10 Jun, 2015

The World's Most Powerful Bicycle

Photograph by Qhubeka/Donovan Thorne.

While the cycling world gears up for the Tour de France, cycling fans around Africa will be keeping an eye on Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung. The team will make history in 2015 as the first African-registered team to compete in the Tour de France.

As is the case every year, commentators and fans alike will make predictions, pick favourites and debate gear. Yet while the discussions about components and kit rage on, the world’s most powerful bicycle will not be taking part in the Tour de France.

The most powerful bicycle in the world is not a Pinarello, Trek, BMC or Giant. According to Qhubeka, World Bicycle Relief’s programme in South Africa, the most powerful bicycle in the world is the one in the hands of a learner using it to get to school every day.

Or perhaps the world’s most powerful bicycle is the one used by a rural teacher to get to class every day and to make after-school visits to students’ families to encourage school attendance. The truth is that the most powerful bicycle in the world is not the one that wins the race, but the one that changes a life forever.

Qhubeka is an Nguni word (Zulu and Xhosa) which means ‘to move forward’ or ‘to progress’. The organisation helps others do that through mobilising people with bicycles. Having a bicycle changes lives by increasing the distance people can travel, what they can carry, where they can go and how fast they can get there.

By putting bicycles in the hands of learners and teachers in South Africa, Qhubeka believes that it is empowering them with mobility and, in turn, opportunity.

“For a child who walks up to six kilometres to school every day – which can take almost two hours – having a bicycle is life-changing,” says Sarah Phaweni, Qhubeka executive director. “Bicycles cut chidlren’s commute times by up to 75% and not only help them to get to school faster, but more safely too.”

Children receive bicycles through Qhubeka’s Bicycle Education Empowerment Programme (BEEP), in partnership with World Vision SA. By signing a two-year study-to-earn contract, they commit to using the bicycles to improve their school attendance and results. Once the contract term is up, the bicycles become their property.

The bicycles that Qhubeka distributes are Buffalo Bicycles. While they may not look like the powerful machines used in the Tour de France, according to World Bicycle Relief, they are not really bicycles, but a path to education, livelihood and opportunity. That’s what makes them so powerful.

This year, to celebrate Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung’s debut at the Tour de France, Africa’s first Pro cycling team has committed to funding 5 000 bicycles for learners through Qhubeka’s programmes. The campaign has aptly been named #BicyclesChangeLives.

“This is an exciting development for both organisations,” says Sarah. “We’re thrilled that Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung has committed to funding 5 000 Buffalo Bicycles through our programmes. The bicycles will be distributed to school children who currently walk to school – some up to an hour and a half each way. We appreciate the ongoing support of Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung in putting bicycles, and thus power, into the hands of school learners. We look forward to supporting them at this year’s Tour de France as they represent the African continent.”

Doug Ryder, Team Principal at Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung and founder of Ryder Cycling, has called on all fans to support the team’s fundraising efforts by making a donation towards sponsoring bicycles at

“Our goal at Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung is to give talented African riders a path into the pro peloton while raising funds for Qhubeka,” Doug says. “This team has always been about more than winning races, and #BicyclesChangeLives gives us a chance to demonstrate that to the world.”

To track Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung’s progress towards funding 5 000 bicycles or to donate towards the #BicyclesChangeLives campaign, visit

The Qhubeka Buffalo Bicycle

Qhubeka believes that to ensure it is distributing the world’s most powerful bicycles, the bikes must not only change lives by helping children get to school, but also be built to last, so that they can keep changing lives for many years.

Like the mighty African buffalo, the Buffalo Bicycle is sturdy and robust. Engineered by World Bicycle Relief in Chicago, USA, the Buffalo Bicycle is designed for tough terrain and heavy load requirements (making it ideal for carrying a passenger or hauling goods to market).

With heavy gauge steel tube frames and a total carrying capacity of 250 kilograms (including 100 kilograms on the carrier rack), the Buffalo Bicycle is a mighty steed. The heavy gauge spokes and steel rims, specified to 150 kilograms per wheel, and the durable weather-proof coaster brake are other features that make this beast so tough.

The Buffalo Bicycle is tested and assembled in South Africa with close attention to end-user feedback and rigorous quality control. Buffalo Bicycles are also compatible with locally available spare parts, ensuring that with proper maintenance they will last for years.

Qhubeka Buffalo Bicycles are sourced from manufacturers in Asia with some components made by fabricators in South Africa who produce each component to Qhubeka’s specifications. The bicycles arrive completely unassembled at Qhubeka facilities in South Africa where local teams put them together, creating job opportunities within the communities where the assembly plants are based.

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 Programme to accompany bicycle distribution. Mechanics are trained in bicycle assembly, maintenance and repair as well as basic business, marketing and management skills.

The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship and World Economic Forum recognised the Buffalo Bicycle Company with the 2013 Award for Social Entrepreneurship. The Entrepreneur of the Year award acknowledges innovative approaches and outstanding work in health, education, employment and the environment. As a wholly owned subsidiary of World Bicycle Relief, the Buffalo Bicycle Company manufactures the specially designed Buffalo Bicycles. In August 2014, BBC named the Buffalo Bicycle one of the 10 most beautiful bicycles in the world.