NGOs – Don’t take the bicycle’s name in vain!

My PhD is on community bike projects, so I read a lot of NGO policy. I came across an interesting NGO evaluation of a pilot study undertaken in Uttar Pradesh, India.

As a development professional, educator and community bike advocate, this report entitled: The distribution of Aquatabs through a bicycle entrepreneur model in rural India caught my eye.

Expectations .. bicycle entrepreneur distribution model’

Having previously worked on health and community education programs in developing countries I’m always keen to see how development interventions integrate and use bicycles to further connect promote and support positive community outcomes.

When I saw the title of this report I got excited.

I’m always keen to see what is happening in India as it is a hub of social development innovation and experimentation.

I was also keen to read about the specific focus on the ‘distribution’ aspect of a ‘bicycle’ project – I was expecting to read a lot on the use of bicycles in the communities.

I had visions of local community health and WASH workers riding bicycles around rural communities distributing free water purification tablets increasing community awareness for hygiene and clean water practices.

The report is based on the 2011 pilot of PATH’s Safe Water Project. This project was focused on implementing innovative methods to enable commercial enterprises to produce, distribute, sell, and maintain effective household water treatment and storage (HWTS) products for low-income populations in developing countries. This project brief used ‘the bicycle entrepreneur distribution model’ – and it was one of the first of a number of pilot projects that PATH undertook in India and other countries to overcome distribution and marketing barriers that make it difficult for HWTS manufacturers to reach lower-income households and rural markets.


NGOs - don't take the bicycle name in vain - Bicycles Create
Source: PATH (2011).

So I had a look at the report.

After scanning through the first 20 pages, the frown that had formed on my brow got deeper and more pronounced.

I found the contents of the report challenging to read.

There was scarce little detail as to the use of bicycles. Ultimately, the only reference to the use of bicycles in the whole report was that the 8 salesmen used bicycles to travel around to sell the product.

That was it. That was the extent of how bicycles were used in this project.

Talk about a let down!

It had no detail about if bicycles were provided free of change, at a discount rate, were part of a team fleet,  or if the ‘salesmen’ got to keep the bike afterwards. Nothing!

Sadly, the report was squarely focused on ascertaining commercial marketing and private sector avenues for product sales (of Aquatabs) – and not on assessing the ‘distribution’ or ‘bicycle model’ aspect of the project.

As I read the report, it seems decidedly incongruent with the ‘safe water for rural lower-income communities’ and NGO approach I was expecting to read.  The report reads more like a business/economic assessment of a failed marketing case study rather than the bicycles-helps-developing-community first impression I had. Bummer!

I skimmed over the content as I looked for the content I was interested in – which was how bicycles were used.

I found this on page 7…

In this model, BEs sold Aquatabs to rural consumers at weekly markets and through house-to-house visits.

Then this…

The model was implemented in 200 villages with approximately 67,000 households ver a 12-month period (May 2009 April 2010). Eight BEs serviced this area on bicycles, following pre-determined routes and schedules. The BEs were recruited, trained, and supervised by MART and were paid a monthly stipend of Rs 1,500 in addition to their earnings from Aquatabs sales margins.

Then this on page 18..

NGOs - dont take the bicycle name in vain - Bicycles Create

‘Peddlers’ or ‘health champions’?

I did smile at the irony of a comment regarding training, support and monitoring, whereby:

“Additionally, the BEs felt that their current job lacked pride because they were perceived as “peddlers” (telewalah) rather than health champions, and this limited their ability to interact with local leaders as well as with the community” (p 40).

(Get it…’peddlers’ or ‘bicycle salesmen’..oh dad!  Definitely cultural/vocab humour!)

Where was the ‘bicycle entrepreneur model’ in all this??

In my view, if the bicycle model term was important enough to put into the report heading, it is important enough to explain in more detail that what was provided.

Why is the mode of transportation used to get around important to mention in this project? You don’t see equivalent ‘walking entrepreneur model’ or ‘minibus entrepreneur model’ or ‘(insert mode of transport here) entrepreneur model’ – so what make the bicycle so special to mention here? And if it is special to mention – it’s reasoning needs to be better explained.

It is logical that bicycles would be used in developing contexts for project staff to travel in and around villages. Is this idea still such a revelation that it is still a new idea for NGO practice? I should think not! I was surprised that this was such a basic project feature was so prominently highlighted, yet not explained in this report.

