Research News

Bamboo Bikes Are Gaining Attention

2010-03-29

These are busy and exciting times for the Bamboo Bike Project (BBP). Established in 2007 with seed funding from the Earth Institute, the BBP has been working alongside the Earth Institute’s Millennium Cities Initiative (MCI) to design and build bamboo bikes that are suitable for African conditions and made with native materials. The project is also working to establish bicycle production facilities in Africa that are managed by local investors. MCI just announced the release of a new Bamboo Bike Project Web page and slideshow that illustrate why bikes are so essential in sub-Saharan Africa—they help to transport people to jobs, bring students to schools, carry goods to market, and transport farm and medical supplies, among other uses. The slideshow also highlights the advantages of using bamboo to build bikes as well as the progress of the project to date.

With the help of MCI, bamboo bikes have gained attention from investors and prospective buyers alike. One of these investors, from Kumasi, Ghana, decided to invest in a bamboo bike production facility in Ghana. A lease for a production facility has been obtained and agreements have been reached 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 addition, recent innovations, coupled with new construction techniques, have improved the performance and completion time of the bikes.

Bamboo bikes offer a number of important advantages over imported metal bikes. Not only is bamboo grown locally in many regions of Africa, the manufacturing of bicycle frames does not require costly infrastructure or reliable electricity. Bamboo-framed bicycles are lighter and stronger than steel-framed bicycles, adaptable to difficult road conditions, and easily modifiable for different needs, such as carrying farm loads, passengers, food, water and medicine. Most importantly, the bikes are very affordable. KPMG, an Earth Institute partner, analyzed the feasibility of bamboo bicycle production in Ghana and found that bikes can be produced for less than $50 and sold for significantly less than the existing market price of bikes imported from China and India.

Despite the benefits of bamboo bikes, in order to help take this initiative to the next level—factory-style production—additional support from potential investors and donors is needed. Large-scale production will ultimately help deliver a sustainable and affordable form of transportation to rural African populations, while also creating employment opportunities. To this end, the BBP and MCI have developed a 2-page prospectus for potential donors and investors that outlines the project’s statement of need as well as the potential benefits that could be offered to investors in return.

For more information on the Bamboo Bike Project, please email John Mutter at jmutter@ei.columbia.edu or the Millennium Cities Initiative at mci@ei.columbia.edu, and please visit the Bamboo Bike Project and MCI online.