Bamboo bikes are still a newfangled idea to many people. And in fact, the ones that have gotten the most press seem to be the $2,700 bikes made from bamboo grown bonsai-style in Santa Cruz — cool bikes that are fun to look at but totally unaffordable for most Americans.


But a sustainable economic development project hopes to make bamboo bikes ubiquitous in sub-Saharan Africa: Bamboo Bike Project wants to build sustainable, eco-friendly bikes using bamboo — to create a sustainable form of transportation for poor Africans in rural areas — and to create a sustainable bike building industry in Africa to satisfy local needs (via Tiny Choices).


The project is the brainchild of scientists and engineers at The Earth Institute at Columbia University, whose “overarching goal is to help achieve sustainable development primarily by expanding the world’s understanding of Earth as one integrated system.” For this specific project, the goals are defined by bamboo and bikes in Africa — on a very large-scale:


Success of the Bamboo Bike Project will mean the establishment and growth of a vast network of bamboo bicycle factories, which will each produce upwards of 20,000 bamboo bicycles annually for local distribution. The high levels of production and sale required by this model will more substantially improve the state of rural transportation, and will have a greater capacity to impact wider economic markets (potentially lowering the cost of other forms of effective transportation for rural residents even further). Larger factories will produce job opportunities that yield economic growth, and will be able to ensure quality control of our finished product.

Why does the scale need to be so big? One bike per 10 people in sub-Saharan Africa means 55 million bikes; one bike per 100 means 5.5 million bikes:


While we could encourage the growth of roadside or village level bicycle building, that approach could never meet a need at a level anywhere approaching 5-50 million bikes. That strategy would likely just increase the fortunes of a few roadside bicycle builders, and the transportation situation would remain unchanged ... We must not fall into the trap of helping to start yet another small business that will do little but create a few interesting bikes, do nothing for poverty in rural areas and nothing for the economies of those countries that would benefit from bike manufacturing.

Bamboo Bike Project’s efforts to mesh economic sustainability with environmental sustainability in a poverty-stricken areas both encouraging and fascinating. Follow the Bamboo Bike Project blog to see how this project develops — and to be inspired to create an out-of-the-box sustainable project of your own.


Photo courtesy Bamboo Bike Project Blog

Bamboo bikes to get Africa moving
A sustainable economic development project hopes to make bamboo bikes ubiquitous in sub-Saharan Africa.