I thought…Maybe it was bad report writing. Maybe the title was deliberately chosen to attract a certain audience. I couldn’t help but be a little miffed by ‘bicycle’ being in the report title where there was no further explanation of its use, especially considering the connotation of bicycles being synonymous with local, grassroots community development.

I felt this was taking the bicycle’s name in vain.

It kind of felt like false advertising. It was akin to supermarkets putting fresh produce into ‘green packaging’, relabelling it as ‘fresh farm produce’ and then charging double to capitalise on the current wholefood/vegan/natural eating health trend.

I ended up having to look elsewhere to find a Project Brief Document that provided some point of reference at least for the role that bicycles had in this project – which was minimal anyway. Surely this should have been in the assessment report? Even after finding this separate document, there was still a lack of detail about the provision, ownership and handover of the bicycle.

Below is as much info about how bicycles were used in this project as the NGO provided:

NGOs - dont take the bicycle name in vain - Bicycles Create

Note to self: Be wary of how ‘bicycles’ are represented in NGO and development documents.

What a disappointing report!

It was a salient reminder for me about the variation in approaches, purposes and communication styles of NGO programs. Equally, although bicycles are used in some NGOs projects, it is not always in the most productive and positive manner – sometimes bikes are just used to ride and get around!

Equally, although bicycles are used in some NGOs projects, it is not always in the most productive and positive manner.

It was a good lesson – a reminder to be vigilant and judicious when seeing that a ‘bicycle’ is included in a project somewhere. Be sure to look more closely and see to what degree the bicycle is actually used before automatically assuming the project is ‘good’ just on the basis that a bicycle is mentioned.

Despite my personal reservations, I am always supportive of more bicycles being used in communities.

Notwithstanding my critique of this particular report, it is still good to see bicycles being better recognised and incorporated into INGO community project discussions.

Viva la use of bicycles to promote greater health and community development!

OTEC E-bike research

This rise of the e-bike is a polarising phenomenon. Some people love them, some people hate them, many don’t care either way. Currently in a number of places in the USA, there is a  concerted interest and investigation into the potentiality of the  e-bike market. One such study was undertaken by OTEC and is particularly interesting as it provided 120 bike set up with GPS tracking as well as engaging the participants in a very interesting survey – the results of which are below.

I have had very little contact with e-bikes. A few years ago, my brother was using an e-bike to get around Melbourne, which, after getting over my initial amazement that my brother had been on a bike (ever – at all), let alone had bought one (even if it was an e-bike) was my first direct contact. I tried his e-bike on a track and was surprised at how comfortable the ride was. I had to admit that, although I am one of those people who has an immediate staunch mountain-biker aversion to e-bikes, I could see how and where there was a place for their use.

Recently I was in a mountain-bike event where one of the competitors was on an e-bike. In my opinion, that was not the time, nor the place for and e-bike. Based on the responses of other competitors, I was not the only one. However, I did find myself recommending to my 74 year-old father, that utilising an e-bike conversion (for uphills) on a tricycle (for stability) was a sound alternative for him to get around and stay active – an idea of which he loved. In the cases where age, mobility restriction, or those who are severely overweight but want to get out and start exercising, I can see the cost-effectiveness, comfort, mobility and access arguments for using e-bikes.

So it was no surprise that the infographic below caught my eye. It is a quick and easy report of the results of an online survey about e-bike usage in Portland, Oregon (one of the most progressive and up-and-coming bike friendly cities in the world). This infographic details in a succinct, balanced and visually appealing way, the responses, concerns and reasons for e-bike use. This is understandable, as it was produced by the Portland State Transportation Research and Education Center, which I applaud for undertaking as an online initiative and in the effectiveness of community awareness raising/promotion of e-bike use. I think this image goes a long way in helping to better explain to those who maybe totally resistant to e-bikes some of the more practical or uncommon dimensions of bike use.

I know many mountain-bikers who completely dismiss e-bikes for a variety of reasons (most often cited are accusations of laziness and ‘cheating’). However, this perspective is a knee-jerk reaction to something new based, and is based on their own personal fitness and lifestyle situation – which is certainly not the experience for millions of other people who may want to get out and about on a bike, but for whatever reason, may not be able to on a conventional bicycle.

To this end, I think this infographic is quite successful in being able to collate and communicate some of the more interesting aspects of e-bikes, so that people can have a better appreciation for such factors.

