The project is constantly evolving and sways back and forth between large concepts and small changes that will be immediately beneficial.  The implementation of the project is going full steam ahead.  During the week we discussed with Viren how the venture would work as an entrepreneur program in Ramapir No Tekro by Manav Sadhna volunteers, involving a loan scheme, a buy back scheme, a workshop and ongoing innovation.  This is moving ahead very quickly! There are vario social concens with how to implement the aspects of the project .  On Monday shall continue communy consultation in regardsto livelihood to gain ground the socal innovation in the reality of these peoples lives.

So we have been taking apart our rickshaw, working, sourcing,scribblng and discussng how we shall venture forth!  Have decided on rerofitting the rickshaw then providing a couple of new interchangeable elements to test out..So!

1)moving the axle forward 10cms.  This involves moving te whole frame forward which wil also provide greater support under the seat.  this will also shoten the chain.

2) relacement of parts with better options: 

a) enclosed bearings

b) padded grips on handlebars

c) new pedals

3) Replacement of 4 tray support straps where the tray meets the seat.

4) Replacement of Braces above wheels. Steel 3/4 x3/4 squaretubing in a welded triangulation structural support under the tray; connecting this to the forked chassis tubing. 

5)Metal frame of tray: replaceing two side supports with central support this meets the cycle frame under the seat. Two cross bars. attached.

6)Bamboo tray: Bamboo lashed tubes that fit into the frame and is locked in to the cross bars.

7)Perforated Metal tray , the underside laminated with car tyre to act as a dampener.   This is screwed into the frame.


funny, funny afternoon…

We have our new toy!!

Very exciting… and had an awesome afternoon getting it from Manav Sadhna back to NID.

We went to the Ashram at 3pm to pick up the trike. The trike belongs to Kalpish, one of the delivery guys, and it’s about 5-6 years old. Pretty rickety. So Kalpish is getting a new trike and we get to tinker with his old one.
We were thinking we might have to ride the thing back by ourselves… which the girls were quite excited about, and which I thought would be the death of us. Lucky (for me at least) Kalpish and Arbin, with his own trike, came with us.

Jess, Kalpish, Parvind, Arbin, Kate, Philippa, Raju.

Jess rode Kalpish’s trike with Kalpish in the back, while Philippa and I rode in the tray of Arbin’s. Jess managed the dodgy trike and the chaotic traffic like a total pro. Philippa filmed most of the trip back (we’ll try to get it edited and up on the site as soon as possible), and needless to say we became a bit of a spectacle. The boys had a good laugh, while we fielded a few conversations, conducted some hand shaking, and fended off a pick-up attempt from the tray, trying to stay focused and observe the workings of the trike at the same time .

It was great to have the time to observe how the trike’s handle in traffic, how easily (how hard) it is for them to get up to speed/get uphill – which is pretty damned hard. Arbin rode standing up for the most part, while Jess found it easier to sit. Not sure if this comes down to riding style… or if Arbin had to work a bit harder to get his trike going with Philippa and me in the back. When going uphill the rider really has to work hard (when doing the deliveries with them previously the riders had to pull or push them uphill with the tray loaded up, which keeps us coming back to the question of gears….).

The bearings in both the trikes are absolutely shot. The type and quality of the one’s currently being used (re-used) are simply not up to the task and conditions.

It took us about 40 minutes to get back to NID, but seemed a lot shorter than that – we were having so much fun.

One small thing: at NID, the mess hall’s trike was parked where we stopped. They have the chunky steel-tubing spoke wheels as opposed to the wire spoke ones the boys have on theirs.

Arbin pointed these out, saying they’re better, stronger than the wire ones. They would obviously be heavier than the wire ones, and perhaps more rigid (placing more strain/shock on the bearings??), but I’d like to look into these types of wheels further and make a complete comparison.

So now we have a rickety little freight trike parked outside our hostel room, all ready for the morrow… when we get our mechanics hats on – start hurling tools around, use foul language and get greasy elbows, right? Wish us luck!

The Assembly Shop


As part of the process we went to visit the “factory”.  The image I had in my head was of an assembly line with a certain level of mechanisation and some of the parts made on site… this was pretty far off the mark.  After this we have been back a few times to check things and understand how the rickshaw is made.

The first time was an interview with the owner with Viren and Kalpesh from Manav Sadhna joining us.

The place was a small shopfront like any other, the only mechanised tool was a drill and men bolted together the various bits sitting on the floor or on the street.  The owner made brand new rickshaws and also repaired old ones.

We interviewed the owner who had various things to say.. In regards to parts, some were sourced locally others from interstate.

The cycle rickshaw parts are all ordered and assembled in Ahmedabad at this shop (or another like it).  Neelum, Arpan and Jexo supply the cycle frame, gears, pedals, tyres and seat.  The cycle frames had slight variances however the owner said there was no difference. Some of the other parts come from Gujurat.

 When questioned about various things the assembly man was interesting; in regards to bearings – you can get better but why bother (!?)  His attitude to changes was pretty much standard – that it wasn’t necessary as the trike worked.  There was no major design faults that he could see.

In regards to maintenance, constant tightening of the screws was necessary as they would slowly unscrew due to the road conditions.

Why heavy wood for the tray?

This is locally sourced and is used due to the stength and cost.  The weight is neessary because of the strength it allowed for – sometimes up to 500kg load.   We disagreed with this as there are materials that are as strong without the weight of the wood…


2:1 ratio.  The larger Neelum #245305 (seth product).  These were pretty standard and he did not seem to think the ratio could be changed or was important.  This gear ratio is standard for biycles.  Whether a transferrance has occured of the technology without adapting it to it’s new design context I am not sure.  That is: is it still the best option when considering the load?  It seems likely this has not been considered. 

