Handcycles fit for Third World make lesson for Union students
SCHENECTADY Students in Hal Fried’s social entrepreneurship class at Union College got a demonstration of the class’ subject matter Tuesday from a western Massachusetts handcycle maker.
Mike Augspurger has been crafting off-road handcycles in his shop in Cummington, Mass., for 15 years. The bikes are designed for riders who can’t use their legs to pedal. It’s a small market and the bikes aren’t mass-produced, so they’re expensive.
But Augspurger is also doing something else: Providing free plans and guidance for people who use wheelchairs to improvise and build their own versions of his off-road handcycle in developing countries, in areas where paved streets are few and far between.
That’s where Fried’s concept of social entrepreneurship comes in. Augspurger has engineered a version of his off-road handcycle made essentially from junk bike parts that may be available overseas. He also has put instructions online in the form of YouTube videos. The end result is a model that allows people unable to walk to go places and carry things they normally wouldn’t be able to.
“I think what Mike has in the Developing Country Model handcycle is an opportunity to implement social entrepreneurship,” Fried said. “It’s just sitting there waiting for someone who is really creative and enterprising to put all the pieces together in order to make this happen in the developing world.”
Fried defines social entrepreneurship much the same way it sounds — the interaction of social impact and business. The business part essentially covers some of the costs, rather than depending on donations.
Fried knows Augspurger’s efforts well — the two are brothers-in-law.
Augspurger has the videos and information for the model on his handcycle business webpage, OneOffHandcycle.com, right alongside his products, the handcycles he builds using specialized parts. Instruction for the Developing Country Model substitute readily available parts and methods. Materials can include regular bicycle wheels and drywall buckets, and can be cut to size using a hacksaw, according to his site.
The envisioned end-project is also utilitarian, with racks that can be used for carrying water, firewood or passengers.
Augspurger said he got into handcycles after becoming disillusioned with the customers who were coming to him for custom bike frames.
“I was getting angry about it so I started doing something a little bit more socially conscious,” he said. “It’s more fun. My customers now are way more appreciative.”
The Developing Country Model is just an extension of that effort.
Word of the effort has started getting out. Augspurger said he’s been corresponding with a man in the West African country of The Gambia who has nearly finished one. He’s also talked to people in other countries.
In class Tuesday morning, class members were getting into the topic, Augspurger said. One thought was providing a kit to help people get started.
“They did a great job brainstorming, trying to figure out how you might help promote this Developing Country Model,” Augspurger said.