Zambikes’ Zambulance

Zambikes distributes Zambulances to cities all over Southern Africa, saving thousands of lives.

Written by:
A Zambike Zambulance is delivered to a village in Luwero, Uganda

A Zambikes Zambulance is delivered to a village in Luwero, Uganda in 2012. Photo by Tara Sierra

What do you call a bike-based initiative that saves one life every nine days? In Zambia, Uganda, and other African nations coping with poor healthcare infrastructure, they call it a Zambulance.

Zambikes, the organization behind the Zambulance, was founded in 2007 by college friends Dustin McBride and Vaughn Spethmann. Business majors at Christian-based Azusa Pacific University near Los Angeles, they were on a five-week study exchange in Zambia when, at the end of the trip, Spettman went for a long bike ride with a local chaperone. After a few hours, he returned to tell McBride of the poverty he saw and how his used bike was the wide-eyed envy of many he passed.

“Vaughn felt we had to find a way to bring affordable, high-quality bikes to the villagers,” said McBride. “We both prayed on it, and came up with the idea of building bikes locally from scratch – not only providing reliable transportation, but training Zambians to source materials, manage assembly, and handle bike distribution.”

The two then teamed up with veteran bike builder, Daryll Funk, who not only gave the non-profit instant credibility, but also developed a durable bike design suited to the unforgiving African terrain.

Then came the Zambulance. “We didn’t start out planning to build the Zambulance trailers,” remembered McBride. “About a year after we began operations in Zambia, some local leaders approached us about designing a bike trailer that could comfortably transfer sick people and pregnant women to regional health centers, often more than 10 kilometers (6 miles) away. Until then, people walked, sat on metal bike racks, or traveled by oxcart and wheelbarrow. Many died from the delay in receiving care.”

Zambikes PArtnered with Plan UGanda to distribute over 50 Zambulances through Uganda

Zambikes partnered with Plan Uganda to distribute over 50 Zambulances throughout Uganda, and this Zambulance is being used in a village near Kamuli, Uganda. Photo Courtesy of Pulse Village Transport

Funk designed a heavy-duty trailer that could be attached to any bike, not just the Zambike. Locally-manufactured, the Zambulance includes large shock absorbing wheels, a vinyl-covered foam mattress in a sturdy trailer bed, and a canopy for heat protection and privacy.

Today, with the help of major NGOs and African Ministers of Health, the Zambulance mission is spreading to Malawi, Republic of Congo, and Rwanda. Said McBride, “Our goal is to distribute 20,000 Zambulances in Southern Africa, saving hundreds of thousands of lives.”

This article is part of our week-long coverage of global bike-based organizations changing the world two wheels at a time. Check out 10 Great Cycling Organizations to see more of their inspiring wok.

1 Comment

Autumn Gear Guide

Find inspiration in our Gear Guide that will keep you out on your bike through wind or rain.

Download Now