The Bamboo Bike Project is a collaboration between Scientists and Engineers at The Earth Institute at Columbia University, and a bicycle builder at Calfee Design.Dr. David Ho at Lamont-Doherty, Craig Calfee—a bicycle designer from California—and John Mutter, professor of earth & environmental sciences and Deputy Director of the Earth Institute, have been promoting an innovative solution.Bicycles can be built with bamboo frame sections. They are amazingly strong and light and can be designed for any purpose. In June of 2007 they taught local craftsmen in Accra, Ghana how to build a bamboo-framed bike with parts bought in the local market and bamboo grown locally. No power tools were used—important because most poor areas of Africa lack access to power. The joins are made with a fiber soaked in epoxy resin much the way very high-end carbon fiber bikes are built.Bamboo is a sustainable crop and grows throughout the southern parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Three-year old bamboo is fine for bike frames so it can be produced as a sustainable crop.The metal parts like handlebars, chains, wheels, etc. can be bought in local markets and are imported from China or can be scavenged from old bikes cut up in the U.S. Everyone has an old bike in the garage with parts that are excellent for this use.Every bamboo bike can be made to a unique design, not just for the size of the rider, but also for the intended purpose. The test bike built in Ghana was a cargo bike in which the cargo-carrying frame is integral to the bike frame itself, not an add-on. It is ideal for moving farm products around in poor road conditions.Another, lighter design would allow women to collect water and firewood very quickly so they can achieve their tasks before school.In the northern parts of Ghana the society is dominantly Muslim. The flexibility of this design means they can build a bike that will allow women in long robes to become mobile.A bamboo bike won’t make the poor rich. But it can relieve the burden of poverty, particularly on rural lives and on women in many important ways and release a vast number of people from a trap that is part of the cause of their harsh lives, and from which they are unable to extricate themselves. And these bikes can be built in Africa, for Africans, by Africans and hence can become the kernel of an African bike building industry that will satisfy local needs with local products.

A village elder test riding a bamboo cargo bike outside Accra, Ghana

— Anthony P.