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...or tell me anything you can say definitely about this particular depicted old African bicycle:

enter image description here

The purpose of this question (my personal reason for asking) is to gather as much details and information about this particular image / bike for the story that I am writing. Where this picture / African boy / African bike is one of the 3rd level elements.

I would like to learn virtually anything about it that I can learn (and add to my story) or that you can provide with any level of certainty. I.e.:

  • type,
  • model or model name,
  • manufacturer name,
  • originating country,
  • production date, period or bike age,
  • any particular technical solutions used within,
  • any particular parameter like width, weight, wheels dimensions, tyres type,
  • whether it is a single-set model or something that looks like a wreckage made out of twelve different bikes etc.

This might sound weird, but virtually anything, you can provide will be valuable for me. Because right now (and based only on uploaded file's name) I can only say that this is a bike ridden somewhere in Africa. Not enough, as for my story.

Validated that this question is on-topic.

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    Cottered crank, very old style brake handle. The bike is too tall for the kid, but hard to guess what the wheel size is -- at least 24", maybe 26". The tires are unusually narrow, suggesting that this was a "road bike" back in, maybe, the 50s. Unusual to see one in such good condition in this environment. – Daniel R Hicks Jun 23 at 12:15
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    The good condition is because of dry arid air. There is probably no seawater anywhere near, so no salt to encourage corrosion. The track's surface looks quite sandy, also keeping things dry. And dry steel generally only gets surface rust, nothing deeper. Same reason cars from desert regions tend to hold their value better than the same car from coastal regions. – Criggie Jun 23 at 12:44
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    Not the bike, but notice the rider has a decent scar on his left knee. I bet there's a story behind that too. – Criggie Jun 26 at 5:45
  • @Criggie You've got me! :> – trejder Jun 27 at 12:40
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Let's list what we can see in the photo:

  • A common double triangle frame, but the top tube is duplicated. This was done for strength and durability. Sometimes this is called a "workman frame design" because early-to-mid 20th century, a frame like this could carry a workman to/from the factory with additional weight of tools.
  • The front fork has some kind of suspension connecting the dropouts to the stem. This looks to be held on by a leather belt, and may not be working as intended
  • Rod brakes - the brake levers are not cable operated, and the front brake isn't even there. The rear brake wire is visible under the downtube.
  • Cottered cranks - these mostly vanished in the 1970s in the first world.
  • A grease nipple or grease zerg underneath the bottom bracket, for greasing the bearings inside.
  • The front fork tines have a large curve (rake) giving it a vintage look.

We can't really see the back of the bike, but it looks like a single speed, with no gearing. There has to be some kind of parcel rack back there to keep the load out of the rear wheel too.

The rear tyre looks positively recent compared with the front, there's a reflective sidewall, and the tread pattern looks quite different. Also the rear tyre looks wider than the front. The rear rim looks like the dull grey of aluminium, compared to the rusty look of the front rim which is likely steel. I think the entire rear wheel is off a newer bike.

Upshot its an old steel framed bike, dating from the 70s at the absolute latest. The rod brakes and zerg are features of pre-WW2 bikes. But its built like the proverbial brick outhouse, and has likely been ridden by multiple generations - I could see this kid's great-grandad riding that bike in 1930.

There are organisations and charities that collect bikes and repair, then transport the units to Africa for distribution. It's not impossible for this to be an Englishman's bike, which was donated, mechanically refurbished, and then shipped to Tanzania. For example: https://brightkidz.co.uk/initiatives/cycling/bikes-for-africa/

Additionally, Africa and India are two places where really old bike designs seem to still be made. While cottered cranks disappeared 40 years ago, it is possible that someone local is still making bikes and bike parts to those designs.


A google image search is unhelpful - this image has been used to illustrate many articles, and the texts don't generally relate to exactly this photo.

The wikipedia article gives a caption of "Tanzanian boy transporting fodder on his bicycle to feed his family cattle" You might try contacting the photographer via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Muhammad_Mahdi_Karim and see what else he can tell you about his shot.

I found this list of bikes for sale in Tanzania, but none are particularly old: https://www.zoomtanzania.com/bicycles-cycling

For the purposes of your story, the brand and model don't matter at all.