The small gear has a pitch of 2.7;3.17 inch width and 22 teeth. We are intending on testing different gears to see if this makes a substantial difference. At this stage a multiple gear system is still not really an option all though this seems the most appropriate alternative. Any other ideas of inexpensive ways to get up hills?

The wheel spoke design is particularly for taking the load.

When as the last time the design changed?

50 years. 50 YEARS!!!! this is for overall assembly, there has been some small improvement of parts such as the spokes and thickness of the tyres.  We have noticed different shaped brackets on older ones and the use of thicker (maybe 3/4 inch diameter) steel spoked wheels.


This is a really interesting continuity of design, that no innovation has occured… this may be due to a few things:

– no necessity to due to the social power structure (just make em work hard!)

– that overall it does work, it keeps working and there are ones still being used from thirty years ago.  

– no access to alternatives.  

Probably a mixture of all these factors.


When we were there on our first visit there was a three wheeler with a lowered tray and smaller back wheels that was being used to put advertising on.  He can customize just give sketches and explain.  

Do not provide technical drawings as they are useless..E I asked whether there were for the existing design and this was also a resounding no.


He confirmed 4 on the axle and the strap metal was to hold the bearings at a certain distance. Not as others has said which was it is an effort at being a shock absorber.  The outer driving wheel has two which cost Rs50 for two and the inner bearings connected to the frame at Rs.50 each.

When riding the rickshaws the problems with going up the slightest incline was so obvious.  The various changes we are incorporating will deal with this to some extent through lowering the weight, shortening the chain and increasig efficiency. However stop to start still remains a large problem.


Trend, whatever people wanted – usually the purple and orange.


The tyres, tubes, bearings and spokes are the usual suspects.  After one year (!?) I believe it would be shorter than that in these conditions, the delivery boys also said this.

The life span should be approximately 5 years if maintained properly.  There is no rust protection used.

The overall cost is Rs.6500 per unit and it can be assembled in an hour on site. Impressive!

He sells individually to whoever orders one, there is no exclusivity involved. He can order different parts to incorporate socan  just bring in a photo and manufacturer, item number and contact.

When I went back there today I watched two of the rickshaws being assembled – it really is an incedible process and amazing how effecient it is.   What is incredible is only .the drill holes for bolts in the milled steel pipe are marked….EVERYTHING IS BY EYE…EVERYTHING. For instance to adjust the tray to make level when fitting – hit the brace underneath with a massive pole or crank it to bend the metal the desireable way… amazing.. talking of tolerances are useless however if you were, we are looking at least +-5cm…

The strapping that as a group we had discussed as seeming absurdly inefficient (amount, placement) could be due to the process followed to fit each sub assembly before attaching the whole. 

Will post a montage of the assembly process soon…

I believe we should stick with the dismantable nature of the design as it allows for ease of maintenance, assembly and keeps the cost low.



Further to what Kate mentioned about making adjustments to the tray…

Currently the tray on the back of the cycle is made from a steel frame with timber planks that form the base.  While this is a rather heavy construction, it is sturdy, and apart from the bolts needing to be tightened and occassionly replaced, it gets the job done.  

Ideally, if we could remove some of the weight from the tray without loosing the rigidity, that would be a great improvement.  

Originally we threw around some ideas about changing just the base of the tray and keeping the steel framework.  We talked about the possibility of incorporating some of the recycled materials used in the construction of the community centre at Ramapir.  The resin panels with recycled plastics and foils were discussed, however due to the rough conditions faced by the cycle, and the weight to be placed on it, using a primarily resin panel for the tray base would be unsuitable because of its tendency to chip and crack.  

Another option would simply to replace the current planks with a lighter variety.  Cork matting was also mentioned, but its rigidity is questionable particularly under such weight, though reinforcement of some kind could work nicely.  

The conversation has now moved forth to the myriad of opportunities that is opened up by bamboo!  cross sections set in resin, laminated strips, whole lengths… oh the possibilities!  the questions now lay in why and how.  According to, bamboo has a tensile strength of 28,000 per square inch, compared to 23,000 for steel.  Bamboo also absorb shock well, something that is greatly needed in these trikes.  Although, as far as joinery goes, using bamboo does pose some questions.  Welding to the steel frame is not really an option, and drilling holes for bolts creates “stress risers, and make a good point for any splits to propogate from.”  (thanks to Nick, from the Carry Freedom crew)  Although, instead of bolting each individual length to the frame,  Philippa suggested it could be possible to join the lengths with a steel rod threaded through aligned holes which would then attach to the outer frame.  The benefits of this would be that the heads of the bolts and the nuts would not be grating at the material, and the rod could have more clearance through the holes than a bolt would, thus creating less stress.  

Above:  Philippa’s Bamboo Tray Ideas

Nick, who with Carry Freedom has developed a bamboo bicycle trailer for two wheel cycles, suggested that if bolts are used to join bamboo, binding them with epoxy soaked bandages, would help to reduce the risk of splitting.  Due to the weight of the load and way things are thrown into the tray, the type of bamboo would need to be careful considered too.  

Looking at the Carry Freedom group’s work, it is entirely possible that we could reconstruct both the back chassis and the tray using only bamboo.  However considering the tough conditions that the vehicle is subjected too, this would not be a wise idea.  If we chose to use bamboo, it will be either as a tray base in combination with a steel frame, or for both the tray base and sides (in place of steel.)  

Other tray options including creating either a steel grid or mesh base, and lining it with something such as lino or rubber.  Talking with Viren this afternoon,  sheet metal and fibreglass are also being considered as options.  Whatever direction we take, hopefully we can substantially reduce the weight of the construction while maintain its current strength and rigidity.  

