News from the Columbia Climate School

Bamboo Bikes Nearing Production

Imagine creating an affordable product and a sustainable industry tailored to both meet urgent demand and use native materials. This is what the Bamboo Bike Project (BBP) is doing in Kumasi, Ghana. We’ve honed our bamboo bike design to be suitable for road conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, and created a system by which these bikes can be produced in local conditions in Africa with local directions and local labor. Now we’re moving onto the next step, a production run in Africa’s first-ever Bamboo Bike Project facility!

Since being founded in 2007 with seed funding from the Earth Institute, the BBP has worked to make feasible the production of bamboo bikes in Africa. Now we are working with the Earth Institute’s Millennium Cities Initiative (MCI) in an effort to scale up from a feasibility project to routine production. This partnership has paid off: With the help of MCI, bamboo bikes have gained attention from investors and prospective buyers. Our presence in Kumasi, Ghana came about when a local investor native to this Millennium City approached us and shared his interest in establishing a bamboo bike production facility. The investor has already leased a production facility and has reached agreements to harvest local bamboo. The MCI and BBP have also engaged in discussions with interested investors in Kenya, as well as a number of prospective buyers, including NGOs based in Africa and the United States.

In light of this exciting news, MCI announced the release of a new MCI webpage and slideshow about the BBP. The website and slideshow reiterate why bikes are so essential in sub-Saharan Africa—they help transport people to jobs, bring students to schools, carry goods to market, transport agricultural necessities to farms, and deliver medical supplies to hospitals. The MCI materials also highlight the advantages of using bamboo to build bikes, as well as the project’s progress to date.

Thus far, our work has shown that bamboo bikes offer a number of advantages over the imported metal bikes currently used in sub-Saharan Africa. Manufacturing bamboo bike frames requires less electricity and expensive infrastructure, and the final product is lighter, stronger and is better suited for travel on the unpaved roads often found in parts of sub-Saharan Africa. They can also be easily modified for different manufacturer or user needs, such as carrying loads or passengers. Most importantly, the bikes are very affordable. KPMG, an Earth Institute partner, analyzed the feasibility of bamboo bicycle production in Ghana and found that our bikes can be produced for less than $50. This means that they can be sold for significantly less than the current market price of bikes imported from China and India.

In order to maximize the impact of these bikes, the BBP needs additional support from potential investors and donors. Large-scale production will ultimately help deliver a sustainable and affordable form of transportation to rural African populations, while also creating employment opportunities. Accordingly, BBP and MCI have developed a 2-page “prospectus” for prospective donors and investors that outlines the project’s statement of need as well as the potential benefits available to investors.

For more information about this exciting progress, please contact the Bamboo Bike Project at john@bamboobike.org, or the Millennium Cities Initiative at mci@ei.columbia.edu, or visit the websites for the Bamboo Bike Project at http://bamboobike.org and MCI at http://mci.ei.columbia.edu/?id=bamboo_bikes.

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fj
fj
13 years ago

Since bicycles increase mobility efficiency over walking by up to four times and dramatically increase quality of life of those people who otherwise have no other choice but to walk this may well be one of the first major investments in the human capital required to seriously address the environmental crisis with war-like urgency.

Daniel Monroe
13 years ago

It’s wonderful to hear that progress is being made on the development of mobility for these subordinated people groups. This coupled with the implementation of a sustainable and profit generating business is perfectly catered to meet this demand. This project venture motivates me to direct you, and all other readers to another organization that has a similar mission. The Institute for Affordable Transportation (IAT) is producing a different kind of product called the BUV (Basic Utility Vehicle). It is a vehicle designed for rural geography of developing countries. It’s simple, low-cost, low-weight and is easy to operate, maintain, and repair and is designed to serve the vital needs of a community such as transporting people, water, and supplies. Just as the bicycle shops provide a viable means of income and self-sustaining aid, BUV’s eventually goal is to establish assembly facilities in these impoverished communities. Bicycles and the BUV are excellent tools to increase efficiency and provide the means for people to lift themselves out of poverty.

I invite you to learn more by visiting this organization’s website (drivebuv.org). This is a venture by the Institute for Affordable Transportation. Thank you so much for your time and continuing aid to these impoverished areas in rural Africa. I really hope this information is helpful and that the BUV could be implemented into service.

Electric Bikes
13 years ago

That is amazing to hear! I could only imagine how light the bikes would be. How would water affect them?

John Mutter
13 years ago

The frame sections are cured through a heat treatment with the principal purpose of ensuring they don’t split. That also helps with water proofing but they are naturally water resistant so long as the end sections are not open and in the frames that is never the case.

Thanks for the thought.

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