Roaring through the Afghan capital at speeds of up to 180 kilometers an hour? Doing wheelies in city squares?
These activities would once have been impossible for Afghanistan’s numerous disabled. But a young Kabul inventor, Mostafa Mohammadi, has created a hand-controlled motorcycle that may soon have previously housebound persons zipping around town.
Mohammadi was touched by the plight of those who have lost limbs and mobility during Afghanistan’s decades of conflict. By some estimates there are nearly 1 million disabled in Afghanistan today.
Many lack even basic resources, and have a limited understanding of their rights, which means they are extremely restricted in what they can do. Most do not have access to wheelchairs or other conveniences.
So Mohammadi invented a motorized vehicle that caters to their special needs: it features three wheels, which technically makes it a “motor trike,” and all of its functions can be operated by hand.
“Although the concept of a three-wheeled wheelchair is not new, it is very inconvenient for a disabled person to use one on the city’s asphalted roads,” Mohammadi says. “My motorcycle is much more powerful.”
The inventor created the prototype for his friend Amir, a tailor who lost the use of his legs due to childhood polio.
Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are two of the few remaining countries in the world where polio is still endemic; decades of war and a forceful Taliban ban on vaccinations have insured that the virus has remained active to this day.
Amir, a motorcycle aficionado, provided money for the materials, and Mohammadi donated his time and talent.
“I did it on weekends and evenings,” he explained.
The price was more than reasonable: It took Mohammadi a month and a half to build the prototype and cost just 50 thousand afghani (under $1,000).
The tailor was enthusiastic about the project. He wanted something fast and stylish, and he certainly got his money’s worth. Mohammadi’s sleek design features a 400cc engine, and can reach speeds of up to 180 kilometers an hour.
Not that Mohammadi advises such swiftness, he hastens to add.
“Especially at U-turns he should not go over 40 kilometers an hour,” he insists.
Mohammadi explained that his trike has functions similar to a car built for the handicapped. “It has reverse gear, and all features can be managed by hand,” he said.
He would like to see the design developed for mass production.
“If we produce them in bulk, the costs can be reduced substantially to make it more affordable for all disabled,” he said.
This, however, would require a large monetary investment, which is, so far at least, beyond his reach.
Mohammadi now supports himself with a variety of activities from metal-working to power-tool manufacture and, lately, has developed a special fascination for the artistic properties of fiberglass.
But his main love is invention.
“I keep a notebook with all of my designs,” he explains. “I have made another motorcycle in Bagram for a man who lost his arm; all of the features can be controlled with just one hand.”This is not Mohammadi’s first foray into innovation. He is also known for his design of a solar-powered car and a self-rocking cradle, which he built for his son, whose constant crying was driving his wife crazy.
The inventor is just 30 years old, and has a high school education. Economics prevented him from continuing on to university.
While he would love to attract some investors, getting rich is not his priority.
He recalls how Amir the tailor reacted to the trike the first time he saw it.
“At first he was hesitant,” said Mohammadi with a smile. “But after a few minutes on the motorcycle, he turned to me and said, ‘Now I have feet.’ That one short sentence was thanks enough for me.”