So for now its back to the drawing board… and playing with our new toy!!

Tray concepts & questions

We have progress!

Our 2nd hand trike will be delivered (fingers crossed) today, thanks to Manav Sadhna. One of the boy’s delivery trikes, which is in a bit of a sad state, will be ours to play with for the next week and a half… Basically we want to retrofit the trike with new wheels, better bearings, shorter chain (possibly fiddle with gear ratios…?), and a new tray design and attachment. Oooh – and a novelty horn.

Ideas and arguments have been tossed around for the tray design, such as:

– Lowering tray bed Will this make it more difficult to load and unload (At the moment the tray is at waist level)? Or is there a greater pay off with better stability/smaller rear wheels?

– Bamboo construction of bed and sides Bamboo is lightweight and strong, we’ve seen an excellent design of a bike trailer using bamboo (see However, in regards to maintainance and repair, exactly how easy is it to replace, join, repair?

– Steel construction of tray We’ve come up with some preliminary designs using triangulated supports welded under the base of the tray. Here’s a question for someone who knows: Is it best to use gussets on joints such as these? Can you use gussets without welds – just bolt gusset to joists? I ask this because in the current design the frame is largely bolted together, after a while due to the rough roads the bolts come loose, they are then able to be tightened up again (or replaced). I’m concerned that if we use welded joints in the frame the jolting on the roads will weaken the welds, then when they have to be repaired it will involve re-welding as opposed to just replacing a bolt…… thoughts anyone??

– Steel/bamboo combination tray Using the steel frame for the support/flat bed, constructing tray platform and sides from bamboo… basically trying to get the best of both worlds.

– Attachment of tray to bike frame At the moment the tray is attached to the bike frame in two places. The main tray support (underneath trike, supports rear axle) is bolted to the crank shaft. The actual tray bed is attached to the joint underneath the bike seat using 4 steel straps. The delivery boys have crammed blocks of wood between these straps and the tray because when riding there is too much movement in this area – it rattles around and is a nuisance (sorry I think I’m explaining this badly). You can see from the pic:

Will it create problems removing this space between – attaching the tray frame directly to the joint underneath the seat? The block of wood is acting as a shock absorber… I’m concerned the frame may be too rigid if this flex point is removed completely.

Anyway – the thoughts continue….

We’ll post some pics of our new toy when it arrives. Yipee! Dismantling time!

more bearing business

So we went back to the assembly guy this afternoon in the old city to clarify what bearings go where, why and how…

Basically the standard type of bearing used across the trike’s back axle are ISO 6207 (62 referring to model, 07 referring to inner diametre: 07 x 5 = 35mm). The assembly guy fits used bearings, sourced locally. This came as a bit of a surprise… these trikes are starting their life on Amdavadi roads with pre-worn bearings. Can’t be good for their longevity. The front wheel hub and the crank bearings are new, however we’re unsure of the quality of these parts.

Some other bits and pieces:

The structural tubing used for the frame is 1″ mild steel (or 16 gauge).

None of the materials – steel, timber – used in manufacturing are standardised (… our translator, Franklin, remarked: You won’t find anything that’s standardised in India. Excellent.)

The overall weight of the trike is around 100kg, each trike varies.

Bearings are press fit onto axle.

We then headed to a bearings supplier across town. This guy sells FAG bearings, FAG being a german manufacturer of speed steel bearings. We had a look at the 6207’s, both sealed and unsealed. There’s about Rs. 40 difference between the two (Rs. 245 – 280). The owner of the store told us that the difference in longevity is huge, the sealed bearings lasting much longer than unsealed (due in particular to the amount of dust on the roads). We asked whether or not the balls/races could be replaced within the sealed bearings if needed, as we were concerned that maintainance/parts replacement would be more of a hassle than the unsealed bearings (presuming that these parts are bound to be damaged at some stage due to road conditions: sealed or unsealed) … not positive on his answer (lost in translation) however we gather that they can be, and the overall consensus on the bearings is sealed is definately the way to go.

sealed 6207 SS bearing


balls, balls, balls. and bearings!



The bearings on these delivery trikes are notorious for wearing easily, being difficult to maintain, and too often in need of replacement.  This is mainly due to their poor quality, and the rough conditions they are subjected to, including terrain, the load placed on them, and dust and dirt that gets into them causing more friction.  So naturally, looking into different types of bearings and upgrading to better quality makes sense.  In particular, the fours sets of ball bearings on the rear axle, are constantly in need of maintainance or replacement.  


The main concern when deciding on what change to make to the bearings will be the weighing up of cost versus quality.  For example, if maintenance is such an issue, is an upgrade in quality in order to reduce the frequency of needing to repair/replace the bearings, really going to outweigh the extra initial cost?  

the axial bearings consist of a cup and cone, two races and of course, the ball bearings.  

(insert image)

Ideally, replacing the current steel bearings with ceramic ones would be perfect as they are 2/3 lighter than their steel counterparts, create very little friction, are more resistant to grit and dirt and last around five times longer.  However, they are somewhat costly…

courtesy of , the following is a costing of the balls that sit within the race in the bearings.  

52100 chromed steel.  high load bearing, excellent surface quality 5MM CHROME GR.25 BALLS (100)  $19.95  for 100 balls

440c stainless steel.  5MM SS GR.25 BALLS (100) $39.95  for 100 balls

and the comparable ceramic variety, cost around $2.95 per piece.   so unfortunately that puts them a little out of reach as far as this project is concerned.  

so, who are the middlemen?

