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Almost from the beginning, we at the Bamboo Bike Project realized that in order to work on a scale that matters (i.e., large), we need to works closely with organizations that have the appropriate knowledge and experience.

One of these organizations that we’ve been working with is the Millennium Cities Initiative (MCI), who helps under-resourced sub-Saharan African cities achieve the Millennium Development Goals and eradicate extreme poverty.

Check out the MCI webpage which features the Bamboo Bike Project.

MCI Logo

The Millennium Cities Initiative (MCI) is a project of the Earth Institute, Columbia University

Marty has returned from Ghana.  We are in the beginning stages of funding a test run of 800 bikes.  We are entering a new stage in bamboo bike-producing game, and we have a re-vamped Facebook fan page to keep you posted on our progress and involved every step of the way.  Join us on Facebook to stay informed and contribute, and check out our updated website.

A taste of Marty Odlin's trip to Kumasi and the Millennium Village of Bonsaaso

A taste of Marty Odlin's trip to Kumasi and the Millennium Village of Bonsaaso

Going for 800

To achieve our ambitious goal of making bamboo bikes in Africa at a scale that matches the need we know exists, we have to do something that has never been done before in Africa (or anywhere else) – we have to make large production runs of bamboo bikes. To date no one, not even the most prominent bike builders in the US, have produced more than a handful of these bikes.

Taken during Marty's recent trip to Kumasi and Bonsaaso

Taken during Marty's recent trip to Kumasi and Bonsaaso

One of the outcomes of the trip Marty Odlin made to Ghana this year was a commitment from an investor to make a test production run of 800 bikes. This may seem like a modest number compared to the true need, yet it is the sort of test run that will allow us to determine where the issues lie in eventually reaching a much larger production.

In the US, we need to come up with technologies that will permit this.  We must develop ways to quickly make the cuts and borings that allow metal parts like the rear dropouts and seat tube to be married to the bamboo sections. If processes like these are done fully by hand, the amount of time needed to construct each bike is large – and so we have to come up with ways to make bike construction go a lot faster. This also holds true for the way the bamboo is treated; our flame treater looks like the most promising way to maximize efficiency in the treating process, as it reduces the treating time from around 2 hours to less than 20 minutes for one frame.

In Ghana, we are first looking into spaces to get set up; we then need to put our supply chain in place. For now we are looking at using metal parts from China, because at present this is the fastest and most economical option. We would like to start making some of the simpler parts in Africa soon – such as handlebars, seat tubes, etc. – and eventually make everything there on the ground. But for this run of 800 we still need to source from China.

Most important, we need to raise the funds for this next critical step. So far we have been operating on our initial seed funding – and that is not going to work from now on. Many people have made very generous donations both directly and through the purchase of T-shirts and jerseys. That has kept us going and is deeply appreciated.  However, the estimated cost of the 800-bike test run is around $120,000 including development costs, purchase of parts and the management of the work. We don’t have sources for this amount identified at present and are in search of donors and investors to help us achieve this next critical milestone in the Bamboo Bike Project.

The project has reached a very critical and exciting stage. If we can pass the 800 test, we should be able to get into serious production by next year – and then, our ultimate goal of helping to alleviate rural poverty in Africa through improved transportation will be that much closer.

In partnership with students at Columbia University’s undergraduate School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Bamboo Bike Project brings you news of technological exciting advancements that are helping us construct stronger bamboo bikes more efficiently.

Costi Quffa, recent mechanical engineering graduate, was one of a team of students who designed a machine that automatically flame-treats bamboo, as part of a senior capstone project.  Interested in the Bamboo Bike Project, Costi got in touch with Marty and asked what kinds of engineering innovations could benefit the project.  When Costi discovered that current flame-treating processes were very time intensive and labor intensive (it takes 20 minutes to treat a piece of bike-length bamboo by hand, and there are seven bamboo rods in each bike), Costi had his angle.  He would create a mechanized form of bamboo heat treatment.

Bamboo Flame Treater

Bamboo Flame Treater

Costi’s bamboo treater is a robust prototype.  It employs a propane flame, and motors that can be solar powered.  When a piece of bamboo is placed in the machine, a motor on the bottom pushes a carriage carrying the flame back and forth along the length of the bamboo.  A motor on top rotates the piece of bamboo itself, ensuring that all areas of the bamboo section are evenly treated. The machine can make multiple passes over the bamboo if needed.  It takes this machine five minutes to treat a piece of bamboo approximately three feet in length.

Bamboo is not uniform, so treatment machines must be adaptable and able to work with many different sizes and diameters.  Accordingly, Costi’s heat treater has an adaptable carriage that allows users to alter the distance between flame and bamboo.  The machine can also be adjusted to treat all lengths and sizes of bamboo.

