Isolation is one of the key elements of poverty; isolated communities have little or no access
to goods and services, and few opportunities to travel beyond their immediate surroundings.
This restricts agricultural productivity, reduces health and educational and limits
opportunities for employment and political opportunity.
Limited financial resource prevents investment in transport maintaining the position of
poverty and isolation. Consequently, there is a need to develop alternative, more affordable
means of transport
Developing such systems requires
consideration of four key elements:
• the improvement of village
level infrastructure such as
paths, tracks, and footbridges
• the provision of adequate and
affordable rural transport
• the siting of services closer to
the communities, thereby
removing or reducing the need
for lengthy travel the
promotion and use of
intermediate means of
transport including; pack
animals, sledges, animal carts,
cycle based transport and some
low cost motorised devices. One
of the more common types
of intermediate transport is
Figure 1: Cyclist carrying mattresses, Puttalam
District. An example of ordinary bicycle used to
transport difficult loads. Photo: Practical Action.
Bicycles are a low cost means of transport that can improve access to water, health facilities
and, for example, address stove marketing problems faced by woman producer groups in
The bicycle is still expensive for poorer families in Africa and can cost between 20 to over
100 per cent of a rural household’s annual income. Therefore, transport needs to be
supported by an affordable system of manufacture, supply, and repair.
Affordability is related to the availability of spare parts and repair services, which are
sometime lacking in rural areas. Several projects have attempted to boost local economics by
encouraging artisanal production of suitable transport and improve the local capabilities of
metal workers to maintain and repair bicycles and other types of transport.
Practical Action, The Schumacher Centre, Bourton on Dunsmore, Rugby, Warwickshire, CV23 9QZ, UK
T +44 (0)1926 634400 | F +44 (0)1926 634401 | E firstname.lastname@example.org | W www.practicalaction.org
Practical Action is a registered charity and company limited by guarantee.
Company Reg. No. 871954, England | Reg. Charity No.247257 | VAT No. 880 9924 76 |
Patron HRH The Prince of Wales, KG, KT, GCB
The carrying capacity of the bicycle can be greatly increased by attaching panniers either side
of the wheel. However, the loads in the panniers must be reasonably well balanced. Panniers
are particularly suited to carrying containers such as used for carrying water.
Panniers may simply be sacks or woven baskets hung from lengths of wood or bamboo fixed
across the carrier or may be frames manufactured from wood or steel. They need to be as
light as possible.
The design shown is a steel frame, which may be either welded or pinned together so that it
can be folded up when it is not in use.
The base and sides may be filled in with wire mesh (weldmesh), wooden slats or canvas type
material. The ends can be filled in on fixed panniers but not on fold-up designs.
Carriers need to be
Make the inner
Figure 2: Construction of panniers
These low cost adaptations of standard bicycles enable larger and more bulky loads to be
carried on an extended rear carrier.
The load that can be carried is limited by the strength of the rear wheel and tyre. A
strengthened wheel can be used so that the limiting factor is the load capacity of the tyre.
Extended cycle user, W Aloysius
Fernando, cultivator of mainly
plantains & peanuts, sells
peanuts in nearby towns. With
the extended cycle, he can now
transport enough to meet
demand (1200 packets as
oppose to 400 packets on his
original bicycle). With increased
business earnings he began to
cultivate a larger area of land
and could hire a peanut shelling
Figure 3: Extended bicycle
Photo: Practical Action
This particular bicycle adaptation requires; the chain to be lengthened, the brackets for the
rear break to be moved, and the brake rods to be lengthened. The frame does not have to be
cut or modified in any way.
Bolt to bicycle
Bolt to Frame
Wheel support frame
Figure 4: Construction of extension for a standard bicycle
by 250 mm
Construction of extension with small (20”) rear wheel
The advantages of a small rear wheel are; there is more space for the load, the load is lower
and easier to balance, the wheel is stronger, and the bicycle is easier to pedal. The main
disadvantage is that the smaller wheel does not ride as easily over pumps and potholes.
Figure 5: Construction of extension with small (20”) rear wheel
Carrier & container
Bolt to bicycle frame
at these points
Carrier & container
The Bicycle taxi or boda boda has become popular in Uganda and Kenya, they operate for hire
from stands in towns, bus stops and market centres. The name boda boda is said to come
from the time when the East African Community existed and there was free movement across
the boarder between Uganda and Kenya. Travellers were offered transport to the boarder by
bicycle-riders shouting ‘Border Border’ to attract passengers.
Converting a bicycle to a taxi requires reinforced forks, stronger brakes, a passenger seat and
footrests, and cushions. New seat designs enable woman to ride side-addle should help to
Although the work is hard, the operators can earn a living despite a lack of formal education.
The community transport organisation in Ndhiwa and The Kibos Cycle Taxi Association of
Kisumu, Western Kenya worked in conjunction with Practical Action East Africa to:
enhance the safety of bicycle taxis
provide a cycle lane along the Kibos road
set up a mini-medical insurance scheme for passengers and operators
provide a credit scheme and repair fund for the members
References and further reading
Bicycle Trailers Practical Action Technical Brief
Bicycle Ambulances Practical Action Technical Brief
The Design of Bicycle Trailers Ayre,Michael, Practical Action Publishing 1986
Rural Transport in Developing Countries Ian Barwell with G. A. Edmonds et al,
Practical Action Publishing 1985
Low-cost Vehicles: Options for moving people and goods Gordon Hathway, Practical
Action Publishing 1985
Low-cost Load-carrying Devices: The Design & Manufacture of Some Basic Means of
Transport Ron Dennis and Alan Smith Practical Action Publishing 1995
Puncture Prevention Techniques for Low Cost Vehicles Michael Ayre & Alan Smith,
Practical Action Publishing 1987
The Impact of Road Condition on Operating Costs of Bicycles, IT Transport, 2004,
Forum News, IFRTD
A quarterly newsletter looking at the issues of transport with animal power, bridges,
bicycles, gender and transport, financing, engineering, sustainable rural livelihoods,
and community planning. Forum News is produced four times a year in English,
French and Spanish.
Useful contacts and addresses
International Forum for Rural Transport and Development - IFRTD
49-51 East Road
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7250 8323
Fax: +44 (0) 20 7250 8322
The International Forum for Rural Transport and Development is a global network of
individuals and representatives from government, academia, multilateral and bilateral donor
agencies, consultancies and technical institutions, national and international NGOs and
groups of community organisations in Africa, Asia, Europe and North and South America.
I. T. Transport Ltd.
The Old Power Station
Ardington, Nr Wantage
Tel: +44 1235 833753 /821366
Fax: +44 1235 833753/821366
Consultants in transport for rural development
By Neil Noble, Published by Practical Action on 05/02/09