We’ve had some varying reports and opinions of the middle man… Is he the money grabbing villain, keeping the downtrodden downtrod, cackling and rubbing his hands together with glee? Or the benevolent master protecting his flock and ensuring a system of employment for the grateful masses?

Okay – we don’t think so either…… maybe somewhere in the middle, man.

(my apologies, that’s definately punch worthy).

Anyway. Originally, we were of the opinion that this middleman was the cackling sort, and our microfinancing ideas were based around downplaying this guys role in the system if not cutting him out completely. This was because of the stories we’ve heard about the terrible financial situations rickshaw wallahs end up in due to taking loans from the middleman, who demands repayment with exorbitant interest. Basically, the interest is the only part of the loan the rider can afford to pay off, risking transferrance to the next generation where the cycle of debt continues. We have even heard these loan systems referred to as bonded labour.


While giving the rider the opportunity to own his own rickshaw through a microfinancing scheme could be an avenue to empowerment and more income, there are other issues to consider. Middlemen own and rent out the rickshaws. This means that any maintainance and repairs are managed and paid for by him. Also there are instances of bullying from local police which the middleman ‘sorts out’ for the rider, as far as we can tell by means of payments/bribes.

SO……. How does the middleman fit into this new system?

As Philippa has noted, through consultation with Viren we will be proposing a gradual introduction of the microfinancing scheme so as not to threaten the existing system. Or, as Soumitri has suggested – developing the scheme into a co-op where the livelihood of the rider is central to the system as opposed to the profit of the middleman. We now know that more research is needed into the current system to comprehend the exact role of the middleman, and how much our intervention will disrupt rickshaw wallah politics.

Phasing of the project

In the past few days we have been discussing the nature of how this project will continue. The feedback has been incredible and the implications of the project are growing rapidly.

On Friday Jess, Kate and I went to meet with Virin at Manav Sahdna to discuss options for the future and how the new design would be incorporated into the ngo and into the community. From this conversation three aspects were clarified:

Longevity of project and continuing innovation

We discussed the way in which we would structure a loan or alternative rental scheme. The amount the riders pay at the moment to rent is Rs.20/day, 6 days/ week hence around Rs.480/month. The current cost of a rickshaw is Rs.6500 (the cost we are working to) so they would be able to pay it off in approximately 7 months. At this point a continuing scheme would be offered either as a savings strategy or as an ongoing payment for upgrade every three years. These trikes need ongoing maintenance and the conditions of working are so harsh that their life should be around three years… of course it is not and you still see rickshaws out and about that have been around for twenty-thirty years. The trade off is the driver’s health.

The phased system allows them to continue to invest and will have the added income of selling/trading in their old rickshaw every three years. This also acts as a driver for innovation in the design. This means that the unit cost can be raised which allows for the parameters to change; one can then look at human powered batteries, changing the materials (get rid of steel!) and creating ongoing community facillitation. This will be an adaptive process within the community. Another added benefit is that this creates added income as a livelihood investment rather than straight profit, dealing with issues of alcoholism and how one makes sure the benefit is transferred to the whole community.

There are reactionary arguments with this of overly controlling a community and taking power away from them to create their own future. Implementing a comprehensive “plan” is plied full of your own beliefs of what is good and what is development; let alone many assumptions of the community and ways of living. The implied concern within this is that the community does not evolve and sustain itself, and who are we to say we know what is best?

I think the only avenue to deal with this is by making the project community based, at every point asking and transferring the local knowledge and ways of living into enhancing the design of the rickshaw and the socal innovation objectives.

Method of Initial Implementation

The major question that arose was who is the middle man? (see kate’s post)…particularly issues of heavying, police protection and other benefits provided by the mysterious middle man. According to the food delivery man Kalpesh, the middle man was not so bad, the police did not harrass the rickshaw wallahs however questions do arise…

How do you move away from the existing system and how do you factor in the non-transparent elements of culture and community? How do you factor in the things you do not understand? What are the repercussions of entering the social dynamics?

Viren’s response was we provide this service to three or four guys to test out then offer it to others. By starting small you avoid threatening the middle man and can dampen repercussions. If it is a better deal they will choose it and the social shift will occur simultaneously. If not then the initiative keeps getting tweaked… until it becomes the better option!

We then discussed the idea of a cooperative involving government as a project interest in non-organised labour. This may create benefits such as government ID’s thus giving some element of protection through legitimacy to the riders.

The handover

We discussed with Viren the handover of the project and fleshed out that we had a few ways of carrying on the project. These are through Indicorp (US based) – posting the project on the Manav Sahdna global group and getting a dedicated volunteer to come and do the project for a year. There is also an Australian volunter who continues coming back and forward to India who may be interested in taking over the project.

In regards to design, we discussed continuing NID involvement and suggested the ongoing involvement of RMIT through the continuing exchange program. Viren did raise the point that there is a problem within people shifting and not having one person overseeing the project.

Viren’s organisation is growing at an exponential rate, and is doing incredible work. He is in charge of 35 projects as is so cannot take on another project (however exciting it may be). We agreed to creating a document scope to provide to those interested in recycle wallah.

This conversation was great and allayed our fears of how we could do this project without rushing it or it becoming tokenistic. We are really happy with the way in which it is heading.

Conversations with Soumitri on Social Innovation

I got a rush of energy reading your blog. All sound really awesome. And so I wrote in a long comment – and that awful edublog ate up the comment. So I hate edublogs and wil not go there. I am quite happy with the original wordpress – thank you.

What did I say?

Essentially I saw all that you were saying in your blog – and went yeah! to all the points. And I offer the following points:
1. In our project we just cut down the weight – first part. See for the project.
2. Then to make the new design accessible we went to the state and got them to seed fund 200 rickshaws.
3. Did the project believe in the market forces? Yes. To some extent.
4. Are there a few hundred thousand rickshaws becuse of that project – I think so.

