We’re in awe of the Qhubeka initiative, which is a project, originally founded by Johannesburg businessman, Anthony Fitzhenry, to help mobilise poor, rural South Africans and improve their lives by getting them onto bicycles.
Key to this project, which has achieved great success, but still has a mountain to climb in terms of numbers to still be mobilised, is the Qhubeka Buffalo bicycle. You’ve probably seen them on TV adverts or in MTN stores via MTN’s marketing initiatives. MTN has since moved on, replaced by Dimension Data whose entire team support and promote the Qhubeka initiative.
The Buffalo Bike; bright yellow, no gears, mudguards – not a performance bike, but a utility bike – for obvious reasons.
The bright yellow frame is made from heavy gauge steel tubing, which is weighty, but also durable and, importantly, easy to repair should it ever break. There’s only one frame size with a dip in the top tube to help smaller riders with stand-over space. The stem and handlebars as well as saddle height are all adjustable to fine-tune rider fit.
The bottom bracket is high quality and sealed to ensure longevity and the brake system is the back-pedal/coaster type, which is also low-maintenance and durable. The wheels are made with steel spokes and rims allowing them to be able to carry a weight of up to 150kg per wheel. The tyres are robust to make them puncture resistant and have a knobbly tread for improved traction on gravel roads and footpaths.
The mudguards and chainguard offer obvious rider protection, while the saddle is made to be comfortable and long lasting. The drivetrain is a 39×20 with 170mm cranks and flat pedals.
The carrier is strong and able to carry a load of up to 100kg, while the spring-activated kickstand is designed with a locking mechanism to ensure the bike is stable when stationary to make loading the carrier easier.
A great deal of thought as well as a deep understanding of the potential uses have gone into the design of the Qhubeka Buffalo Bike, which is largely made in China with some parts made in South Africa. Each bike is assembled in South Africa giving employment to people who take pride in ensuring each bike is ready to ride when it reaches its owner.
Obviously our testers are accustomed to test riding high performance mountain bikes. So climbing onto a utility bike felt rather strange. But when you consider that most recipients of Buffalo Bicycles have never ridden a bicycle before and have spent most of their lives walking everywhere, then this would feel like flying…
Once the pain had subsided from banging our shins on the carrier during the mount (and later the dismount) and we’d accepted that the riding position is more laid-back and one of comfort, we pointed the Buffalo Bike onto some off-road routes.
As with any singlespeed bike, you need to anticipate well, or be prepared to push. Pushing wasn’t really something we wanted to do – the bike weighs 23.14kg – so we just pedalled harder and had to stand a lot to get up longer climbs. The flat pedals mean you have to really make the most of the downstroke and we had some tender quad muscles the following day. Not complaining. Just saying – it’s a good workout!
Descending? Well let’s just say that it required caution. Because the bike is heavy, it picks up a reasonable amount of speed quite quickly, but you need to govern it by using the coaster brake, well before the tight turn at the bottom…
In corners, your weight is well back, so the front end isn’t super stable and requires some caution and concentration. Remember, it’s a utility bike, not a race bike. Speed isn’t a priority.
Pedalling is pleasingly smooth and the fact that there’s a high quality bottom bracket and decent crankset are vital here. These are often the first things to fail on low-priced bikes – and can be difficult to repair.
The Buffalo bike is an exceptionally well designed and appropriately specced bike, with a number of well thought out features that many of us would take for granted.
It’s proven in the South African bush to be a reliable form of low-maintenance transport. It has left a big impact on us, partly because of how reliable and practical it is, but mostly because we got to experience the bicycle that can significantly improve lives.
Note: You can buy a Qhubeka Buffalo Bicycle for yourself, but it would make sense to buy one for someone else whose life could be completely transformed by having it. We think that’s so cool. You can find more information on this upliftment initiative at www.qhubeka.org. For more on the Buffalo Bicycle, visit www.buffalobicycle.com
More than just the bike
Each Qhubeka Buffalo Bicycle comes with a helmet, a pump and a cable-lock and a small tool for basic maintenance. To ensure that bicycle owners have access to local, qualified repair service, Qhubeka has developed a Field Mechanics Training Program to accompany bicycle distribution. Mechanics are trained in bicycle assembly, maintenance and repair as well as basic business, marketing and management skills. Each trained mechanic receives a set of bicycle tools, and some mechanics establish businesses and purchase a stock of spare parts.
Essentially ‘Everesting‘ comprises of rider or riders ascending and descending a given hill multiple times to accumulate 8848 meters of ascent, equivalent to the elevation of Mt Everest.
Passionate cyclist Kevin (Benky) Benkenstein has organised three group Everestings in three Cities in three provinces (Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal), over three consecutive weekends with the goal of raising 30 Bicycles (R85,500) for the Qhubeka cause. To find out how to support or donate go to; Climbing for Qhubeka 3: 3 Cities in 3 weeks for 30 bikes. The second leg in the series starts at 7pm on 16/09/2016 at the Sentech Tower in Johannesburg (Gauteng event)
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*Originally published in TREAD Soul Provider Issue 32, 2014 – All rights reserved