Source: OTREC
Source: OTREC

Wheels for All -Cycling Projects

Cycling Projects is a national-wide UK charity whose focus is to provide community engagement projects so that all community members have access to cycle on a regular basis, including older people or those with restricted mobility, but especially for people with disabilities.

Wheels for All is their flagship service. It is a great initiative designed to increase the cycling accessibility and level for people with disabilities. This is achieved out of the 50 Wheels For All centres that are dotted throughout England and Wales delivering a select range of programmes and services.

Most inspiringly, these centre provide programs by being fitting out with a fleet of purpose built and adapted cycles that cater for a range of physical, mental and mobility issues. Some bike are modified two, three or four wheelers, some are for individual riders, others cater for pair, trios or four riders as well as bikes that accommodate wheelchair integration , recumbents, hand-powered, pedal-powered and tandem for the visually impaired, to name a few.

These bikes are also unique in that the design is comfortable (and enjoyable) both for the participant and their assisting partner and there is a range of bicycles that can be used depending on the needs of the participant. I was impressed with the range and versatility of the adapted bike that were on offer.

(Ohh, is that Sir Chris Hoy the UK track star in the bottom photo on the left?! I think so!!). At first glance of these bikes involved in these programs, I am immediately impressed that as much as can be given the physical control of the participant, the bicycles are designed so that the participants are physically engaged as much as is possible in the actual propulsion of the bicycle. For me, this is a critical element for projects such as this, otherwise the claim of increasing the opportunity for cycling is not justified if the only person cycling is the participants’ attendee.

I think it is equally important to have a social space in which to ride, (which these programs appear to provide), as well as having an authentic track or place to ride on. This last element for me is very important as cycling is a medium whereby people traverse through space-time geographies, and that is part of the thrill of accomplishment of going for a ride. Additionally, being in an outdoor environment where cyclist can feel the natural elements like the wind, the cold, the rush of an increase in speed or the inertia of a sudden stop are as valuable to the experience as the biological feedback experienced from riding; the heat in generated by the exertion of riding, a little sweat on your brow, the suggestion of tired legs, the way hips might wiggle as your legs go up and down –all come from being on bikes.

In the same vein, those who are unable to physical contribute to the riding, are just as much an asset and receptive to these dynamics. Other similar projects that cater to a different segment of the population, such as Cycling without Age  attest to the insurmountable benefits derived by participants from the excitement of being outdoors, the wind rushing over faces, chasing the person, watching the landscape rolling along beside the bike and just being out and about and part of a normal healthy, positive and social daily activity.

I also think it is brilliant that in May this year, they held their own Wheels for All Conference. I am a big fan of conferences as I think it is a wonderful opportunity for like-minded people to get together, and more so than a festival, to have dedicated and focused time set aside to discuss pressing issues, new developments, extend networks, identify trends and to increase awareness and exchange ideas. It was ingenious to hold this conference in conjunction with the bigger Cycle City Active City Conference that was going on at the same time as well.

Below is a simple 2 min video detailing the main ideas of the project.

Photo image sources:, Lavish Connect &

Japan: Medical Use of Bicycles – enjoyable rehabilitation

by Sachie Togashiki


I found an interesting article about the development of bicycles for rehabilitation for hemiplegic patients. Sufferers of apoplexy, a percentage of which is overrepresented in mortality rate in Japan, tend to have a secondary disease, which is hemiplegic, after surgery. In order to recover from hemiplegia, rehabilitation is needed, but it usually bores patients or needs someone’s help. To solve this problem, two authors, Hiroshi Shoji and Takeshi Aoki at Chiba Institute of Technology, are trying to develop bicycles for easier and more fun rehabilitation.

How does it work?

The attraction of using bicycles as a rehabilitation tool is its sustainability, non-boringness, and refreshing feeling which comes from outside exercise. Although there is the attraction which the authors can make use of, they also need to cover some anxieties such as safety and uneasiness when pedaling. In order to guarantee safety, a foot which is not paralysed is applied a load to, so that a rider cannot pedal too fast, which results in a stable and low pedaling speed. In addition, a load is applied also to reduce patients’ uneasiness caused by a feeling of unbalanced heaviness depending on feet. The authors used an electrically-powered tricycle made by YAMAHA for an experiment and succeeded in keeping a low pedaling speed by applying a load to a healthy foot. They are going to conduct an experiment to mitigate patients’ uneasiness and to develop a smoothness when pedaling.


