I started The Bicycle Academy in 2011 with the desire to “make framebuilding more accessible”, and if at all possible to do so in a way that would benefit others who were most in need. Before starting The Bicycle Academy I had either volunteered or raised money for a few different charities that provide people in Africa with bicycles, so offering to support these charities by providing bicycle frames seemed like a great idea and it was very well received. I came up with the “Make a bike. Make a difference” idea: a course where people learn how to build a bicycle frame, keep the skills and give their first bike to someone who really needs it.
I based the TBA Africa bike on the Buffalo Bike, which is designed specifically for people in Africa. It’s the most widely distributed bike in Africa so I made sure that the TBA bike uses all of the same standardised components. It’s tough, and thanks to the fantastic standard components it uses it can last for five years without much maintenance. The tyres are puncture-resistant – good for travelling over rugged ground. The design is simple, so it’s easy to look after and it doesn’t need lots of fiddly parts if anything does go wrong. It’s strong, so it can carry heavy loads. And it’s flexible, so it can be used for all kinds of different things like going to school or work, collecting food and water, helping health workers get from A to B, and even as an ambulance.
We opened our doors in July 2012 and so far more than 150 high quality, purpose built, steel bicycle frames have been made thanks to help and support of every “Africa Bike” course student and all of our crowdfunding backers. It’s taken a tremendous amount of work to get this far, but it’s been very worthwhile and each of our students have developed many wonderful skills along the way.
So far we’ve covered the cost of all materials used to make all of the frames and forks, and we’re pleased to say that we have now secured transportation of the frames from the UK to Africa. In the meantime the frames are being stored here at The Bicycle Academy in a big rack ready to undergo the next stages of their journey towards being given to people in need.
We are fully supportive of each of the charities that have been linked to this project at different times and greatly admire the fantastic work that they do. Our original plan was to work with a charity that would ship and assemble the frames into ready-to-ride bicycles. We’ve secured a source for the components; a charity that’s based in Africa that will supply them at their cost price, but what we are yet to find is an organisation or charity that can fund the purchase of these components, so we’d love to hear from you if you can help us to do so. Finding willing recipients for the bikes is straightforward, as many projects have expressed a real interest in taking the bikes. Completing and delivering the bikes to those most in need is a big logistical challenge, but one which we have always been and remain completely committed to.
We’re really looking forward to seeing the bikes in action and will update you all as we continue to make progress.