With a higher tensile strength than steel, a lighter weight than aluminum, and four times the shock absorbency of carbon fiber, bamboo is a low-cost, low-carbon bike frame material.
One of the most viable and sustainable transportation technologies on the planet is already mature, and although it may not seem nearly as sexy as something like the Hyperloop, the humble bicycle is actually a far more relevant and accessible way to get around, whether it’s to the office or the grocery store or hauling goods to the market from a rural village.
But just because a technology has been refined into an effective and efficient option for daily use, as the bicycle has, doesn’t mean that progress stops, as evidenced by the virtual explosion of e-bike designs, folding bikes, and alternative frame materials (most recently, coppiced hardwood). And while I’m generally not in favor of trying to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, I’m almost always in favor of projects that seek to bring low-carbon and sustainable alternatives to the mainstream, especially those that also have a social good component that focuses on the developing world.
That’s why I’m really jazzed about Pedal Forward, which combines the production of bamboo bicycles for those of us in the West with the intention of meeting the basic transportation needs of those who really need it (not that we don’t need our bicycles, but considering that more than 70% of the world’s poor live without adequate transportation, the need is far greater for them than for most of us).
Pedal Forward has been working on a sustainable and affordable bamboo bicycle for the last couple of years, receiving a big nod from the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) with an award in 2012, and has taken its original design from a decidedly DIY-looking bike frame (held together with what looks like copious amounts of resin and fibers) to a really unique ‘modular’ frame. Instead of joining the bamboo frame pieces together with a bulky and rather unsightly mass of material, Pedal Forward uses steel ‘lugs’ for the crucial joints (bottom bracket, seat post, head tube and front fork, and rear drop-outs), and then epoxies in “iron bamboo” tubes to build the frame.
This method of frame-building allows for the tubes to be grown locally (depending on the location), and to be truly renewable in nature, while also creating employment opportunities in the areas where bikes are most needed. It also radically cuts the amount of emissions associated with the manufacturing process, as compared with a conventional steel bike, and delivers affordable and sustainable transportation options “that turn heads without breaking the bank.”
“Bamboo has superior material properties. It is lightweight, comparable to aluminum. It also has a higher tensile strength than steel and has four-times the shock absorbency of carbon fiber. Bamboo provides the best of these materials into a simple mode of transportation; a lightweight, aluminum bicycle that rides as stiff as a steel bicycle, and is more shock absorbent than a carbon fiber bicycle. Bamboo is also much less expensive than these three materials, leading to its moderate cost for a handcrafted product. A Pedal Forward bicycle costs $500, four-times lower the cost than bamboo bicycles currently on the market.” – Pedal Forward
The company is currently in a crowdfunding phase and seeking to raise $40,000 with a Kickstarter project (which really isn’t that much money, considering the millions raised by an über-fancy cooler and a funny card game), and is offering a full-on Pedal Forward bamboo bicycle (set up as a singlespeed/fixed gear) for just $500, or just the frame itself for $400 (so you can dress it up in all your favorite components yourself). And the bike itself isn’t just an eco-friendly product with a mission, but it also looks great, so you’ll probably be fending off questions every time you ride, which means that this bamboo bike could also be a pretty effective ice-breaker and conversation starter.
Pedal Forward is also working together with a program called Back on My Feet (BoMF) NYC for producing the bikes, which will allow some members of the program to learn valuable skills that may help them be better employed and further their opportunities for independent living.
Find out more about Pedal Forward, and its plan to enable more access to education, healthcare, and jobs for people in developing economies through bicycles and bamboo.
By using an abundant – and green – crop, the Bamboo Bikes Initiative has won international prizes.
Six years ago, Bernice Dapaah decided to forge an unconventional path into employment. About to graduate with a business administration degree but facing a bleak
job market in Ghana, she joined forces with a handful of engineering students to create an innovative product from an abundant crop: bamboo.
Her inspiration was an initiative, led by the International Network of Bamboo and Rattan, exploring sustainable, green ways to help producers out of poverty. “There’s a lot of unemployment in the country and we didn’t want to just follow the masses and look for white-collar jobs,” she says. “We wanted to come up with an idea that would also create employment for other youth.”
The result is the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative, a social enterprise based in Kumasi, southern Ghana, where strong, lightweight and durable bikes are made out of bamboo and built by an ever-growing team of young people specially trained for the role. The project has serious green credentials, too: not only are the bikes an affordable, environmentally sound alternative to cars, but bamboo is fast-growing, produces up to 35% more oxygen than other trees and helps to prevent soil erosion, a significant cause of concern for farmers in Ghana.
It’s an idea so brilliant the team won a Seed award in 2010, just six months after their first prototype, and have since gone on to win 10 other awards internationally. Along with the financial assistance, Dapaah says, “Seed gave us some technical support to develop a business plan, and gave us a lot of media platforms, too. Since then we have been growing and trying to see how best we can expand the business.”
The initiative has sold more than 1,000 bikes, including sales in Europe and the US; in Ghana, they cost $120 each, around $40 more than a secondhand steel bike, but as Dapaah points out, bamboo has a number of qualities that make it an attractive alternative to steel bike frames: “Bamboo is five times stronger than steel – in China they use it as scaffolding,” and bamboo bikes are more environmentally friendly to produce than steel bikes, as their construction uses much less energy. To meet demand while aiming to mitigate climate change, the team plans to plant 10 trees for each one they use in areas where the bamboo will help restore the soil after years of land degradation.
Dapaah and her co-founders have trained more than 35 people to make the bikes and are establishing two new workshops outside Kumasi, in the Brong Ahafo region, which will employ around 50 more youths. The idea is that each employee, once trained, can train and employ five or six others, meaning the bikes can be produced on a small scale all over Ghana.
“My favourite part of the job is when I go to the workshop to see the youths and know they are able to earn a living,” Dapaah says. “I feel so happy when I see we have been able to create a bit of laughter for them.”
Source: The Guardian
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