Now re the technical:
1. Weight reduction is good.
2. Rationalising construction is good.
3. Gearing? We went there – and its still available as an after market kit for our design. Not many use it.
4. Prabhu later did roto moulded rear crates. Not very successful.

So in short there is a technical project there.

Re the systemic:
1. I would love to see a social innovation enterprise come up – that does ‘rickshaw share’.
2. The enterprise buys the rickshaws – so no need for microfinance.
3. The enterprise retires rickshaws after they become old – two years? – and decrepit.
4. The ‘wallah’ is the one one who uses the service to make money.
5. Who owns the social innovation enterprise? An agency or like AMUL a cooperative.
6. Will this agency be able to fight rickshaw bans? Or police harassment? Possibly.

Also see …

Shashi Bhushan Sharma, a rickshaw operator in Chandni Chowk, operates a hundred cycle rickshaws from his rickshaw stand. Bhushan explains that the very nature of the rickshaw sector makes it difficult to adhere to MCD rules. “The reason why most rickshaw pullers do not own their vehicles is that they migrate from the villages twice a year. Rickshaw licences are not transferable, and so it makes little sense to own a rickshaw outright.”

Most rickshaw pullers come during interludes in the farming season, have stable arrangements with rickshaw operators and rent the vehicles for Rs.20 a day. In return, the rickshaw operator is responsible for the maintenance of the vehicle, renewal of its licence, repair in case of accidents and safe-keeping. The operators also protect rickshaw pullers from the predatory police force and pay the fines when the rickshaws are impounded or confiscated. Thus, it would be simplistic to view the relationship between the rickshaw pullers and operators as purely exploitative.

A bad redesign:

Philippa said, on September 18th, 2008 at 4:19 pm

thanks soumitri, that is great to know that we are on to a good thing. In regards to engineering aspects, the changes are small however beneficial. we have an engineer who works with ManavSadhna on the case and he is sharing the blog and the design brief with some other engineers. This is nice as can come up with ideas and get them shot down or stood up before testing through a bank of knowledge we do not have in our heads however have access to!
Social innovation: the two year phase out system I really like. This helps the rickshaw drivers however is also a driver for design advancement. I thought the microfinance was important as a self-empowerment method and is integrating flexiblity into the deal. The idea is the enterprise buy from manufacturer then loan to rickshaw drivers until they have paid back. The enterprise party is Manav Sadhna for this case however also want to structure it so there is open source access and an ability to be used outside of this particular context – maybe a toolkit for ngos to implement similar negotiations…. this may be more realistic as a second stage option. They have agreed to act as collective for the the loan scheme, this is great as they have good social standing and good repore with government.
What do you think?
That is interesting about the gear option, we were thinking along the tangent of creating a workshop in Manav Sadhna and handing out kits to retrofit existing….nice idea however may not be viable…
The middle man is not sitting quite right.. I feel that replacing rather than tweaking the system has a sense of foreboding as may not be reflexive to the circumstance,habits and unknowns….. we will have to get a better understanding of the particular frame work they are working in. maybe this involves freeing up the market – that is getting the riders access to more than one middle man to be empowered to create better terms and conditions. This does not deal with the “handover” the riders are in debt to the middle man which is a whole other range of issues – how does a well connected someone deal with losing all their business? not well i am guessing…
back to it. thanks for your help
soumitri said, on September 18th, 2008 at 4:54 pm

For years in India – in the 70s – there was a preoccupation with the lo-cost car. This kept innovation out – and progress out. In the early 80s the suzuki was introduced – and became a rage.

So the thing about innovation is the path you choose will define the scope for innovation.
1. If you go the mircofinance route – that is like our project in Delhi. Keep costs below 5K rupees. Very little room for manoeuvre here. The rickshaw driver gets a basic deal – not the best. This is the way engineers have opted for make the product better But what if the product cant b all that better? And the rickshaw driver gets the same old deal? No innovation leap here – business as usual and no risks in this. The mircofinance option is to make individuals into business men – there are no women here. Unlike Yunus’ BOP model. There is also no production of things. So who should own the rickshaw?
2. If you go the social innovation route – you start with the service. The product is secondary. What this can give you is a relaxation in the unit cost of the rickshaw. If you have a higher unit cost can you make a better product? A higher unit cost allows you to retrofit gears into it – plus also electric assist as an option. If you do this then you can rickshaw options of the sort you see in China – some quite quirky solutions at this lo end of goods carrying vehicles.
3. How do you address exploitation? Thats another project

philippa wrote:

it has been knawing at the back of my head as to why this is such a static market? why has their been no consistent change in design… is it purely because absolute power creates stasis… there is no need to change if you have slaves…

If we can use the capacity of this project as a redesign which is then leverage for techniques of opening up the slum economics and rickshaw livelihoods. By this I mean if we provide an avenue by which the rickshaw driver is given freedom….if done correctly the slum itself may benefit independently rather than as a dependent limb of an ngo or middle man.
i think the importance of ownership to me was that it was a symbol of independence (really???) thus was trying to design ngo dependence out.. now with this questioning have realised this may actually prove to do the opposite…and when it comes down to Manav Sadhna they are there to stay. Designing dependence out would have a crippling effect on a slum, the interdependence is one of the key characteristics that keeps a slum running and the people within it living. Enhnacing this community structure is maybe the key avenue.

