Have you ever wondered about the Buffalo Bicycles that World Bicycle Relief (WBR) and Qhubeka (WBR’s programme in South Africa) use in their programmes? We often say they are “built for big loads on tough roads”, but few people know the bicycles are actually the end product of a long journey to provide the best bicycle possible. Buffalo Bicycle Ltd. is constantly making improvements to ensure the bicycles serve our programmes will last for many years.
“We based the design of the Buffalo Bicycle on our field observations of how people used their bikes and what elements were not meeting the end users’ needs. This included strength, durability, reliability, ease of repair, availability of replacement parts, ride-ability, carrying capacity and cost.”
“At first, we tried to use existing bikes that were readily available in the countries we were working in, but we found that they were inadequate, poorly made bikes that had a very short useable lifespan. So we made the decision to develop the Buffalo Bicycle ourselves, which is now more than eight years into product development with a constant focus on improvements. World Bicycle Relief started Buffalo Bicycle Ltd. and today we have oversight from design, to manufacture specifications, to distribution and bicycle mechanic training. Tapping into the engineering and manufacturing resources and industry experience of Giant, TREK, SRAM and World Bicycle Relief (which owns Buffalo Bicycle), the current bike is a collaboration between many leaders in the bike industry.”
“Over time, we were able to achieve strengths we needed on the frames, forks and carriers; but we still had lots left to improve on the components side. Simply put, the components in rotation under heavy loads and exposed to dirt and mud all needed help. I would say that the areas of greatest technical challenge are the drive-train and braking system. We are working hard with our suppliers to transfer technologies to improve these two components. We also communicate to our suppliers crucial information from our end users to encourage them to keep improving their parts to meet their needs. We have some of the best engineers in the bicycle industry working on this issue right now in Schweinfurt.”
“In the places where we work, people rarely get a choice or voice when it comes to product feedback. They are so accustomed to coping with bad quality or poor product design that it is hard to get feedback. We’ve adjusted our process and now we go into the field to listen to our end-users where they are using the bicycles. Here is an example that suggests that we are on the right track. I got a call from our Zimbabwe factory manager from our facility in Rua, Zimbabwe just outside of Harare.
“He said, ‘FK, you would not believe this, but two ladies walked 150km from a rural area with $165 in crumpled one dollar bills to buy a new Buffalo bike. By selling surplus food from their tiny farm and hiding the money, they had been slowly building their savings over the months to buy a Buffalo. Apparently someone in their small village had one and it was clear to them that it would last for a long time.”
“This story is particularly striking to me because the Buffalo is two or three times more expensive than the typical bicycle you could buy in Zimbabwe, as well as most of the places we operate. When given a choice, some people will choose simple quality over cost. We are now able to give many people access to that choice.”