  • "Bruce rode the family bike - it was a hand-me-down from great grandad Bruce who rode it a hundred miles a day to work in the diamond mines"
  • "Faded and rusting, with only fragments of the original colour left clinging tenuously to the rusty steel frame, fighting tenaciously to hold on"
  • "Strapped together with an old leather belt, the old steel horse soldiered on over the years and decades; as babies became kids, kids learning to balance and ride, or learning to take a fall and get back on, and push through the pain of scrapes and grazes and blood. After all, the cattle need their fodder"
  • "Bruce ignored the jeering of the rich kids on their fancy mountain bikes. He knew that ol'faithful wouldn't let him down. Maybe he's not the fastest nor the most comfortable rider, but at the end of the day this rolling squeaky rust-stained antique would get him home, and that sure beats walking."
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  • 1
    For the sake of argument, you could call that bike an "old steel Raleigh workman's bike from the interwar years" and it would fit the story requirements fine. – Criggie Jun 23 at 12:47
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    A comment from the photographer when it was considered for a featured picture on Wikimedia commons suggests it was an opportunistic shot so you might not find much more info from him except a more detailed location: "I had gone insect shooting that day and I looked up to see the boy approaching. Didn't have much time to change settings... --Muhammad". It was shot 11 years ago so even that would depend on the photographer's recollection/records – Chris H Jun 23 at 13:38
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    70s at the latest is not right. Bikes in the British roadster pattern like this were imported into Africa far later. – Nathan Knutson Jun 24 at 3:29
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    I understand, but these bikes have their own history. I've read they kept being produced in Asia with little or no alteration in complete knock down (CKD) kit form. – Nathan Knutson Jun 24 at 15:34
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    I believe the leather strap is just holding the machete. The suspension appears to be complete and functional. – Andrew Jun 24 at 22:53
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Photographer here.

The bike is a very common one used here in Tanzania. It's much cheaper than the multi gear mountain bikes.

Sorry, don't think there was anything special with the bike, unless of course you look at the young boy riding it and appreciate his hard work :)

Cheers

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  • Hi, welcome to bicycles! That's a great photo, cheers! – DavidW Jun 25 at 13:30
  • "special" is in the eye of the beholder. As you said in Tanzania it's common so not thought of as special. For those interested in bicycle history that type of bike has an interesting place in the development of the modern bicycle and an interesting history. Here's a link that recounts some of that history - bombayjules.blogspot.com/2014/01/… – David D Jun 25 at 14:58
  • You hit it right on the head.... There's absolutely nothing special about the bike, and that's what OP's question is about. Why is this kind of bike so common that its literally commonplace ? – Criggie Jun 26 at 5:43
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Actually this style of bikes are still being made in China(you can still buy them new for RMB500, or 70USD). It is more of a niche product now but it was still a very common (in fact, the most generic style) utilitarian transportation in China until the very late 20th century (I remember my father bought one of this style around 2000). Remember there used to be a time when people wear suits and ride bikes to work, so sport style bikes may not be the best choice for them. I believe there are still plenty in use in China now.

Here is a picture from the above taobao listing. It's a 28 inch model made by Phoenix. This is actually a special model used by postmen of China Post with green paint job, cargo rack and rear two-leg stand. It is a true classic. I believe the design dates all the way back to the early 20th century when bikes were first imported to China form Japan. enter image description here

Considering China has been the largest producer of bikes for the larger half of past century, it is very likely this bike is a Chinese import.

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    That's similar (especially the brake lever and the handlebar suspension), but it doesn't have the double top tube, and it doesn't look like a cottered crank. – Daniel R Hicks Jun 23 at 23:51
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    I can see the cotters in the photo. I wonder what the suspension thing is for, because the actual fork is rigid. – ojs Jun 24 at 8:16
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    @ojs That I have no idea. The best theory I can come up with is to reduce the load on the steering bearing. – user3528438 Jun 24 at 16:35
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    India is also a contemporary producer of bikes like this. indiamart.com/proddetail/… – Nathan Knutson Jun 24 at 17:27
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    @ojs that style of suspension was common on many bikes in the 60s and earlier. The long rake thin steel forks are expected to flex, with the sprung suspension countering that flex. – Andrew Jun 24 at 23:21
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Tube Investments of India make a very similar twin tube model, the Hercules Popular DTS DTT which currently retails in the Indian market for INR 4540 ($60 US). They do make contemporary designs as well for the urban and recreational biker crowd, but the old "black iron horse" models are widely used in rural areas, by tradesmen who have to sling bags of merchandise, tools etc., and by those who can't afford anything else. Those things are simple, easy to maintain and virtually indestructible.

A similar scene from Agartala, West Bengal, India

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