The article is crucial because this is an academic article which was published as a documentation of JSME (The Japan Society of Mechanical Engineers) Conference on Robotics and Mechatronics and it shows a new significant way of using bicycles. Because riding on a bicycle is lots of fun and can be done without any permanent help, the authors suggested using bicycles for rehabilitation for the hemiplegic patient, which means bicycles can be used not only for town development and disarmament, which I will report on in two upcoming posts, but for medical uses. The use of bicycles as a rehabilitation tool might enhance patients’ motivation to recover from hemiplegia and contribute to a more positive future.

Additionally, in order to get the article, I paid for it, while most of the Australian articles are available for free. This made me think about freedom for students to research in Japan, which might be a little poorer than Australia.


Shoji, H., & Aoki, T. (2014). Development of rehabilitation bicycle for hemiplegic patients. Proceedings of the JSME Conference on Robotics and Mechatronics, 14(3P2-G03), 3P2-G03(1)-3P2-G03(2) Retrieved from


Sachie Togashiki is our Guest Blogger, unveiling some of Japan’s bicycle culture, from 11th April to 24th April.

Fleet Farming

What is Fleet Farming?

– A community-driven, low emission distributed urban farming model
– Build home gardens less than .25 acres throughout the community
– Use bike-powered transportation for maintenance and harvest of produce
– Sell produce at local farmers markets, food trucks, and local restaurants

Fleet Farming

The ‘Fleet Farmer’ name refers to ‘Farmers’ on a ‘Fleet’ of bicycles, helping to manage the grow-to-harvest process of urban farming. These Farmers will be made up of members of the surrounding community and members from partnering organizations. Each Farmer will sign-up for a scheduled bike ride once per week, traveling an average of 8-10 miles from the Winter Park Urban Farm to East End Market, and back.

Throughout the ride, the Fleet Farmers will stop at various home gardens participating in the program. Each garden will be regularly maintained, including tilling, watering, removal of weeds and pests, application of organic fertilizer, harvesting of the fruits and vegetables throughout the year, and distribution of the local produce to local venues using pedal power.

In Phase 2, the Fleet Farmers will also help in collecting compost from the restaurants in route that are interested in providing pre and post-consumer food waste to develop the final piece of the closed-loop system.

This bike has Multiple Sclerosis

This remarkable health education initiative really personifies how bicycles can innovate positive social change – in this case, raising awareness about Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

MS Community Education

This initiative brilliantly mixes science, bicycle design, expert collaboration and cyclists to produce a community education campaign where a normal bicycle was augmented in a variety of ways to represent the MS symptoms.

To achieve this, each of the major executive functions on the bike such as the fork, handlebars, seat, frame and gears were altered so that the impact of the disease could be experienced first hand when you try to ride the bike – thus demonstrating the daily challenges that suffers have trying to operate their bodies as this autoimmune disease destroys their nervous system.

Ad Week promoted this ad campaign by giving it international recognition for its ingenuity and creative approach – and very effectively linked this issue to the lived experience of Penelope Conway who is an MS Suffer and informatively and humorously writes about what Multiple Sclerosis really feels like.

The Ad

This bike has Multiple Sclerosis video (2 mins) explains the rationale and research that has gone into the strategic design of this bike.


This community awareness campaign is not only effective in reaching a wide audience and communicating its message, but it is clear and has immediate impact. One of the best aspects is that it is specifically designed to be experiential and engaging for the public.

This campaign is a great example of how a creative approach to presenting a public health issue can generate excitement, consideration and interest about an issue such as MS. In doing so, it is highly successful in prompting public education and discussion about what MS is – and the metaphor of a ‘rider’ trying to ‘control a bike’ as being similar to what an MS suffer experiences to control their body, is a stroke of genius. Most people who have no contact or exposure to MS, will be able to easily relate to how difficult it can be to ride a bike if there are mechanical problems.

If only there were more interactive, dynamic and enterprising projects such as this one that can equally correlate the public’s normative experience (of riding a bike) with a emerging/public issue (MS Awareness).

Want to try riding it?

Those in Melbourne next month (March 2016), will have the opportunity to try to ride this bike for yourself at the MS Melbourne Cycle on March 6, 2016 by registering at

The team