Bike treated with the new flame treater

Bike treated with the new flame treater

Costi and his fellow engineers see the versatility of the flame-treater as giving it an application  beyond bamboo bikes to bamboo scaffolding, furniture, and other infrastructure.  Some are already investigating the humanitarian impacts of using this machine to strengthen bamboo structures used by refugees in settlements affected by cyclones/tsunamis.  What a fruitful partnership!

In February, we brought you news of the student research team at Columbia University’s graduate School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) working to assess the feasibility of bringing bamboo bikes to Kisumu, Kenya. Kat Athanasiades, Michelle Eames, Riham Hussein, and Young Rhee will present their final report and business plan to the public this Thursday at 4:50pm in SIPA room 1512.  We sat down with Kat before the team’s big day, to learn more about their recent return trip to Kenya, the insights they gained, and some details of their final proposal to the UN Millennium Cities Initiative.

Learning about bamboo in Kenya

Learning about bamboo in Kenya

For two weeks in mid-March, this SIPA team traveled through Kisumu and the surrounding region collecting market data and information on bamboo infrastructure.  They collected information on the pricing costs of potential factory components, as well as detailed information on labor costs, import taxes, and industry fees.  They attempted to size the potential bamboo bicycle market, using the KPMG-authored Ghana study as a partial model.  They worked to determine who would be able to afford the cost of a bamboo bicycle (at the same time that they investigated ways to drive down the potential cost of a bamboo bike to significantly less than what is available now in Kisumu, by pricing with Chinese components), and they identified three principle markets for sturdy bamboo cargo bikes in Kenya: boda boda drivers, community health workers, and rural students and commuters (many of them women who travel daily to the urban market stalls they staff during the day).  The team brought back a good deal of demographic information that will also translate well into market information for the final study to be presented this week.

Bamboo in the sun

Bamboo in the sun

The team met with representatives of Kenyan professional organizations like the Boda Boda Association, giving these leaders the opportunity to test-ride bamboo bicycles that Kat and crew brought from New York.  They encountered nothing but receptive responses, and encouragement.  They left a good deal of excitement about bamboo bicycles in their wake!

The group also visited the Kenya Forest Research Institute, where they learned that the bamboo industry in Kenya is already in its primary stages of development!  Bamboo in Kenya is already being harvested and used to make a number of specialty crafts items ranging from tables and chairs to kitchenware, and is also burned in the form of bamboo charcoal.  Contacts at the African Bamboo Center in Kisumu say that this industry could likely supply enough bamboo to support a bamboo bike factory in the very near future!

Nashan, head of Boda Boda Association, on a Bamboo Bike

Nashan, head of Boda Boda Association, on a Bamboo Bike

Nashan riding away

Nashan riding away

Come to the Columbia University School of International Affairs, room 1512, this Thursday at 4:50 to learn more about the intricacies of the business plan to be presented by Kat, Michelle, Riham, and Young.  We certainly look forward to it!

Tantalus Time Trial

The Tantalus Time Trial is the oldest running bicycle race in Hawaii, and takes place in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. For those who know the area, the race starts on Makiki Heights Drive, approximately 100 meters before the first hairpin turn. Racers climb to Tantalus Drive, turn right, and climb to the parking lot at the top of the hill (Just before Tantalus turns into Round Top Drive).

Katharina and Ron proudly displaying their Bamboo Bike Project jerseys

Katharina and Ron proudly displaying their Bamboo Bike Project jerseys

Two residents of Hawaii, Katharina Pahnke and Ron Ogomori entered the race as members of the Bamboo Bike Project.  Normally, when a company or organization sponsors a rider, they pay for the expenses of the rider.  In this case, what we have is reverse-sponsoring, where the riders pay for the jerseys, and then help promote the project by training and racing in our jersey.

 

Katharina checking out eventual winner Shannon Cutting, while rounding one of the hairpins on Tantalus

Katharina checks out eventual winner Shannon Cutting, while she rounds one of the hairpins on Tantalus Drive

Both Katharina and Ron did well in their respective races.  Katharina did especially well in her first ever bicycle race, placing 2nd (with a finishing time under 26 minutes) behind a very experienced Shannon Cutting.

If you would like to share pictures of yourself in your Bamboo Bike Project jersey, please feel free to send them to us along with your story.

Bamboo Bike Project Clothing!

Support the Bamboo Bike Project by purchasing a t-shirt!  Show off your commitment to sustainability initiatives with a fashionable brown tee replete with blue Bamboo Bike Project logo:

t-shirt logo

T-Shirt Logo

Your purchase will directly fund our efforts to develop a bamboo bike-building factory in Ghana, with all proceeds going toward paying for raw materials.  Check out this shirt-wearer in action:

Marissa Wearing Shirt and Riding Bamboo Bike

Marissa Wearing Shirt and Riding Bamboo Bike

Find out how you can buy a shirt here.  As always, you are also welcome to donate to our project online; all donations are tax deductible.

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