Buffalo Bikes

I went along to Impact Engine’s Demo Day in Chicago this afternoon which was excellent — congratulations to Chuck and the team for a great event. The opening talk was by FK Day, one of the founders of SRAM which the bike geeks amongst you will know for their rather fine racing bike gears and Rock Shox mountain bike suspension.

In 2005, FK went to Sri Lanka following the tsunami and tried to offer the company’s expertise to some big development charities. They all said “no thanks just give us money”. The funny thing was that FK knew that people actually did want bikes — he’d asked them. So the team set about designing a bike that really suited the local needs and could be assembled locally. The result was a tough, repairable bike that became very popular very quickly. They found that students were more likely to go to school, that healthcare workers were more effective and that local entrepreneurs were making more money.

FK spoke really passionately about using sustainable business models to solve big global problems and I think he’s right. The model has now spread to Africa where in many places giving people the ability to go faster than walking pace can make huge improvements to peoples’ lives. The whole ‘Buffalo Bike’ business is a mixture of charity and commerce but is gradually becoming less about donations and more about investment and profit. I had a good look at the bikes afterwards and have to admit the engineering is pretty impressive. I’ll have to wait though — at the moment they’re only available in Africa and Asia.

Photo: World Bicycle Relief

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