I was listening to One Planet the other day on the World Service and there was a segment on a project to design a bamboo bicycle which can be built and used in Africa. What a brilliant idea. The Bamboo Bike Project was established by the Earth Institute at Colombia University with the aim of creating a sustainable solution to Africa’s transport problems which could be manufactured locally.
In rural Africa most journeys are conducted on foot or unreliable public transport, moreover the bikes that are available are all imported and totally unsuited to local conditions. This creates a potential niche for a cheap, strong and reliable bicycle – which is where the project comes in.
Bamboo is a truly remarkable material whose uses are as varied as food, to make clothes, scaffolding, musical instruments and in construction. It is very strong and stiff yet light with excellent vibration absorbing qualities. Properties which make it ideally suited for making bike frames, indeed so good that it actually out performs more traditional materials for frame manufacture leading specialist bike manufactures such as Calfee to offer bamboo bicycles.
The final advantage of bamboo is it’s sustainability. It grows locally in Africa and is the fastest growing plant on earth with some species capable of growing over 1m per day thus requiring very few inputs to produce. Compare that with the approximate 260 MJ of energy required to produce 1 kg of Aluminium (although less than 10 % of that is used if the aluminium is recycled). Crucially bamboo can also be processed into frames in factories without electricity opening up the potential to manufacture them to huge swathes of the population. Although the other components will still need to be imported as the project team point out one shipping container which can only hold around 500 complete bicycles can hold the components for around 2000. Thus significantly reducing the emissions from transportation. Another example of brilliant minds developing solutions which will benefit both people and the planet.