AfricaBike - Enabling education in Africa

A big thanks to these companies for supporting this project throughout.

The final year Made in Brunel team

The final year Made in Brunel team

AfricaBike was an 8 month project and it was the focus of my final year at Brunel University and my final piece of academic study. We are encourage to work with companies in our final year and many of the students shown above also worked on collaborative companies designing for a company and a real world problem.

The Bikes4Africa Bike Shed

The Bikes4Africa Bike Shed

Bikes4Africa are a UK based charity who collect second hand bikes, restore them, and then ship them to The Gambia. A country located in west Africa. So far they have shipped over 13,000 Bikes! They main aim is to supply the bikes to school children to enable then to receive education from a school that is often many miles from home.

Damaged bikes on a back street in The Gambia

Damaged bikes on a back street in The Gambia

This system works relatively well however these second hand bikes are not designed for the African environment so become damaged easily. The children also tend to push the bikes to their limits with kids riding on the back, and by putting very heavy loads on the bikes. The main problem is that when components brake it can be near impossible to buy components as they have very little variation it what can be bought.


Halfway through the project I visited The Gambia to conduct Ethnography research and test the first prototype. Please watch it and then continue reading to find out how I reached that stage.


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To assist with the project I looked into how to design for emerging markets and the theory of Bottom of Pyramid design. This lead to the creation of a design process that was used throughout the project.

This process was based upon the IDEO HCD process but was expanded on to allow for some more in depth testing and commercial analysis.

Apparently demonstrating how to ride a bike to the clients

Apparently demonstrating how to ride a bike to the clients

To begin the process I conducted a number of interviews with people from Bikes4Africa who had lived and worked in The Gambia to find out what the core problems were.

It quickly became apparent how unsuitable old second hand bikes were for the scenario. These bikes are pushed way beyond their intended limits and most are decades old with their components nearing the end of their lives. It became clear there were a number of areas to explore.


Areas of opportunity

A bike that is suited for the usage scenario

A frame that uses available locally available components

A bike that can be repaired with ease

A frame that can be adapted to suit the users needs 


Prototype 1.0

Prototype 1.0

Before starting on initial ideas it was decided to select a frame an adapt it to fit components that were thought to be the best for Africa. This frame included many cheap parts that were assumed to be locally available and also relatively hard wearing.

Initial sketching

Initial sketching

Ideas for a frame design were drawn out quickly to flesh out ideas on possible solutions. Some ideas were selected for further development and then fed back to the client.

Quick and dirty prototyping

Quick and dirty prototyping

Basic prototypes were used to get an idea of the overall frame size and to develop the a rear structural pannier rack. This allowed for small iterations to be made quickly.

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Moving from initial models to the second prototype I decided to adapt the frame used for the first prototype, adding a structural pannier rack and chain guard to the existing frame. The drop style frame will allow it to be used by kids of all ages and as being made from steel will make it easy to be repaired. With the help of the Made in Brunel technicians, this was made in the university workshops.

The frame design of Prototype 2.0 once it was powder coated and fitted out with the original components from Prototype 1.0. This frame was put together to allow me to take it to The Gambia for a week long test period. This time would allow me to get feedback on the frame design and to conduct ethnography research.

One of the main markets in Gunjur

One of the main markets in Gunjur

Funding from the Dave Granshaw Foundation and the James Dyson Foundation allowed me to take the second prototype for testing. This gave me the opportunity to gain many insights.


Areas of research

Gain understanding how people live life in The Gambia

Talk to the children who use the bikes

Work alongside the mechanics who mend the bikes

Test the initial prototype in the actual environment 


A family I lived with preparing a meal together

A family I lived with preparing a meal together

The main Bikes4Africa workshop where the school bikes are repaired

The main Bikes4Africa workshop where the school bikes are repaired

The bikes come in very bad condition and brute force is often needed for repairs

The bikes come in very bad condition and brute force is often needed for repairs

The workshop is considerably better equipped than the majority of local workshops

The workshop is considerably better equipped than the majority of local workshops

Myself and the Bikes4Africa workshop team

Myself and the Bikes4Africa workshop team

After spending two days in the workshop and lending the prototype to one of the guys there to use for a few days, these were the key findings.

  • The components that break most regularly are the wheel hubs and bottom brackets.

  • Inner tubes and tires are also a problem but they are easy to repair.

  • Certain parts are easy to get hold of but they are very low quality .

  • Open British Bottom Brackets are the easiest to get hold of. The USA part on the prototype is really hard to replace  .

