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Samizdata quote of the day

(Seriously, apart from the mobile phone, is there any invention that is more empowering for people in poor countries than the motorcycle?)

– Michael Jennings parenthesises during the early stages of a piece about taxis the world over and about taxis in Vietnam in particular. Transport Blog has been in a coma of late, but it is now showing definite signs of renewed life.

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13 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Yes, the bicycle. Seriously.

  • Bruce Hoult

    Bicycles are good, but good ones aren’t cheap. My rather ordinary Giant “Yukon” cost me about EUR 850 a couple of years ago. For 1000 you can get a decent 50cc scooter that doesn’t use all that much more fuel but goes a lot faster and further and with zero effort.

    Actually 50cc bikes are too small and work too hard to have really great fuel economy. Tests I’ve seen put them at mostly around 85 – 90 mpg. I get 60 mpg on the open road from my 1100cc BMW R1100RT (and at 100 km/h, not 50!), or 50 in the city.

    I think somewhere around 125cc – 175cc gives the best fuel economy, but they cost quite a bit more to buy (and need a license).

  • Bruce – I’d respectfully suggest that you were separated from your cash rather too easily – a decent Giant, even a Yukon, can be yours for less than EUR300. And even that is way beyond the spec of something that can make a revolutionary difference to a person.

    i’ll agree that motorbikes can make a huge difference to people’s lives, but when you’re talking about the poor I think the bike has greater potential. For example, being able to quadruple the market for my crops with a bike is a bigger change to me than being able to increase it 16 times over or more with a motorbike.

  • llamas

    . . and, specifically, the Honda step-thru moped in all its many variations and knock-offs.



  • Roue le Jour

    I live in such a country, Thailand, and Michael is quite right. Push bikes are great for moving people around on good roads, i.e. factory workers to their factory, but poor countries are rural countries, and rural people need to move stuff around on dirt tracks. Try taking your eldest boy and a 50Kg bag of fertiliser up to the top field on a push bike and you’ll soon get the picture.

  • Nuke Gray

    Let’s get real, shall we? The contraceptive pill is greater than all those, since limiting families can raise you from poverty! (Come to that, so could selfcontrol, but that’s not talked about much these days. Nor is the possibility that practicing yoga could give you such control over your own blood, that you could control your own fertility.)

  • Agammamon

    Except the poor disagree with you about the utility of contraception.

    Cheap and effective birth control has been available throughout the world for a long time but the poor choose not to use it because having children is more useful than not having children. Children in these areas increase a family’s productivity and allow for greater wealth and economic security than a couple could have alone.

    Its only when you (and your society) become rich that the number of children per family starts to drop.

  • PeterT

    Depends on where you live, but I would suggest….Guns

  • In SE Asia there are swarms of Honda C90’s – you know, the trad ones with white leg guards. They are worked very hard. I suspect Honda makes them extra robust for Asia, looking at what they have to carry!

    They tend to be de-tuned and almost silent, in my experience, when ridden by ladies.

    p.s. I am not sure you can do it now since the motorcar, but Hanoi used to be such that you could cross the road pretty much anywhere and the shoal of bikes would decide if they pass in front or behind just as many fish. The trick is to walk at a constant speed. Lose your nerve, stop or speed up and you cause chaos!

  • llamas

    The Honda Super Cub (C90) is an intersting paradox of technology.

    CW has it that technology in developing countries must be simple and robust – yet the C90 has been, for its inception, at the leading edge of motorcycle technology.

    Its tiny, high-compression, high-revving, full-pressure lubricated engine went overhead-cam in 1967, a development previously only the province of high-end, high-tech motors. The stressed-steel sheet-metal chassis was decades ahead of its time. The semi-automatic transmission was an absolutely-inspired development.

    And the whole thing (as observed) was built like the proverbial brick outhouse, able to shrug off the most amazing abuse and keep going. Over-engineered, over-design, and still produced at an extremely-affordable price.

    It’s the Unimog or DC3 of the motorcycle world, and completely the opposite of what all the earnest developers say that the Third World needs.



  • I am not sure you can do it now since the motorcar, but Hanoi used to be such that you could cross the road pretty much anywhere and the shoal of bikes would decide if they pass in front or behind just as many fish. The trick is to walk at a constant speed. Lose your nerve, stop or speed up and you cause chaos!

    Yes, you certainly can still do this, and this is one of the most important skills one must learn when visiting the city. The trick is to walk slowly but with a constant speed, as you say. I suspect the number of cars will make this difficult before too many years, but that point has not been reached yet.

  • Michael and Tim: it used to be the same thing in Cairo, but mostly with cars. An interesting experience, especially when you need to cross a large square, not just a street. The traffic seems to pour in from all directions simultaneously. There may have been traffic lights, but no one seemed to care anyway.

  • Nuke Gray

    The cheap wrist watch, so they can know by how narrow a margin they missed the train!