I have also been thinking of the nature of the microfinance in terms of the lack of women and lack of service… there is too many social implications to the finance.
I have another question running around my brain: what defines success of the project? if we lower the exertion needed, thus the men can either work at a more leisurely rate, for less time or work more (hence more cash). There is a huge drinking problem in Ramapir (90% of men)… how will the streamling of their work help their drinking habits??
I now see what you mean by a collective fund being preferable to a loan. If you cannot design out the maintenance issues why the hell would you want to own it!

In regards to costing, there is a project that is running three phases of the rickshaw to full motorisation
have contact the man and am waiting to hear back.

the cost being low still seems an important factor to me (some innate inclination towatds cheap crap?). This may be because I relate low costs to freedom – the larger the cost the changing rate of inclusion/exclusion of who has access to the product. However the way in which this can be done. Obviously governement subsidies are a way… if they will give them. or company sponsorship of expensive elements (motor, etc.) to then guarantee governement contract? Or manipulating market forces by creating a greater demand to lower unit production costs…

off the top of head:
maybe some way of a workshop that runs the collective, the women run it, people learning skills to modify bikes and working with Manav sadhna(as industry agent) to design the next rickshaw. the rickshaw redesign every two years and takes the old parts (re-use or secondary use?). if me jess and kate can do then so can they. the inhabitant becomes the designer and the designer becomes the agent.

Initial Ideas on gears and chain..

These are some initial ideas on how to deal with shortening the chain and easing the ride by creating more efficient gears.

At the moment the gear ratio is 1:2.

The first option is moving the whole tray forward.  This could work for a minimal length shortening of the chain, however the flipside is that the tray may overbalance with too much weight.

This is a birds eye view of the basic frame of the cycle rickshaw:

The next idea is using a gear train method.  That is adding in an extra chain and two gears to create more efficency.  By having two chains the rider only has to pedal half as much to get two wheel rotations (this does not take into account any forces at play).

One option of this would be:

This is adding two more of the same diamater gears in so should not be a problem for manufacture.  Some questions are raised such as…

How much resistance is there because of weight?

How much harder is it to initially pedal?  Is this noticeably different to the current system?…How does this change with more weight in the tray?

Is there any “drag” from the green gear transferring the rotation?

The trade off for the increase in rotations is the ease of pedalling.

To look at two different gear trains….

The next option is introducing a second axle closer to the pedals.  This involves incorporating 3 more gears and a drive shaft…  This shortens the chain.

This involves changing around many parts,  and at this stage the benefit of shortening the change is not defined.  The trade off is the cost and ease of manufacture.  Also the more parts the more maintenance required.

Gear Ratios and basic cycle physics

There are a few forces at work that are the foundation of bicycle movement and hence must be understood to design by.

Force and Motion : The force you exert through pedalling and squeezing the breaks. The greater the weight, the greater force needed to move the weight – the more human energy required. Balance: The forward force outweighing the urge to fall over. In terms of the threewheeler this is offset by the third wheel balancing the centre of gravity. The importance of this is that the bike does not need a level of speed to stay upright. Inertia: The force that wants to keep going after you break. What makes you skid. Friction: The surface texture will create resistance when within a moving part. This impacts the ability of the parts to move smoothly over each other. The rougher the surface the more friction is created. This is important for gears and chain, the addition of a lubricant will benefit the movement by lowering the friction.

Photo courtesy
Emerson Power Transmission Corp.

Gear ratios
On any gear, the ratio is determined by the distances from the center of the gear to the point of contact. For instance, in a device with two gears, if one gear is twice the diameter of the other, the ratio would be 2:1. The diameters of the gears creates a trade off which simply can be seen as speed to effort involved:
“A lower gear ratio is preferred when accelerating, pulling heavy loads, climbing hills, or riding into the wind to reduce the amount of pedaling effort required. A higher gear ratio is usually chosen when empty, going downhill, or when the wind is at your back to increase speed without having to pedal as fast.”
Thus for our project we want a lower gear ratio. The nature of the experience has many factors.

-huge loads: 100-200kg-stopping and starting all the time, hence the time spent accelerating is greater.
-inconsistent terrain, slight inclines.

These factors all create a situation where percentage of time accelerating (exerting force )spent on the trike is much greater. This not only affects they way in which the gear ratio works however other factors such as where stress is felt on the frame, what will wear first.

Back to gear ratio. There are many ways of explaining this however the easiest is to think that the circumference (diameter x pie) of a circle is the length it takes to turn one full revolution.

If the diameter is smaller so to is the circumference.

If one then takes two gears that are different sizes, the gear ratio is the differences in diameters. For instance: 2:1. where gear A=2, gear B = 1. This means that A has to turn twice for every time B turns once. This also means A’s diameter is half of B’s.

A method of speeding up the gears are gear trains.

By joining a small cog to a larger cog and spinning them on the same axis. One can firstly convert the revolutions of the purple larger gear into quicker revolutions in the smaller green gear. This then translates into the green larger gear doubling the speed of the first purple gear. This is a continuous doubling effect as one adds each double cog.

The reason for using a gear chain is to get more speed out of the least amount of exertion (to turn the first gear).

In view of our design this could be useful in terms of driving the back wheels quicker by adding in an extra cog in the centre part of the chain, thus creating two shorter chains rather than one long one. I think this would then mean you could lessen the size of the gear attached to the pedals meaning the rider would have to work less hard.

Whether this would have ergonomic benefit I am not sure… if done right the rider could then sit rather than standing. This would then change the constraint of the rather large bicycle frame…

“The advantages of chains and belts are light weight, the ability to separate the two gears by some distance, and the ability to connect many gears together on the same chain or belt.”

Multiple Bicycle Gears

“The idea behind multiple gears on a bicycle — whether it’s an older “10-speed” bike or a modern mountain bike with 24 gears — is to let you change the distance that the bike moves forward with each pedal stroke.”

