Kona's Africabike is a sturdy commuting machine that makes you feel good in more ways than one. If it wasn't enough that it's a pretty capable workhorse and fun to ride to boot, you can also relax in the warm glow of having done some good in the world too.
The Africabike is precisely what the name suggests: a bike for Africa. Designed by Kona for the Bike Town project (http://konabiketown.com/) and devloped in partnership with pharmaceutical giant BMS and Bicycling magazine in the UK, Kona bill the Arficabike as 'the most important bicycle the company has ever developed', its mission to help health workers deliver antiretroviral drugs to HIV sufferers.
Using the bikes means that the workers can be much more productive than they are on foot, meaning more people receive the treatment they need. In 2009 the program is looking to donates bikes to areas in Tanzania, South Africa, Burkina Faso and Mali. For every two bikes that are sold, one is donated to the scheme; so far over 3,000 bikes have been shipped.
So what's it like? well, as you might expect for a bike designed to handle the unmade roads of sub-Saharan Africa, it's sturdy. The frame is a step-through design in plain gauge Cromoly, the fork Kona's excellent and dependable P2. Bolted (literally) to that are hardy 26" wheels sporting excellent Conti 1.75" rubber and a Nexus three speed transmission – the bike is also available as a singlespeed.
The wide, swept bars encourage a very upright position (whilst also allowing enough knee room to stand up for the climbs) and the steel seatpost and big saddle are comfy for the shorter trips the bike is likely to be making in the UK; given it's 19.05kg all in weight you won't be looking to do any century rides on it!
Other features include a rear rack that's part of the main frame structure, welded in Cromoly tubing and sporting four bolt holes on the top so you can fit a shelf, or a box, or whatever you like, to the top. One thing to note is that a standard pannier won't work, as the tubes are too wide. There's more storage at the front in the form of a clever folding basket, which packs away when not in use and springs into place when you need it. It looks a bit flimsy but we've had no problems carrying some pretty heavy gear. Mudguards and a rack are included for all-weather, normal clothes cycling.
You'd expect a 19kg bike to be a bit of a sloth, especially given the upright position and the heavy wheel and tyre combo, and certainly the Africabike isn't a sprinter's tool but it's a surprisingly capable all-rounder. The steering is slow and a touch vague at low speeds, but at a cruising pace it's a very stable and comfortable bike. Despite the very low step-through there's no real flex from front to rear, and the bike responds pretty well to your input; you know you're not going to get a lightning quick response but it never feels like you're wasting energy.
The three speeds run out pretty quickly on the downhill bits but it's not the kind of bike you pedal downhill anyway, just sit back, feather the rear coaster brake and enjoy the ride. Going up it's a lot better than you might think. Okay it's fairly slow going but the Africabike can get up some pretty serious hills, and it left me less out of breath on the commute home (2km at about 5%) than some fixeds and singlespeeds i've tried. And if you get too hot you can just sling your jumper in the basket as you go. The shape of the bars allows you to stand up to climb and you need to at times, but you'll be surprised at what it can tackle.
GIven that it's designed to be used primarily on mud roads it seemed sensible to throw some light off road at the Africabike too and it handled it with aplomb. It's about as well behaved on towpaths and fire roads as any bike i've ridden, with added bonus that you can slam on the coaster brake and ride like a tail-happy hooligan. Over rougher stuff it's pretty capable too, though the low bottom bracket can get you into trouble and the tyres aren't great in the mud.
Anything else not to like? well, the luggage capacity at the back is stymied a bit by the size of the rack tubes, in the sense that most standard panniers won't fit. Okay you can fit whatever you like with the bolts (we fitted a seat, although the standard wheelbase means it's only really good for kids unless you sit backwards) but for normal use you'll just want some bags.
Also we managed to bend the seatpost, primarily because with a 1.90m tester there was a lot of it showing and it's not the greatest seatpost we've seen. Other than that, I've little but praise for the Africabike. We abused it and barely scratched it, left it out in the rain for weeks and it didn't rust. You can throw the nurse's lock through the wheel for quick trips to the shop and bring your goods back in the basket. As a daily life bike, it's pretty hard to beat, especially given the price and the fact that you're doing some good in the world to boot.
Big-boned workhorse you could grow to love. A classic, and a bargain
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Make and model: Kona Africabike 3
Size tested: one size
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame tubing: Kona Cromoly
Fork: Kona P2
Chainset: ProWheel 36T
Pedals: Xerama SP-102
Chain: KMC Z410
Freewheel: Shimano SM-Gear 16T
Shifters: Nexus 3spd
Handlebar: Kona Riser
Stem: Kona Cruiser
Brakes: Tektro 849 AL
Brake Levers: Tektro TS-384A
Front hub: Formula
Rear hub: Shimano 3sp Coaster Brake
Spokes: Stainless 14g
Tires: Continental TownRide 26x1.75
Rims: Rigida Cyber 10
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
African medical workers and anyone else that wants a tough, low maintenance, do it all machine - every home should have one.
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
This is a machine that's built to last, but it is surprisingly elegant too
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Cromoly steel and cromoly steel, easy to fix and a pleasure to ride even when your powering nigh on 19kg of the stuff
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
71° head angle and a 74° seat angle with 44mm of fork offset stick all that together with those wide bars and you get a relaxed ride with steering that is about as far as you can get from twitchy
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The Africabike is a one-size fits all deal, and it will certainly accomodate a wide range of different sized riders - taller, heavier riders might have some issues with the seatpost - we did and I could imagine that small light riders might find themselves having to get out of the saddly quite a lot, but all points in betwen should have no problem at all
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Very comfortable, a relaxed and smooth ride.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too felxible?
Nope it was all spot on, although maybe the seat post could have been stiffer.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Well it, a big beast so most of your effort goes into getting it up to speed, but as 'speed' is not actually very fast that doesn't take as much effort as you might think - and once you've got it going all that heft generates a certain amount of momentum
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? As I said above - neutral to vague
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
This isn't a performance machine, what it majors on is steady, comfortable cruising with no hint of unwanted thrills or spills
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Very much
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Age: 36 Height: 190cm Weight: 100kg
I usually ride: Schwinn Moab, urbanised with 700cs My best bike is: Trek 1.5 with upgrades
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.