Bamboo Bicycles Help Ghanaians Peddle Towards Prosperity
Bamboo is the world’s longest grass and a sturdy building material, used for an ever-wider range of products around the world.
In Ghana (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghana) bamboo bicycles offer a solution to a multiplicity of needs. While there is an urgent need for bicycles in many parts of Africa for transportation, the large majority of the bikes are either being imported for sale or given away by NGOs. Many are not sturdy enough for local conditions. Most bikes come from either China or India and many Ghanaians complain they are too lightweight for the roads. They quickly need intensive maintenance after being rattled by potholes and bumps.
On top of this, they offer little local economic opportunity since the bikes are made outside of Africa.
The sturdy Ghanaian bamboo bike offers one solution.
As the world’s fastest growing woody plant, bamboo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamboo) is cheap, strong, quickly renewable and beautiful to look at. It is also a substitute for not just wood, but also steel, the main material used to make bicycles.
Bamboo is the fastest growing woody plant in the world, sometimes growing over 1 metre a day. Around the world, there are 1,000 species of bamboo. They grow in a wide variety of climates, from cold mountains to hot tropical regions.
Bamboo is plentiful in Ghana. A partnership between an American bike designer and a Ghanaian government initiative is taking advantage of this local resource to manufacture bicycles for the local market _ and as a source of export income.
Not only are the Ghanaian builders harvesting bamboo to make bikes for the domestic market, they are also offering a sophisticated web shop service for the overseas market. People from around the world can now buy Ghanaian bikes using a website (http://www.bamboosero.com). Customers can choose frame builders by their specialty – cargo bike, mountain bike or road bike – and then order it online. The completed bikes are quality checked and then distributed by Calfee Design in California, USA. This approach keeps the middlemen out of the transaction, and means more money gets back to the bike builder.
The scheme is a partnership between American bike designer and maker Calfee Design (www.calfeedesign.com) and The Bamboo and Rattan Development Program (BARADEP), an initiative run by the Ghana Ministry of Forestry, with a mandate to preserve bamboo while finding practical, sustainable uses for it.
One builder, Ibrahim Djan Nyampong in the village of Abompe, has designed a bike specifically for farm workers.
"When they go to farm they don’t want to carry things on their head, so this bike was made for them to take to farm," he said, "It was made to carry 300 kilograms."
Ibrahim believes the bicycles could be an export for Ghana and has opened a store in the capital, Accra. For now a bamboo bike sells for US$150 – still out of reach for many cyclists in Ghana. It is hoped the price will come down as more people learn how to make the bikes faster.
But why bamboo to make bikes? Being plentiful, there is no need to import it. They are glued together, fusing the bamboo into a sturdy frame. Recycled bike parts then make up the rest of the bike. Gluing bikes together means there is no need for machinery or even electricity. Yet the bikes are complex, and making them provides skilled work that can’t be replicated by mass-manufacturing factories. This ensures the market for the bamboo bikes will not be quickly out-priced by bigger competitors.
The resulting bikes are surprisingly strong -- a bamboo bike can carry up to 180 kilograms in cargo.
"Building a bamboo bike is labor intensive. There is no getting around the handwork required to miter (saw) bamboo tubing or wrap a lug, so it works better as a cottage industry than in a large factory setting," says Craig Calfee, the American engineer and entrepreneur overseeing the training and project (http://www.calfeedesign.com).
"The whole point is to make it a sustainable venture. The builders have to make enough money to keep them interested in the project and to interest others to get into frame building so we can slowly build up the volume.
"We are setting up cottage industries, where one skilled frame builder works with helpers to produce frames. In time, as people are trained, bamboo bikes can be made in volume," Calfee told The Ghanaian Journal.
1) Bamboo Bike Project: The Bamboo Bike Project is a project by Scientists and Engineers at The Earth Institute at Columbia University, and aims to examine the feasibility of implementing cargo bikes made of bamboo as a sustainable form of transportation in Africa. Website: http://www..bamboobike.org/Home.html
2) The Bamboo Bike Project Blog: Keep up to date all things about bamboo bikes. Website: http://bamboobikeproject.wordpress.com
3) The Village Bicycle Project provides donated used bikes, bicycle repair training and new tools to help bicycles become a sustainable transportation choice for thousands of people in Africa, where over 99 percent of the population cannot afford cars. Website: http://www.ghanabikes.org
4) Save money by following a step-by-step online guide to building a bamboo bike safely. Website: http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Build-a-Bamboo-Bicycle
5) The Asian Development Bank is using its Markets for Poor programme to link bamboo products to marketplaces, helping poor communities. Website: http://www.markets4poor.org
6) A video showing how the bamboo bikes are made. Website: http://www.bikenewsvideo.com/index.php/2009/01/16/video-making-bicycles-from-bamboo-in-ghana
7) Kona’s Africa Bike is a sturdy bike specially designed for African road conditions and is used by home health care workers treating HIV/Aids in Namibia and Malaria and wellness visits in Senegal. Website: (http://www.konabiketown.com)