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.
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.