Philippine bamboo bike going on an epic trip

When Liam Ackerman first saw a bicycle made of bamboo while honeymooning in the Philippines last February, the operations manager for Amazon Logistics immediately knew he wanted to use it on a milestone journey he had in mind.

On July 16, this Englishman will cycle 500 kilometres on a Philippine-made ‘Bambike’ to deliver a Kindle e-reader to a school in the Indian Himalayas, making it the highest Amazon delivery to date.

The delivery is part of Ackerman’s fundraising campaign to build a new outdoor playground at Shey Lamdon school, which educates and boards 130 kids from some of the most remote and underprivileged areas of the Himalayan region.

For Ackerman, using a Bambike on the journey was a strategic decision. “I wanted to use it not only to put another spin on the expedition”, he tells SciDev.Net.

“But to also show how robust these bikes are.”

bamboo_bike_1
Photo by Bryan Benitez McClelland

In 2010, Bryan Benitez McClelland officially launched the company Bambike in the Philippines, using local materials and talent. The country has around 70 species of bamboo, but Bambike uses only about four of them. Each type is carefully chosen for its unique properties such as wall thickness and rigidity. “That’s something that we’ve developed in our technique over the years and I think that’s one of the reasons why our product is different from other bamboo bike models,” says McClelland.

bamboo_bike_2
Photo by Fatima Arkin

I wanted to use it not only to put another spin on the expedition but to also show how robust these bikes are.

Liam Ackerman, operations manager, Amazon Logistics

The bikes are handmade at a village run by the NGO Gawad Kalinga in Tarlac province north of Manila. Bambike employs poor people from the community who earn roughly 4.80 British pounds (US$6.60) a day plus benefits to build the bikes. In addition to providing livelihood, the company also re-invests some of its profits in scholarships and education for young children who live in the village.

bamboo_bike_3
Photo by Fatima Arkin

Each bike takes up to five months to build, including a bamboo treatment which takes up most of the time. The actual building work takes only about a week. The process involves shaping the poles, gluing them to the joints, wrapping and shaping the joints. Then the frame is sanded down, painted and finished. Bambike produces up to 30 frames a month.

bamboo_bike_4
Photo by Fatima Arkin

Two women inspect the bike frame for quality control. Despite its traditional reputation as “the poor man’s timber”, bamboo has increasingly been gaining attention for its many positive qualities. It is said to be as tough as steel and sturdier than concrete. It is also ecofriendly. Bamboo can absorb carbon quickly because it grows fast, at a rate of up to almost one metre a day.

bamboo_bike_5
Photo by Fatima Arkin

The completed Bambikes are sent to Manila where the company uses them for historic tours of Intramuros, the “walled” city of Manila. The rest are sold mainly to middle and upper class clients across the country and abroad. The bikes retail for around US$1,640 depending on the model.

bamboo_bike_6
Photo by Fatima Arkin

Bambike produces three main types of bikes. Nikki Sierda, a 22-year-old intern, test runs their latest model: a beach cruiser.

Ackerman will receive his mountain bike any day now as he prepares to revisit the Indian Himalayas he last visited while attending university. “Ever since, I have been incredibly keen to return,” he says. “This time it’ll be on two wheels.”

Ackerman, who will join two of his friends on the 10-day journey, hopes to raise around US$6,850 to build the outdoor shelter that will enable children to play while being protected from harsh weather.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk.

This article was originally published on SciDev.Net.

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