When Jason Morris saw pictures sent to him by his mother - an Anglican minister doing mission work in Uganda - of pedicab operators in downtown Kampala shuttling their clients around the city on cushions mounted on the back fenders of their bikes, he knew he could do better.
"These guys are called ‘boda-bodas,' and they basically ferry people around the cities and towns in Uganda. Cars and gas are so expensive over there that automobile ownership is prohibitive, so they have turned their bikes into cargo carriers and taxis," said Morris, an assistant professor of Industrial Design at Western Washington University. "The problem is, they are using ancient, 1920s-era bikes; even the newer bikes imported from India are of the design common to touring bikes in Europe 75 years ago; they're not built to carry cargo."
Last year, Morris's mother formed a "design team" of boda-bodas who gathered regularly for lunch and discussed the ideas Morris had for a new bike design: sturdier, simple to maintain, and built to carry cargo. Slowly, Morris's initial design became more and more refined.
Last spring, Morris used some research funding to get the prototype built by a Seattle framebuilder, and over the summer, he packed it into a crate and took it to Uganda, courtesy of a summer research grant and funding available through WWU's College of Sciences and Technology.
The reaction to the prototype was even more effusive than Morris had hoped.
"The guys were so excited. They had been telling everyone who would listen that they were helping design a new bike that was going to come from the States, and nobody believed them - then one day, there they were, riding it around town and waving to everyone. It was just awesome," he said.