  • Everyone in the village loved the prototype but they knew it was from the UK as ‘all the best things come from England’.

  • The pannier rack was the best thing about it. It makes it so easy to carry people on. Carrying kids on the back would be great.

  • The thick tires are also really good.

  • Two brakes would be better.

  • The handle bars are considered feminine and may not want to be used by men.

  • The frame is also a female frame and again might not be good for men to ride.

The playground where the bikes were kept at one of the schools visited

The playground where the bikes were kept at one of the schools visited

A typical classroom scene

A typical classroom scene

Talking to some of the kids about their bikes

Talking to some of the kids about their bikes

An example of the pannier racks the kids currently use!

An example of the pannier racks the kids currently use!

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Myself and some of the amazing kids I spoke with

Myself and some of the amazing kids I spoke with

Talking to the children made it so clear how much of a difference a bike brings to their lives. Without them they would not be able to get education, they would not be able to travel far to collect supplies and their parents would not be able to carry heavy goods.

From this store I purchased every single component needed to use on a bicycle frame. Doing this ensured that the final prototype would be compatible with locally sourced parts.

The main design changes from the second prototype were:

  1. Keep the strong pannier rack. It is useful and received great feedback.
  2. Use BMX pegs to make transport easier.
  3. Single speed works great.
  4. The chain guard is useful, but can be added on by the user if needed.
  5. The seat needs to go lower.
  6. Make the frame more masculine.
  7. Use a British BB not a USA one.
  8. Use standard straight handlebars.
  9. Use front and rear brakes.
  10. Ensure it works with large tires.

All these changes were fed into Prototype 3.0. This frame was adapted from a downhill mountain bike in much the same way the second prototype was. However more changes were made to make it suit the needs discovered during testing.

Prototype 3.0

Prototype 3.0

Grips, handlebars, stem and brakes all purchased locally

Grips, handlebars, stem and brakes all purchased locally

Brakes on the front and rear were purchased locally as well

Brakes on the front and rear were purchased locally as well

An incredibly strong pannier rack allows for kids or heavy loads to be carried

An incredibly strong pannier rack allows for kids or heavy loads to be carried

Rear pegs make it easier for the passenger riding on the back

Rear pegs make it easier for the passenger riding on the back

The downhill style frame makes the overall frame more masculine

The downhill style frame makes the overall frame more masculine

A single speed drive system makes maintenance simple

A single speed drive system makes maintenance simple

A quick release seatpost allows young kids and adults to use the bike

A quick release seatpost allows young kids and adults to use the bike

Reflectors around the entirety of the bike improve visibility at night.

Reflectors around the entirety of the bike improve visibility at night.

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Key features

Incredibly strong frame with integrated structural pannier rack

Uses components that can be purchased locally, so only frame needs to be shipped

Can be adapted by the user to suit their actual needs


Final proposal

The drawing below shows the final design concept. In many ways it is extremely similar to the Prototype 3.0 shown above and nearly all features are carried across. Of course the final proposal will be a fully bespoke frame and will be manufactured from raw material, and will not be built upon an existing frame. The pierced tube seat tube will give incredible strength to the overall frame and will make the bike somewhat stronger than Prototype 3.0.

How it will impact people

The aim of the project has always been to bring positive change to the user of the bicycle and the research so far has shown how much of a change it will bring. This new bicycle frame will benefit the users in every single way the current frame does, but due to it’s longevity and component compatibility will enable them to use it for longer without the great risk of degradation. Components can be replaced as needed, and now it will be possible to do it locally. The ownership is simplified allowing them to use it every single day with minimised problems.

How it will impact the local economy

Throughout the project I have always been concerned that creating a frame that would need less maintenance would stop local bicycle mechanics receiving work. However if anything the new frame will improve this market. As all the components are not included with the frame, it will require the users to purchase these, thus driving money into the local economy that would not of happened before. My research has shown how these components are usually very low quality and will need replacing regularly and this will mean the economy will be constantly stimulated by these bikes; even if they saturate the market. There is also no worry for the users not being able to afford the parts as replacing cheap components regularly is much more preferable than having to invest heavily in better components less often.

How it will impact Bikes4Africa

The new frame will simplify their current system allowing the frames to be purchased in Asia and shipped directly to The Gambia. These hands off approach will allow them to focus their energy on managing the distribution system and perhaps improving it. 



Rob Bye

Rob Bye, London, United Kingdom

Industrial design and a co-founder of morrama. He has worked at startups and top companies such seymourpowell.