A good example given by howstuff works:

For example, a normal bicycle has wheels that are 26 inches in diameter. The “lowest” gear ratio on the bike might be a front chain wheel with 22 teeth and a rear gear having 30 teeth. That means that the gear ratio is 0.73-to-1. For each pedal stroke, the rear wheel turns 0.73 times. In other words, for each pedal stroke, the bike moves forward about 60 inches (about 3.4 mph / 5.4 kph at a 60-rpm pedaling rate).The “highest” gear ratio on the bike might be a front chain wheel with 44 teeth and a rear gear having 11 teeth. That creates a 4-to-1 gear ratio. With 26-inch wheels, the bike moves forward 326 inches with each pedal stroke. At a 60-rpm pedaling rate, the speed of the bike is 18.5 mph (30 kph). By doubling the pedaling rate to 120 rpm, the bike has a maximum speed of 37 mph (60 kph). A range of 3.4 mph to 37 mph is fantastic, and it lets the rider climb the steepest hill very slowly or race almost as fast as a car! That is why a bike has gears.”

The amount of time needed to go through the gears these wallahs do not have, within the 2 hours riding with them I think we actually kept moving for longer than a minute – without one person jumping off, or need to break – maybe twice. Obviously this means concentrating on the lower gears and would be very helpful for dealing with the weight and acceleration.
The first thing the lunch delivery men wanted was gears ( the second being a motor).

There are plenty of maintenance shops for bikes around however how many are dealing with gears i am not sure ( i have not seen many geared bikes on the road). If parts can not be maintained they become useless. The cost of parts and the lack of maintenace does not seem to make even a 3 gear system appropriate.

The incorporation of gears is costly, we are doing it as cheap as possible so that it is easily manufactured and at a price level where they can actually see themselves buying them and acheive it. Every part we add to the manufacture adds cost, working with what we have here in Amhedabad is our objective. The factory we are using is also local and so much will be dependent on the way in which the production line is set up. (We go to visit and initiate conversation this week)

Luckily India is incredibly resourceful place and I am sure even if it meant hiring people to do by hand the extra parts of the assembling process this could be acheived. This then raises an ethical question of creating a production line that supports cheap labour. Hence investigation into the factory itself and whether or not you are creating an access point for disempowerment of other people for the empowerment of the cycle wallahs through the design.

Alternative ideas stem from this. Creating social design elements so fitting the bike with the desired elements becomes individually accessible. That is taking production freight trikes then providing information and parts to retrofit them by the rider themselves, or through a community workshop. This is dealing with the issue as open source project.

and so, find another way of dealing with exertion levels – speed – weight…

and keep thinking about the way in which you integrate this design back into it’s context.


Friday we spoke with our cycle wallah friends again and quizzed them on the workings of their rickshaws, identifying problems spots, and getting clued up on maintenance issues.  

The boys take their rickshaws to the repair shop monthly for a service.  For this they must fork out Re.500, but they don’t have much choice in the matter, as these vehicles are high maintenance, with parts needing tweaking or replacing on a regular basis.  The only thing they tend to themselves, is pumping tyres, which is needed every 2nd day, due to the weight of the load they carry, and the dreadful state of the roads they ride along.  

Where the problems lay


Chain Length   

Due to the incredible load that the tray carries and the human exertion required to pull it, the length of the chain at current seems ridiculously long.  This length only adds to the effort rquired to turn the chain around the cogs.  

Apart from its length, tension is also an issue.  As you can see here, is loose to the point of touching part of the chassis, and a rag has been tied around the cross bar to stop direct contact with the chain.  This certainly doesn’t help with wearing of the chain, or the frame work.  

Due to the stress caused by the condition of the roads, the break pads on the bikes require replacement every fifteen to twenty days, which is both inconvenient and unsustainable.


post in progress…

Design Brief



Redesigning Ahmedabad cycle delivery rickshaws to improve efficiency, reduce maintenance, lower human exertion and lessen detrimental heath impacts.  This design will be within a scheme of livelihood empowerment through micro finance as a systematic response to social issues.


According to UN Habitat, 42% of the city’s 5 million plus people live in slums and chawls. A slum is ‘defined as a compact area with a collection of poorly built tenements, mostly of a temporary nature, crowded together and usually with inadequate sanitary and drinking water facilities in unhygienic conditions’[UN Habitat].  There has been a rapid increase in slum populations in the past ten to twenty years due to increased migration from rural areas.  Families inhabit disused plots and as more people come the communities are formed using what ever found materials to create their homes. These slums are incredibley dense and incredibly resourceful. The inhabitants are the poorest of the poor living hand to mouth. 

Due to the nature of the organic settlements and illegal tenure, the people living within face serious issues such as access to basic amenities – water, electricity and sanitation; disempowerment through conditions of livelihood such as lack of income, no human rights and extremely hard labour.  Social problems include alcoholism, abuse and crime, lack of access to health facilities, education, nutrition, and recognition.  

The people within the slums are the backbone of the city.  They are the waste management, the transport and the cleaners (among other things), and are completely relied upon by the whole city.  They work in the informal sector as ragpickers, auto drivers, cycle rickshaw drivers, repairers, launders, cooks, house cleaners.  They are not legally recognised or protected.  They are disempowered, taken advantage of, ignored: living very hard lives to say the least.  

The Ramapir No Tekro slum settlement is the largest and oldest in Ahmedabad.  It sprawls over illegal lands to the North of the city and has a population of between 100 000 – 160 000 people. Manav Sadhna is an organisation working with the inhabitants to improve their living condition and empower them to create a better future.  Initiatives address the specific context and issues for these people; this integrated approach encompasses nutrition, education, health, basic amenities, livelihood and community.


