Brooklyn's Bamboo Bikes Hitting the Big Time in Ghana

Prototype Bamboo Bike photo

Photo courtesy Marty Odlin from a trip to Ghana in 2009.

There's no question that TreeHugger loves bamboo bikes. We've shown readers bamboo bikes of every stripe - high performance bamboo bikes, high statement bamboo bikes, and even DIY bamboo bikes.

And though we explained why bamboo bikes are earth friendlier, and even gave you a slideshow of the many different choices in bamboo bikes, we didn't see bamboo bicycles as going mainstream. Until now.

Bamboo Bike Frame photo
Photo of bike frame building in Brooklyn - the Bamboo Bike Studio has built over 300 bamboo bikes and will now transfer its tech knowhow to Ghanese bike builders. Courtesy BBS.

It's not that you'll suddenly see bamboo bikes common on the streets of America. They will probably still be specialty bikes available from specialty retailers. But the hope of a group of enthusiasts is that bamboo bikes will hit it big in Africa.

However, Bamboo Bike Project (BBP) has been working for more than three years to make bamboo bicycles widely available in Africa. The Bamboo Bike Project has tested the effectiveness of its bamboo bike - sturdy, cargo-carrying, and good looking - at Earth Institute's Millenium Cities. Now, BBP, with the help of Brooklyn's DIY-focused Bamboo Bikes Studio and its local Ghanese partner Bamboo Bikes Limited, is taking a huge leap forward by starting a production run of 750 bamboo bikes in the city of Kumasi, Ghana.

"This is the moment we have been working toward for many months," said John Mutter, Director of the Bamboo Bike Project at Columbia. "Finally, everything is in place to get production of bamboo bikes going the way we had always dreamed of - in Africa, by Africans, for Africans."

While the continent of Africa definitely needs more sustainable transport options (doesn't everyplace?) bikes currently aren't that much of a staple. African bike manufacturers are few, and once people can afford a motorized option, that's generally what they buy.

Yet many believe that bikes could be an affordable option for the needs of rural workers, especially farmers that desire access to larger markets, and health care providers that need an affordable way to get to their patients. The bikes, when complete, will cost approximately $65, less than the price of an imported cycle.

"It is below the price of a new imported Chinese steel bike, which range from $95 to $110," said Marty Odlin of the Bamboo Bike Studio. "The price reduction is the important number. It makes bicycles and efficient transportation much more affordable and accessible."

Odlin estimated that currenty the bamboo bike is about 50% local - bamboo for frames is gathered within a 40-kilometer radius, while most of the other components are imported, and assembly is local.

Bamboo Bike Studio has built 300 bamboo bikes in New York, and now that expertise will be transferred to eleven bike technicians in Ghana. Bamboo Bikes Limited, the Ghanese entity, plans to use the trained technicians to make an order of 750 bikes, which will be distributed to different NGOs through Africa.

That first run will lead to establishment of a bamboo bike factory in Kumasi and, it is hoped, large scale production. Odlin said the production target is 30,000 bikes annually.

"We will reach 10 bikes per day by the end of February," Odlin said, "and at least 20 bikes per day by the end of March. Increasing the production rate from that point will be contingent on orders. We'll be capable of going far beyond that if needed."

More on bamboo bikes at TreeHugger:
The Story of a Hemp Bicycle and a Bamboo Bike Bus
Organic Bikes Say, Re-Think Your Ride, Consider a Bamboo Bicycle
Bamboo and Electric Bikes Win ISPO Brandnew Awards 2010