity and three bicycles had broken chain stays. We repaired all of these frames. How the bamboo is cured and how to treat/protect existing frames both from insects and water will be reviewed.
• Some issues with headset, crank bearings and chain ring connection were observed. Assembly is different than the existing Chinese bicycles. It was confirmed that keeping the crank and headsets adjusted and replacing worn bushings is critical.
• Inventory and storage is a challenge. Small plastic bins were purchased in the market for parts storage and storage organization was discussed. Additional dividers and boxes for this purpose were made. An inventory was developed of all parts in stock, indicating how many bikes could be made with parts on hand, and which parts were short, and a list of the spare parts on hand.
• The existing bamboo bicycles had really been tested to see if the local bamboo could make a true bicycle. People wanted to see how strong they were so they were loaded with up to 700 kilos. When the people understood their bikes and took care of them, they lasted longer.
• There is a market for these bamboo bicycles. People are impressed when they see them and the bikes always draw a crowd.
• Travel can be slow because of the questions and interest from people along the way.
• Team members complained because people want to take their bikes and ride them. Therefore the bicycles must be locked up.
• In addition to the local market around Khoma and UPDAP’s area of operation (UPDAP is the project’s Congolese partner), marketing to larger organizations with interest and capacity to invest for longer term benefits in their own larger country operations should be considered. One bicycle was purchased from the cooperative and taken to Kinshasa to be used to promote the concept and see if other individuals, organizations or businesses would be interested in using and/or producing these transport bicycles.
Join us next Thursday for Part 3 of this series.