:: Specific Design Brief
Equipment - further information
PRODUCT DESIGN – TEXTILES KENYA
- POTENTIAL PROJECTS
The business of bicycle taxis
There are currently some 5000 bicycle taxi operators in the Kisumu area. They
can make between 300 and 400 Ksh per day. With that they support a household
that usually has two or three more people. They charge a fee according to the
distance travelled with an average of 5Ksh per kilometre. They sometimes make an
additional charge for carrying baggage but don't differentiate according to the
weight of the passenger! Sometimes it isn't possible to carry both the person
and their baggage, so they combine with another operator and split the fee.
Men always ride astride the bikes. Older women prefer to ride side-saddle,
whilst younger ones tend to ride astride and tuck their skirt in between their
There is plenty of demand for their trade, all through the day, though some of
the older operators complain that times are bad as more and more people own
their own bicycles and more people have turned to bicycle taxis to make a
living. Everywhere you go in Kisumu you will see bicycle taxis operating. The
whole town seems to depend on bicycles. Cars are rare compared with the UK and
cost millions of Kenyan shillings. Everyone aspires to be a car owner, few make
The taxis are unlicensed but the authorities turn a blind eye to the trade. It
is not in their interests to try to stop it. However, some people think they are
a menace as they do cause accidents. All the drivers I saw were men. Women do
ride bicycles but there are no drivers that people have seen. They need a lot of
strength to ride with a passenger. George, who showed me round, found the
modified machine difficult to ride even without a passenger.
How is a bicycle taxi different from an ordinary
When the bicycles (which are usually imported) are originally bought, they don't
have a strong enough support for carrying people. They are therefore modified
locally by the many bicycle repair businesses throughout Kisumu. The original
bicycle can be bought for between 2600 and 6000Ksh. They can be modified for a
further 850-1000Ksh, including fitting.
The front and back wheels are strengthened with additional supporting struts
(see photographs) and a stronger replacement carrier is fitted above the rear
wheel. The front support costs about 150Ksh and the rear support 250Ksh. A
padded seat (which can be removed) costs around 350Ksh whilst an adjustment to
the seat, which enables it to be moved forward to accommodate some luggage as
well as a passenger, will cost another 100Ksh. As part of the additional rear
support, a footrest is fitted to each side. All this additional work is done
locally. The additional products are also made locally, using local materials.
What are the problems with the current bicycle taxis?
There are no gears on the bikes, whether modified or not. This makes journeys
with heavy people and heavy weights extremely tough. When there is a hill, the
passenger would have to dismount and both would walk. Bikes with gears are too
costly for them to afford (as much as five times as expensive) and their way of
life encourages people to live for today rather than to invest for tomorrow. Old
habits take a very long time to change. Introducing the bicycle taxi was hard to
achieve. Now they are accepted, another change will be just as tricky. Recent
research suggested that to add gears would be as costly as to add a small motor.
The operators reckon they can carry up to 100 kilos weight though they admit
that the top end of the scale is very hard work.
What would be an ideal bicycle?
• fitted with a small motor that could be used when necessary
• still cheap enough for them to be prepared to make the investment (max
• sufficiently sophisticated to overcome the prejudice that they are only for
poor people (currently the better educated, better off prefer to walk to the
main roads and wait to be crammed into the local minibuses, mutatu, even though
that takes longer and involves more effort on their part)
• would enable them to carry heavier loads without adding greatly to the effort
• would enable them to carry loads as well as a passenger more easily than they
can at present
• would give the passenger more comfort and protection
• would not add greatly to the weight of the bicycle itself
• would have an easily removable seat to allow transporting baggage instead