Africa: building bikes from bamboo


On Afrigadget today, the story of an organization working with people in Africa to build bicycles from a locally-available and sustainable resource -- bamboo:

The Bamboo Bike, an endeavour that aims at building bicycles in a sustainable fashion using bamboo as the primary construction material, is a joint project run by Craig Calfree of Calfree Design, a high tech bicycle design firm based in California and The Earth Institute at Columbia University.

The bicycle is the primary mode of transport in Africa and it is used for everything from personal transportation to moving medicine and the sick to hospital. Sadly, the design used in most of Africa has not changed for the last 40 years to take into account the different ways in which the bicycle is used. In fact, most bikes in use in most of Africa today are based on a colonial British design tailored to individuals travelling short distances on smooth roads.

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  1. “CALFEE” as in, not free. As Lt. Benoit said, “Respect a man’s name, someday that might be all you have.” He’s a demi-god in the bike industry, his booth at Interbike always has one of the deepest puddles of drool surrounding it. One of the harder parts of this project has been in finding a resin they can source locally to stick the bamboo together with.

  2. Tom Ritchey, of Ritchey bicycles fame, also has a non-profit working on producing durable load-bearing bikes for work (e.g. lugging around 100lbs+ of goods or water). I guess the bikes they currently have are the same quality or worse than Kmart ones… plus there is no way to build or repair them properly. http://www.projectrwanda.org/

  3. “In fact, most bikes in use in most of Africa today are based on a colonial British design tailored to individuals travelling short distances on smooth roads.”

    I’ve ridden around rural Kenya on those bikes. Not fun. Not comfortable. All scary.

    Somethings that should be mentioned though:

    a)- most of the riding is on dirt roads
    b)- most bikes have 2-3 people on them. i’ve even seen/ridden on 4. 1-2 on the seat, 1 on the handlebars/front wheel pegs, 1 on the back wheel/peg or flatbed/seat.
    c) the bikes are old, but are constantly repaired with local ingenuity. few frames don’t have many welding marks on them, and gears/chains/pedals/etc are always rebuilt out of random things.

  4. There must be artisans that are good at making these things. Mass production would seem to be difficult due to the irregularity of the materials.

  5. I would think every locality has some form of native glue or resin. That’s something every culture HAS to develop. From the forest, sea or your livestock.

    Maybe they can use that new soy-based adhesive that’s replacing formaledhyde based glues in plywood. Probably expensive but seems good in every other way

  6. Is it bad if I want one of these? It reminds me of something from Gibson’s bridge trilogy. Sorta like, junkpunk or povertypunk or something.

    Perhaps some sort of “One Bicycle Per African” program is in order! I would buy five!

  7. This is a nice project.

    There are a bunch of similar type “one bike per african” type projects.

    Project Rwanda, mentioned above is a good one, with some great carg bike projects:
    http://www.projectrwanda.org/

    Kona/Rodale’s Africabike program:
    http://www.konabiketown.com/
    which are simple bikes made for long haul travel for aid workers. They used to have a buy one give two deal, but I think they just take donations.

  8. A lot of resources are wasted on shipping stuff that can be produced locally from local materials, so I get the concept. But a bamboo bike frame? The steel frame is the cheapest part to manufacture and ship.
    If a bike needs all those other bulky expensive components manufactured and shipped, why hold out when it comes to the frame? And steel Frames don’t have catastrophic failures, who knows what happens to 20 year old bamboo.

  9. “Sadly, the design used in most of Africa has not changed for the last 40 years to take into account the different ways in which the bicycle is used”
    …seems a little off to me; there are several charitable organizations in the US and UK that take used bikes and ship them to Africa. Presumably they are a later-than-40-year-old design. In addition, Africa is a continent. There are ports ringing it, and trade with “the outside world” still happens, despite us lumping remote Uganda in with Dakar.
    Any design help is a plus though – cool bikes.

  10. Pedals for Progress has been shipping used bikes from the U.S. to the developing world since 1991. In the U.S. we throw away millions of bikes every year that take up precious space in our already burdened landfills. By shipping these bikes to people who need transportation, P4P takes care of a few problems at once. It’s a charitable model that works quite well. And P4P has a program in Ghana. Check them out at http://www.p4p.org.

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