Design Intervention Point 

Many of the men work as goods deliverers on cycle rickshaws.  The average daily wage is Re.100-200 for a full day of work.  They rent their rickshaws from a ‘middle man’ who charges annually 165% of the cost to buy one, that is the rickshaws cost around Re.4500, the rent is approximately Re.600/month hence around Re.7000/year.  There is no retirement age and many are working well into their senior years.

The loads can be incredibly heavy. The work is dehydrating and through years of doing without a proper diet detrimental to their health. 

One of the programs run by Manav Sadhna is the delivery of midday meals to the slum for 4000 small children (aged 2-6 years old).  The food is delivered everyday by three cycle rickshaws and four young men.  The temperatures are searing, and each does a route of 7-14km to deliver to 41 Balwadi centres.  The road surfaces are full of pot holes, the traffic is chaotic; the weight of the food is above 100kg.  This is exaggerated by the cycle design.  The design is inefficient in terms of the environment it is riding in and the exertion needed to move it.

We are looking at a systematic response to rickshaw drivers in the Ramapir No Tekro district.  

This includes:

Microfinance scheme to deal with the disempowerment of the drivers.

Redesign of the cycle rickshaw to be more efficient, easier for the driver and require less maintenance.  

Creating communication between Manav Sadhna, NID and manufacturer to continue with the project.  


1. Microfinance

Creating a dialogue with the factory to produce the rickshaws 

Collaborating with Manav Sadhna to find potential funders for the revolving fund.

Creating a suggested loan structure.

Sketching out a future dialogue with the rickshaw drivers to start the buy back scheme.  


2. Redesign Prototype: 

A retrofitting of an existing rickshaw for under Re.5000.

Production Prototype: A manufactured rickshaw to the decided specifications.

This will incorporate design development in the following key areas:


  • Chain – streamlining and tension correction
  • Suspension & Shock absorbers
  • Weight of the tray
  • Stress points on the chassis
  • Relative Diameters of the two gears
  • Replacement of Bearings with better quality options
  • Horn 
  • Substitution of brake material

3. Design Communication 

Facilitate hand over to see the production prototype through if by the NID deadline of October 6th the 2nd prototype is not finished. 

Facilitate meeting between interested parties and creating methods to take over the Re-cycle wallah project.

Outline of future possibilities for the project.



Task Assessment


Case studies – Balwadi Delivery Men

Travelling around with the Rickshaws

Observations of Use and mechanisms

Interview with rickshaw repairman

Research  into existing redesigns – contacting makers

Research into sustainable transport policy

Sustainable Transport Instiitute

Microfinance schemes and examples

Concept Development



Technical Drawings

Testing of Design Elements

Testing of new parts

Acquire a rickshaw to retrofit

Consultation with Stakeholders for Implementation

Continuing input and testing the redesign with the Balwadi rickshaw drivers, repairmen and other rickshaw users

Manav Sadhna – concept development and integrating program to encompass redesign

Meeting with design/engineering consultants 

NID System Design Faculty

Manufacturer – initiating conditions to manufacture by.




Spending a day delivering meals in the Ramapir slum



As part of the research for this project we spent the day yesterday going around on delivery rickshaws to the Balwadis.  These rickshaws are supplied by Manav Sadhna as are the meals for 4000 children.  The three rickshaws deliver a nutritious meals to 2-5 year olds in 41 Balwadis (nutrition centres) spread out in the Ramatipur slum area.   These centres run like a creche for 2 hours in the middle of the day.

The centre leaders sing songs and play with the children whilst amongst other things educating about animals, basic hygeine and family in song.  The system seems an efficient means of dealing with the issue of malnutrition of children in slums.

This experience was to understand the ways the three-wheelers work, don’t work and the experience involved in being a delivery man in Ahmedabad.

It is hot! the temperatures are searing, the roads are bad and give off more heat and their is chaotic indian traffic. Dealing with tis traffic is hard enough in a motorised vehicle; with the wiegthed down three wheeler, the skill in going round a round about is incredible, the riders had to pick their timing from about 50m away to be able to get up the speed to cross and weaving through traffic.


The cycles have no suspension and carry more than 100kg on the back, each of the above containers when full weighs 5kgs.  There are no gears, no shock absorbers and worn out bearings…. 

The turning circle and manouvreability of the vehicle is  good.  When I had a ride of one after watching them all day I was happy to find that it was not as hard as I was expecting… there was no load, no traffic or potholes… and I was in the shade… and it was for two minutes on flat ground.


At -or 20m before -the smallest incline the boy not riding (and I) would jump off the tray and start running up the hill helping drag/push the weight so as to gain momentum.  Either from the front left corner or the back, whilst the rider stood up pedalling hard.  The man on foot would then jump back on the tray as soon as some speed was up.  The speed never got up that much and there was a lot of stopping and starting.

The boys didn’t seemed to think the breaks were a problem, and wanted changeable gears or a motor fitted.  When asked a second time about smaller changes they ointed out the ball bearings.

From this we have clarified possible design interventions defined by use:

1.  Gear diameters (relativity and trade off of speed and ease)

2. Chain: Tension and guidance.

2. Weight of the tray

3. Quality of the bearings

4. Suspension/Shock Absorbers

We are thinking of sticking with the existing frame to keep the cost down, and to make sure it is realistic to manufacture.  There is absolute awareness that our ability to help is very limited by the time we have left in AHmedabad, so creating a brief that is realistically beneficial is our prime objective. Particular consideration is being given to the ease of design adaption/retrofitting as we are exploring the idea of creating an access system where users could do themselves.