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Pumped up

Kenyan bike project has ties to U.P.

October 20, 2012
By ADELLE WHITEFOOT - Journal Ishpeming Bureau ( , The Mining Journal

ISHPEMING - A Kenyan company with Upper Peninsula roots has started a campaign to help residents of the African country save money on fixing flat bicycle tires.

Baisikeli Ugunduzi's campaign "No Air, No Flats, No Problems" is a 40-day fundraiser for the manufacturing cost of the company's product - the milele bicycle tube - which is compatible with African bicycle taxis, also known as "boda boda," heavy load haulers and commuter bicycles, said the company's marketing director, Jackie Johnson, who was born and raised in Ishpeming.

"We can afford to manufacture the first several thousand tubes, but this hardly satisfies the need here in Kitale, Kenya, let alone the rest of the western Kenya," Johnson said.

Article Photos

A boda boda, or African bicycle taxi, gives a ride to a passenger. The work puts a lot of pressure on the back tire, leading to frequent and costly flats. A Kenyan company with ties to the Upper Peninsula is working to launch a new kind of bicycle tube to help. (Baisikeli Ugunduzi photo)

The company's product is a flexible tube that replaces a traditional pneumatic tube, Johnson said. It never needs air and never needs to be patched. The company is trying to raise $40,000 by Nov. 9, which will allow them to make about 8,000 milele tubes. The campaign will only receive funds if at least $40,000 is raised, with the current total raised standing at $5,765.

"The people in Kenya are some of the hardest working people I've ever met," Johnson said. "They are anxious for the milele tube and understand how life changing it will be for them and their families."

Baisikeli Ugunduzi, which means modern or innovative bicycle in Swahili, is a company made up of engineers, designers, former peace corps volunteers and cyclists, most of whom come from the U.P., including the CEO. A social business, the company has social motives- rather than profitability - as its bottom line, Johnson said.

According to Johnson, bicycle taxi workers spend 25 percent of their income repairing flat tires, which is a huge expense because they only earn about $2.50 per day.

"Because of the poor quality imported pneumatic tubes and terrible road conditions, people earning a living on their bikes suffer two or more flat tires per day. Each flat costs boda boda 25 cents and an hour of lost work," Johnson said. "This leaves them struggling to feed their families and difficult to send their children to school."

Milele tubes will be sold for $10 and last up to five years. The tube pays for itself 10 times over in the first year and up to 50 times in its life, Johnson said. Every dollar donated will go toward manufacturing milele tubes and getting them on Kenyan bicycles. None of the donations will go toward salaries, overhead or anything else, Johnson said.

"I want people to know that they are donating to a social business that is committed 100 percent to improving the livelihoods of those depending on bicycles in Africa," Johnson said.

To make a donation visit Contributions can be made through PayPal or by credit card. For more information on the company visit

"If we don't reach our goal of $40,000 within 40 days, we get nothing," Johnson said.

Adelle Whitefoot can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is



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