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Two young Maseru entrepreneurs introduce inexpensive motorised bicycles that could be the answer to the transport problems many Basotho face on a daily basis
It is fast, inexpensive to buy and maintain, easy to operate and does not require the operator to go through the frustrating experience of acquiring a driver’s licence.
A bicycle like no other, this motorised machine is a unique innovation that could be the answer to the transport blues that many Basotho have no choice but to endure every single day of their lives as they shuttle to and from work or go about their daily chores.
While it may appear a bit strange at first glance, the bike is, however, an absolute pleasure on which to traverse both the undulating countryside and city roads — thanks to young entrepreneurs Tšiu Mokapela and Lehlohonolo Mbeka of Maseru, whose daring spirits have brought a completely new travelling experience that many Basotho can afford without necessarily having to borrow heavily from the bank.
Admittedly, the motorised bicycle is no novel invention by Mr Mokapela and Mr Mbeka as this mode of transport has become commonplace in other countries such as China, but what these young businessmen can lay claim to is being the first to assemble the machine in Lesotho.
The purring sound of the engine sounds strange, and the sight of the rider travelling very fast on a bicycle without pedaling, is equally peculiar.
Yet this is the ultimate bicycle experience, which has since been embraced in many developed countries and emerging economies due to its cost-effectiveness.
The rider is spared the usual exertion and grind that comes with riding a bicycle because this is not your typical, human-powered and pedal-driven machine of old.
According to 33-year-old Mr Mokapela — a graduate of Lerotholi Polytechnic or Fokothi as the college is popularly known — it is now three months since the two partners established their business in Maseru in an effort to better the lot of the many Basotho who cannot afford the expensive automobiles.
“I had this nagging idea of building powered bicycles to bring a new and affordable travel experience to my country and, initially, I had thought of fitting motors and running the bicycles on batteries, but it did not work.
“I then came across better models that are being assembled in China, which run on a special engine and I liked the idea,” Mr Mokapela told the Lesotho Times this week.
Mr Mokapela, who is an auto-electrician by profession and operates a vehicle-repair shop in Maseru, said he decided to partner Mr Mbeka in the new business venture.
“I was convinced this was something we needed here in Lesotho, something that would benefit a lot of people, particularly those who cannot afford buying cars and motorbikes.
“I also believed these bicycles would appeal to those who do have cars or own motorbikes, but wanted to treat themselves to some much-needed exercise while out there in the open and not in the gym.
“Such individuals can ride the bicycle with the engine on in the mornings and then cycle with the engine off on their way back home, to get the much-needed exercise while they enjoy the cool outdoors that most never experience because they are always in vehicles,” Mr Mokapela said.
The two men’s story is a unique one. It’s an incredible tale of two young men conscious of their terrain, economy and a larger populace that walks long distances to and from various places on a daily basis.
The two men had also noticed the vehicular traffic was getting heavier on the country’s roads and decided to look for solutions to the transport hardships.
“I liked this kind of a bicycle because for me, it was one way of helping people whose lives can be improved if only they could reach their destinations on time.
“I could foresee how people such as textile factory workers and others in the same wage-bracket could benefit immensely from this initiative.
“Time is everything and I realised that many people could do more with a bit of speed and having affordable means of transport.
“I noticed how low income-earners who rely on motorised bicycles in countries like China, India and Australia, still get to work on time just like those who drive cars, and I was determined to ensure our own people also benefitted from this simple innovation,” Mr Mokapela said.
The scenario in such countries, he added, is that the motorised bicycles are affordable and easily accessible to low income-earners, which he said is what the new venture seeks to emulate, hence its average price of M7 000.
He added the fact that these are a common feature on the roads in these countries where wages for general labourers are not that much, also showed the high level of affordability and low maintenance-costs.
“We realised that for us to adopt this model here, we needed a specific type of engine, which we could import and fit onto the bicycles we can buy locally,” Mr Mokapela said.
However, Mr Mokapela had never imagined venturing into a business that had anything to do with bicycles when he graduated in Automotive and Electronics at Fokothi in 2005.
“I knew that my hands and worksuits would get dirty because of the nature of my profession as an auto-electrician, but I did not see this kind of business coming,” Mr Mokapela said.
However, nine years after he graduated from college and exactly three years since establishing his company, MobiTech in Maseru, Mr Mokapela is turning the whole cycling business on its head and making sure it will never be the same again.
“Cycling is no longer a tiresome and sweaty affair, where only those with tough legs have to pedal hard for speed when they are travelling long distances.
“Through this motorised bicycle, anyone, regardless of the level of fitness, can enjoy riding a bicycle, as he or she can switch on the two-stroke engine which runs on petrol, when he or she gets too tired to pedal.
“Although we are not the inventors of this mode of transport, we are happy to be the ones adding a new and better twist to travelling by bicycle in Lesotho, and also being the first to assemble such bicycles in this country.”
The bicycle, Mr Mokapela added, can travel as fast as 50 kilometres an hour, adding however, that operators could go above this speed if they paddle and run the engine simultaneously.
Mr Mokapela further explained for every 100 kilometres, the motorised bicycle consumes a mere two litres of petrol, while the machine itself costs less than M7 000, depending on the additional fittings desired by clients.
“This goes to say that while there are emissions when the engine is running, they are very minimal to cause any damage to the environment, which is also one of the positive elements of the bicycle.”
Mr Mokapela also explained those who already own conventional bicycles and would want them fitted with engines, can also bring their machines to the MobiTech workshop in Maseru.
“They will pay a small fee to have their bicycles enhanced and be able to travel more kilometres in a shorter space of time.”
He further said his company would provide full backup services, including additional fittings of a storage facility at the back of the bicycle.
“There won’t be any need to travel to South Africa to service the motorised bicycles as is the case with many cars, which need to be taken across the border for regular service and repairs time and again.”
Mr Mokapela further explained while Lesotho is largely not “a bicycle country” in terms of transportation, the motorised bicycles are strong enough to maneuver through the country’s rough and hilly terrain.