#28: Bicycles for children or families?

“Child can still walk to school, at least there will be more food, electricity and maybe new shoes in the meantime”.

What works better: offering a bicycle to a child to go to school or giving it to a household and they will decide how to use it?

A year ago Kristen Wilkins said something very interesting in a tweet.

Which got me thinking again about what’s happening in the distribution of bicycles as a means of getting around. So, the first thing that came to mind was the Shova Kalula campaign which sort of allocated bicycles to children who have moderate commutes to school. While the project itself doesn’t account for topography, and energy. For example, cycling 2km or 5km for a 15 year old is not the same for a 9, or even a 7 year old. Cycling on a steep gradient for 2km may need as much or more energy as cycling more than 3km for any age group. Which is why gears are important. What most teachers in our schools don’t want to deal with are tired kids climbing mountains to get to school because their bicycles don’t have gears.

On the other hand, what happens in a house without a private car, and public transport per day costs as much as a loaf of bread or 5kg of pap? It makes almost perfect sense to take the donated bike as a parent and use it to conduct that extra business the family needs. “Child can still walk to school, at least there will be more food, electricity and maybe new shoes in the meantime”. The policy didn’t think like that. Bicycles are for everyone, and gears are so important.

Took this after one of the construction working men parked it up at under the tree. It was actually perfect. This is a Shova Kalula bicycle. Designed to be handed of over to children. But I can genuinely grasp why it’s so important for this working man. It helps him weave trips between clients, contacts and commitments. Some are financial, others social— but these connections add up to feed home. Child can continue walking for now until the initiative grasps how the equality of mobility and access are at household level—not based on trip purpose.

Bicycles with gears are tremendously handy for any cycling person because they sort of help with the hills you just aren’t ready to face. But that too takes a bit of skill to figure out. Which is exactly what makes electric bicycles so amazing, right? Just ride and get a boost along the way! No. Or these super scooters, just glide on them and get around freely! No. Or better yet, bike sharing! We share the bicycles through some kind of app, I don’t need to own one! Yebo, that cuts all the maintenance and wear and tear issues all the way to the side, like in Miami, Lyon, London– everywhere!

Cycling lessons and road bike maintenance are part of the untranslated policy puzzle pieces around here.

No. In Africa cycling is a powerful propeller for significant economic shifts in households. As an industry, it’s a catalyst for new skills, exports and the genuine excuse to at least process domestic iron ore to make something. There was a time, according to a local historian, when Specialized manufactured bicycles in Bophutatswana, now the North West Province. Today, Qubeka manufactures bicycles in a Klerksdorp but not at the potential scale–last October the argued for more investment in their efforts. The UK’s cycling economy is just mind blowing economic benefit they argue sits at 4:1 (for every £1, £4 of benefits are expected)– plus 64 000 jobs. There’s a long list of reports that persist along the lines of: the more frequently people cycle the greater their likelihood of adding better quality value longer and more consistently– on average. In Africa however the benefits could potentially be much, much, much greater than I’ve actually spent enough time to think about.

Fat burning ideas to fuel our economy in one cycle

A few things worth doing to fundamentally shift the cycling industry in SA:

  • Priority treatment at intersections through intelligence, normalization and bike lanes that are not in conflict with city logistics;
  • Cycling lessons being part of each and every school and learners license test (if you can’t cooperate on bike don’t bother driving);
  • Bicycle maintenance as part of the “technology” module in primary schools– I’ve seen my nephews tear bicycles apart just to see if they could fix them. Professional maintenance should be part and parcel of the social fabric– almost as frequent as wheel alignment, car mechanics and tyre pump stations are.
  • Industrial incentives for the bicycle and cycling value chain.

*slime has to do with a liquid in tubeless bicycle tires.

Older riders are cool with baskets and extra tubes. Slime hasn’t leaked here yet unless if you’re sporty. More students are finally cycling between punctures and repairing.

I took this one afternoon when I realized that this old Tyma is basically cycling faster than we could move in traffic. Small town traffic congestion. What a joke. Every driver at that moment must have felt extremely ridiculous and just downright comforted by the radio, leather seats and the expectation that after this intersection “I’ll be driving faster than he could paddle”.
But when I realized that he was at some point waving at us. Waving farewell! Waving at the sad state of the unfit time-horders with access to excess, I laughed with my passengers that day. It was such an iconic moment. I don’t think other drivers thought that their sculptures held time for them. It’s just that very few see the other side of riding.
Then we have the ice cream bike that glides around our neighborhoods spreading the much needed chill on hot summer days. Well lately the ride parade is more diverse, but these cyclists are the boss. What they did was second to the ice-cream truck. Stopping them on site can surely ring a few bells. This is a classic one though. There’s a couple in Ola branded bicycles with umbrellas too. Their personality and perspective just chills you out even more: how cool are you riding all day in the sun?
This boy rides, whole heartedly, without fear. I found him in Signal Hill, one neighborhood in Mahikeng. He rides like wild. Barefoot, knucklehead and fully open to the true colours of his ride. I can not imagine another rider. But here is the catch, he is riding in a small way on the tarmac: there are no bike-lanes here.
Note on this Madala: cargo is key– his entire home is on his bicycle. Fully loaded without fear, and face first in the sun. Do I see courage? Well sort of. More patience than anything else. Most people would rather not dare bear their own baggage. It’s really hard to do that.

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