By Lin Smith
A Non Polluting Form of Transportation
December 16, 2013—The bamboo bicycle caught my attention when reporting on the Green Climate Fund Conference in Warsaw last month where the U.N. chief, Ban Ki-Moon, was seen riding around the city, and the conference hallways, on a bamboo bike. At the conference, the Bamboo Bike Initiative of Ghana was one of several projects being recognized by the U.N. as a Lighthouse Activity, a project which shines light towards the future, helping to build a low carbon and efficient world, “tackling climate change, health, financial and social problems.” They are recognized for the beacon of hope they shine on their communities and throughout the world. The Bamboo Bike Initiative provides an affordable form of transportation plus provides jobs for those in rural African communities.
The History of the Bamboo Bike
No one is credited with inventing the first bamboo bike, as it is thought many were building some form of the bike in the late 1800’s. The bamboo bike first appeared in New York around 1894, where it was on display by Bamboo Cycle, a company from England which patented it the same year. Following is a review sent to the company in 1894 praising the bike:
I am more than satisfied with my bamboo bicycle. I have ridden on rough, stony roads and it has shown no signs of wear and tear. I strongly recommend these bikes to my friends. The appearance of them is better than steel machines. There still seems to be a prejudice against them, but as my experience goes, it is an unfounded one. I believe they are as strong as any on the market.
This same review might have been written in 2013. They are highly recommended by those who ride them and stand up to any bike on the market, yet, they are not as widely accepted as carbon fiber or steel framed bikes.
Bamboo bikes today are made as road bikes, mountain bikes and racing bikes. The methods used to make the bamboo durable consists of smoking, heat treatment, torching or placing the bamboo in ovens. The poles can be joined using metal, resin saturated fibers or hemp and coated with a substance to prevent water damage.
The Bamboo Bike Initiative of Ghana
The Bamboo Bike Initiative was established in 2009 in Ghana to reduce rural unemployment by training apprentices to assemble the bamboo bike frames. The long term goal is for these apprentices to open workshops in their villages and train 5 or 6 more people to craft the bikes. The bamboo for the bikes is grown locally, which keeps the bikes at a lower cost, provides jobs for the unemployed in Africa and creates a healthy atmosphere, as it is a prolific producer of oxygen.
The Bamboo Bike Initiative partners with a company from Australia called Bamboo Rides, which supplies the equipment used to improve the precision and marketability of the bikes to meet European standards, where most of the bikes are sold. Growing bamboo locally not only creates jobs, but saves on carbon emissions, resulting from shipment of bamboo. Unlike carbon filled frames, which create pollutants at every stage from extraction to manufacturing, the bamboo bicycle frame is able to be recycled, leaving minimal environmental damage. Isaac Osei, Regional Director for Ghana’s EPA, states ” Vehicle ownership will rise as Ghana reaches record levels of growth, which will increase carbon dioxide emissions—educating people to make and use bamboo bicycles to commute will meet the goals for sustainability in Ghana.”
Finally, Mathew Sparkes, of the Guardian, writes about his bamboo bike ride, “When I first started riding the bike, nothing happened for a split second. Then, almost before I noticed, it sprang ahead as though it had more energy than I was putting in to it. It rivals carbon, steel, or anything I’ve ridden. It’s also as comfortable and soaks up the bumps. The feel of it comes from something that grows naturally—grass!”
- UN Chief Ban Ki-Moon rides on Ghana Bamboo Bike (modernghana.com)
- Turmoil at climate talks as blame game heats up (bigstory.ap.org)
- New Advances in the Bamboo Bicycle: Semester HexTube Bamboo + Carbon Fiber Bike (core77.feedsportal.com)
- Bamboo bicycle displayed at the Kochi fest (thehindu.com)
- Bamboo bicycle – Marc Jacobs (yolonese.wordpress.com)