It’s not by chance that many riders of Team Rwanda, the cycling team based in Ruhengeri, have started as taxi or cargo bikers.
Rwanda is called the land of thousand hills – and there are problably many more. There isn’t a flat stretch of road leading to the volcano mountains in the northwest of the country.
There, near to the jungle at the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, lies Kinigi. The village’s name is synonymous for high-quality potatoes. The soil at the slopes of the Virunga mountains is rich and ideal for growing potatoes – Irish potatoes, not the sweet potatoes grown in the lower areas of Rwanda.
Cargo bicycles transport the potatoes from Kinigi in hundred-kilo sacks to the lower regions. On the way back, they load sweet potatoes.
The cargo bicycles are heavy-duty, single-speed bikes made of steel and weighing in at 20 or more kilograms. They are imported from China or India. Spare parts are scarce, and many bicycles are mended reusing parts of broken vehicles. Brake pads are attached with wire to the brake shoe holders, and a piece of rubber tube replaces the springs of the calipers. Carriers are often self-made heavy-duty constructions.
One single bicycle might show parts from different continents: There’s a chainring incorporating the manufacturer’s brand name Phoenix, a large Chinese company exporting bicycles since the 1960s. The fork shows the logo of Ambika Cycles, a manufacture based in Ludhiana, an industrial city in the northern state of Punjab in India established in 1970. The brake was made by Dumax in India. On the mudguard there’s the name of Roadmaster Cycles which manufactures bicycles in Kampala, Uganda.
Sometimes, these colourful patchwork bicycles might cross one of their distant relatives on the hilly roads: a feather-weight carbon-made racer made by the Italian bike manufacture Pinarello – given to Team Rwanda pro cycling team by the president Kagame. Do cargo bikes dream of carbon frames?