With a higher tensile strength than steel, a lighter weight than aluminum, and four times the shock absorbency of carbon fiber, bamboo is a low-cost, low-carbon bike frame material.
One of the most viable and sustainable transportation technologies on the planet is already mature, and although it may not seem nearly as sexy as something like the Hyperloop, the humble bicycle is actually a far more relevant and accessible way to get around, whether it's to the office or the grocery store or hauling goods to the market from a rural village.
But just because a technology has been refined into an effective and efficient option for daily use, as the bicycle has, doesn't mean that progress stops, as evidenced by the virtual explosion of e-bike designs, folding bikes, and alternative frame materials (most recently, coppiced hardwood). And while I'm generally not in favor of trying to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, I'm almost always in favor of projects that seek to bring low-carbon and sustainable alternatives to the mainstream, especially those that also have a social good component that focuses on the developing world.
That's why I'm really jazzed about Pedal Forward, which combines the production of bamboo bicycles for those of us in the West with the intention of meeting the basic transportation needs of those who really need it (not that we don't need our bicycles, but considering that more than 70% of the world’s poor live without adequate transportation, the need is far greater for them than for most of us).
Pedal Forward has been working on a sustainable and affordable bamboo bicycle for the last couple of years, receiving a big nod from the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) with an award in 2012, and has taken its original design from a decidedly DIY-looking bike frame (held together with what looks like copious amounts of resin and fibers) to a really unique 'modular' frame. Instead of joining the bamboo frame pieces together with a bulky and rather unsightly mass of material, Pedal Forward uses steel 'lugs' for the crucial joints (bottom bracket, seat post, head tube and front fork, and rear drop-outs), and then epoxies in "iron bamboo" tubes to build the frame.
This method of frame-building allows for the tubes to be grown locally (depending on the location), and to be truly renewable in nature, while also creating employment opportunities in the areas where bikes are most needed. It also radically cuts the amount of emissions associated with the manufacturing process, as compared with a conventional steel bike, and delivers affordable and sustainable transportation options "that turn heads without breaking the bank."
"Bamboo has superior material properties. It is lightweight, comparable to aluminum. It also has a higher tensile strength than steel and has four-times the shock absorbency of carbon fiber. Bamboo provides the best of these materials into a simple mode of transportation; a lightweight, aluminum bicycle that rides as stiff as a steel bicycle, and is more shock absorbent than a carbon fiber bicycle. Bamboo is also much less expensive than these three materials, leading to its moderate cost for a handcrafted product. A Pedal Forward bicycle costs $500, four-times lower the cost than bamboo bicycles currently on the market." - Pedal Forward
The company is currently in a crowdfunding phase and seeking to raise $40,000 with a Kickstarter project (which really isn't that much money, considering the millions raised by an über-fancy cooler and a funny card game), and is offering a full-on Pedal Forward bamboo bicycle (set up as a singlespeed/fixed gear) for just $500, or just the frame itself for $400 (so you can dress it up in all your favorite components yourself). And the bike itself isn't just an eco-friendly product with a mission, but it also looks great, so you'll probably be fending off questions every time you ride, which means that this bamboo bike could also be a pretty effective ice-breaker and conversation starter.
Pedal Forward is also working together with a program called Back on My Feet (BoMF) NYC for producing the bikes, which will allow some members of the program to learn valuable skills that may help them be better employed and further their opportunities for independent living.
Find out more about Pedal Forward, and its plan to enable more access to education, healthcare, and jobs for people in developing economies through bicycles and bamboo.