KwaThema born, Nkosana Madi’s passion for biking has seen him launch an innovative project that produces custom made motorised bikes in his backyard.
By: Thanduxolo “Thandz” Buti
Photos supplied by: Nkosana Madi
When Nkosana’s stepfather suggested that he use his old bicycle to get around instead of his car – as a cost-saving measure – he did not know that it would lead to him becoming a motorbike manufacturer.
Years later, he has become a celebrated innovator and with the backing of the Department of Science and Technology and the CSIR’s (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) Technology Localisation Implementation Unit (TLIU), he intends on establishing a workshop that will produce the motor-bicycles in bulk, for locals.
“In the beginning I never intended to sell the bikes, it was just something I was doing out of pleasure and passion,” says Nkosana.
“I am not a not a qualified bike maker, yet, and I was scared of selling the bikes because they had not be tested and guaranteed safe for the road. I decided to test them myself and people just started begging me to sell them to them. That is when I realised that I might be on to something.”
The 33 year-old uses the backyard at his home in KwaThema to produce the bikes. Looking at the bikes it is hard to comprehend that they were made in the backyard of a township home with simple tools.
One may wonder how a young township bike enthusiast can begin to think it is possible to create motorbikes. But Nkosana shares with pride that he is one person who always tries to implement his ideas.
“I don’t hold myself because you never know. I believe there is a reason a certain idea comes to you and so why not explore it? That’s why I have taught myself a lot of things in my life. I am also a self-taught DJ and sound system operator,” he adds.
The young innovator may be on the path to success but his journey has seen him take a few detours. He started off as a lab-analyst at a refinery in Springs – a job he got when he couldn’t finish his IT (Information Technology) studies due to financial difficulties. Five years later he would resign and start his sound and stage production business.
“When I became an entrepreneur life threw me into a whole new direction and it was not easy. Because I no longer had a nine to five job my relationship with the lady at time took a strain and we eventually parted. I sold the house we stayed in and I moved back home. The only thing I had now was my car – it was like I was starting from scratch,” explains Nkosana.
With limited funds, getting around with his car proved to be costly for the young entrepreneur and that’s when his stepfather offered him his bicycle to use. He still recalls the time he gave him the broken bicycle and how it inspired him to build his first motorbike.
“When I was working full-time I used to be a biker. I followed a lot of biking pages just to see how they put the bikes together, without the intention of wanting to build bikes – it was purely just for interest.
When I had to fix my father’s bike I became curious and wanted to replicate what they were doing.
I had some basic tools and I chopped the bike up and welded it back together. I was so excited with the outcome and decided to take a ride to my friend, who lives nearby.
His place is down-hill and I rode nicely, when I got there he was so surprised. I had to go back home but this time I had to climb the hill and it was a mission. The design of the motorbike was more like a chopper which was very limiting. With your normal bike you can actually stand up and paddle just for more effort but with mine I couldn’t because the paddles were way too forward.
When I got home I googled solutions for the problem and I found one. There was a guy who lived in Edenvale at the time, and he helped me with getting a petrol engine because an electrical one was too expensive. I set it up and went to test it out on the same route and it just flew – that’s when I knew this was something special. It then became a new hobby of mine,” recalls Nkosana.
After pursuing his sound and production business, along with designing and creating motorbikes, Nkosana’s life came to halting stand-still in 2013. A dark cloud of depression would hover, forcing him to retreat to himself.
“I lost interest in everything and I even turned down gigs for the sound business,” he shares.
“You know when you had high hopes in something and you fail, it can really get you down, especially when you made some sacrifices. For me, it just didn’t’ make sense to be where I was after all the effort I had put in. I felt like a failure.
A lot of people in my family look up to me and I felt like I had let them down. But In that whole year of being depressed I rediscovered myself.
One day I was cleaning and I took out my bike and I took it apart again just to escape from my feelings. I rebuilt again but this time I didn’t rush because it was a form of destruction. In the two weeks of rebuilding the bike that sort of became my sanctuary. I was also unaware that in me spending all my time working on the bike, I was actually perfecting my skills. By the end of 2015, I had made three bikes.”
Now more determined than ever, Nkosana focused his attention on making more bikes and within no time a tidal wave of opportunities landed on his door-step. He would be recruited for the CSIR Grassroots Innovation Incubator, be invited as a special guest in parliament and also travel to India to represent South Africa at their National Innovation Week.
With success looming, Nkosana hopes to serve as shining beacon of hope for the youth of KwaThema. He plans to create an intern division to mentor young people in his community to be future innovators.
“I want the people in my community to not have any excuse when it comes pursuing their dreams,” he says.
“I also want to see my people being independent and achieving their dreams. I believe that once you are blessed, it’s no longer just a blessing but it’s also a responsibility to others.”