The Bicycle as a Symbol of Coffee and Tourism in Rwanda
Like Colombia’s emblematic Willy’s Jeeps loaded with bags of coffee beans or Costa Rica’s ox-drawn carts, Rwanda also has a symbol that tourists associate with coffee and rural life in general. It is the wooden bicycle.
The bicycle has become an intricate part of Rwandan society and the economic activities of the country in general. It is the primary source of transport for produce and people in the rural areas, and is integral to the coffee production process, helping to transport ready-picked bourbon berries to the next phase of production. The berries are highly perishable, and the quicker they reach the washing station, the better for quality.
Bicycles can also be used to transport green beans to nearby roasteries, if necessary.
SPREAD and Project Rwanda have taken this a step further by designing and in some cases providing farmers with coffee bikes equipped to transport heavy coffee loads on the extended back portion of the bike. Studies are still under way, but preliminary findings indicate that the new coffee bikes shorten the transport time by four or five times the regular time taken with wooden bikes or other modes of transport, thus drastically improving the farmers’ productivity and making their lives easier.
The coffee bikes can certainly be used to tour coffee plantations and washing stations in true rural tourism fashion.
The coffee bikes may end up having multiple uses that stretch from farming, produce collection and transportation to new avenues of international tourism. But it is the bicycle in general that has been embraced by Rwandans and has grown to become a symbol of coffee, outdoor tourism and life in Rwanda.