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Kibo: Redesigning The Motorcycle To Make Kenya’s Streets Safer

Kenya and other developing countries have very high traffic-related fatality rates. A new mobility startup thinks design and education could help.

Kibo: Redesigning The Motorcycle To Make Kenya’s Streets Safer
[Photo: courtesy Greenspace]

In developing countries like Kenya, where public transport is unreliable or inexistent, motor bikes offer an affordable way to get around–particularly through dense traffic and unkept roads. But rough road conditions and an unregulated motorcycle market also mean that mode of transport is dangerous. According to a 2010 report from the World Health Organization–the latest available–motorcycle-related deaths increased five-fold between 2005 and 2010, and in the latter year made up 7% of road traffic deaths.

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Dutch economist and social entrepreneur Huib van de Grijspaard thinks that providing a motorcycle that is designed both for off-road conditions and city traffic can make a major difference in fatality rates. Last year, van de Grijspaard started working on a company called Kibo to produce safe, high-quality motorbikes affordably, by manufacturing and assembling them in Kenya, where they are sold. He brought on the design studio Greenspace to do the branding, and last week the company released its first motorbike, the K150, in conjunction with its official launch.

Both the product and the branding have been designed not only to make the motorcycle a safer option for Kenyans, but also to educate people about motor safety in a place where traffic laws are unenforced and many don’t even wear helmets because of prohibitive pricing. Greenspace founder Adrian Caddy explains that van de Grijspaard and the Kibo team designed the motorcycle for the needs of the boda-boda drivers–the unofficial taxis of cities like Nairobi, driven mostly by entrepreneurial young people looking to make money after school–as well as other frequent motorcycle drivers.

The transportation situation there is roads that are choked with traffic and no regulated transport services,” says Caddy. “[Most people] have not been properly trained. It’s not regulated. . . . It’s a major concern.”

[Photo: courtesy Greenspace]
However, when Caddy and his team went to Kenya to do research for the branding, they found that at $3,000, the motorcycles were still too pricey for what the company had perceived to be its target audience. Though affordable for a bike of that quality and safety, boda-boda drivers still wouldn’t be able to afford it. So they looked for other use cases and found a large need in the medical community, the NGOs, and in couriers of companies like DHL and Western Union. These places were in need of quick transport that could carry heavy loads safely, and their presence would ultimately make traffic safer.

The design of the K150 suits this purpose nicely. The frame is made out of welded steel tubing, making the bike incredibly strong and deserving of its name, which in Swahili means “hippo.” Caddy notes that the K150 can hold upwards of 250 kilos–or over 550 pounds–which is essential for doctors, aid workers, and cargo carriers that are transporting a lot of baggage. It includes a suspension system for cargo, and the durable, inflexible frame also makes it safer.

The frame has a built-in crash bar in the front, designed to disperse the force of impact in a crash. While some motorcyclists opt to add “frame sliders”–essentially, a removable crash bar–to their motorcycles as protection, most motorbikes do not come equipped with one. The K150 also has dual headlights that provide enough light to navigate roads at night with no street lights, something Caddy says is a big factor in the crash rates in developing countries. And if one light fails, there’s still another working one.

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The bike is also unusual in its hybridity: The top half is more like a street bike–slender enough to move through traffic and akin to what drivers are used to operating–but the bottom half is more like an off-road motor bike. Thick, highly durable sport tires offer traction off-road, or on rough roads that are unpaved.

According to Caddy, Kibo can offer high-quality equipment at lower than typical costs because the pieces are sourced directly from manufacturers and assembled in Nairobi at local manufacturing plants. At $3,000, the K150 is cheaper than most new motorcycles made by common brands like Kawasaki and Honda, which will cost around $4,000 to $12,000 respectively. Yet as Caddy points out, it’s still significantly more than the $1,000 average that frequent cyclists in Kenya would pay for a used motorbike. Toward that end, Kibo is banking on companies as their key demographic for buying the K150 new, and believes that it’s at least a start to making the roads safer.

Caddy and his team integrated details of the design–like the custom tires, which also have a unique tread pattern–into Kibo’s branding language. They created an “X” symbol for the logo, then broke it in half to use the arrowhead tread marks as a visual language across the various marketing materials. Greenspace also created the slogan, “Go Do,” that is used across the company’s branding; the team made up the phrase after visiting the doctors, NGO workers, and couriers who would go on to become the target audience for the bike. “They were tremendously inspiring and positive, and they had this can-do attitude,” says Caddy. “That was the greatest insight that hit us.”

[Photo: courtesy Greenspace]
Caddy and his team also peppered Kibo’s new site and ad campaign with human-centered photography and videos that tell the stories of various people who use the K150–a doctor, a test rider, and a courier. Bright colors distinguish the branding from that of other car or mobility companies, much of which is gray or black, sleek, and hyper-masculine. By contrast, Greenspace’s branding looks more like a Silicon Valley startup or a social networking site, which is exactly what they were going for.

Besides setting the brand apart from other motorcycle and automobile companies, this branding strategy reflected something else that the design team observed while doing research in Kenya. “One of the things you notice if you go to a market like this [in the developing world] is there is a huge amount of poverty, but also companies that are making huge technological leaps,” says Caddy. “Everywhere you go in [Kenya], there is a strong 4G mobile network. Not everyone has a smartphone but pretty much everyone has access to one. The biggest and most beloved brands in the country are Facebook and other social platforms. We thought if we can combine a startup ethical mobility company like Kibo with the social media startup ethics.”

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By not centering the branding solely around the vehicle, Greenspace’s design also echoes the broader goals of Kibo to make transportation safer and easier in African countries. Soon the company will also offer affordable safety equipment like jackets, helmets, and extra lights–things that many people on motorbikes in the developing world don’t purchase because of price. They are also starting to offer training on the K150 to those interested in purchasing one.

Kibo hopes ultimately to help cut down on motor-bike fatality rates–not just by selling a better bike and equipment, but also by offering education around bike safety.

About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.

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