Thursday, December 8, 2011

In Ghana, Bikes Going 'Green'

It's been surprising to find, over the last year, that Ghana is becoming a center for the manufacture of bamboo bicycles.

Wait, did that just say bamboo bicycles?!


You mean real bicycles, that you can actually pedal, out of bamboo?


That's kind of what went through my head, anyway, when I stumbled across the bamboo idea.

I had no notion you could build a bicycle frame from the plant.  Or that bamboo bikes had been catching on, in the US and Europe at least, with the environmentally-conscious and hipster crowds.  But when I Googled "bikes in Ghana" sometime after moving here, there they were: bamboo bikes.


A couple months ago I got serious about reading up on these uber-cool pedaling machines.  Googling for more info, I found out that Craig Calfee - originator of the carbon-fiber bicycle and one of the first people to build a modern bamboo bike - was working with independent bamboo bike builders in Ghana and would be visiting soon.

Wait, no, he's in Ghana now.  Could I possibly meet up with him?

Why yes, after a flurry of phone calls and emails to track him down, I could.  Sweet.

Craig works with local builder Wisdom Toxla to test a frame.

I caught up with him at the bike shop his nonprofit Bamboosero organization runs in Accra.  Craig and Bamboosero support small, independent builders to make high-quality bamboo frames for export from Ghana to the US, where they justly command a price few Ghanaians are able or willing to pay.

Wisdom Toxla is Bamboosero's main bicycle builder in Ghana.  Once a Ghana national road cycling champion, he lives to make things.  As a teenager, he built a wooden bicycle that ended up in the local science museum as a model of home-grown engineering.  Now, he's turned to bamboo.

Since Craig introduced me to Wisdom at the Bamboosero shop, I've gone back to him twice to take advantage of his bike mechanic skills and hear more of his story.

Wisdom truing a wheel in Accra's Bamboosero bike shop.

I've also visited another Bamboosero shop, stopping in the town of Abompe on my recent bike trip from Accra to Kumasi, Ghana's second city and cultural capital.  Local builder Peasah took the time to meet with me on a Saturday afternoon in the hot season, giving me a tour of his bike workshop before pedaling off into the heat on his own bamboo wheels for a delayed meeting with a friend.

Peasah and his bamboo ride.

If you're in Ghana, or want to call up the Calfee Design workshop near Santa Cruz, CA, these 'green' and Made-in-Africa bikes are available for sale.  They're beautiful, with polished bamboo tubes fading into the organic, plant-fiber joints that hold everything together.

And, they perform well.  Reviewers much more technical than I say bamboo frames exhibit damping action as good as or better than carbon fiber, creating a great ride.

Another player in Ghana's bamboo bike scene is Bamboo Bikes Limited.  Financed by Ghanaian businessman Kwame Sarpong and with motivation and help from the Bamboo Bike Project at Columbia University's Earth Institute, this factory is aiming for full-scale production of low-cost bamboo bikes.   They hope their two-wheelers end up in the small towns and rural areas of Ghana and West Africa, providing affordable, locally-made transport empowerment to under-developed communities.

Factory builders ride samples of their work.

Part of my idea for biking to Kumasi was to visit this factory just outside the city.  I found their workers are fully trained and ready to put some bikes together.  After a delay in getting bike components into the country, they are presently swinging into full production mode, hoping to crank out hundreds of bicycles a year.

Beyond the obvious wow-factor of the bamboo bikes themselves, you know what's cool in all of this?  That Ghana, a nation on the supposedly struggling continent of Africa, is becoming known for a very contemporary and environmentally-leading technology.

I applaud.


Maya Mame said...

This is so cool! I'd be excited just to hear that bikes were being made in Ghana, but made from bamboo as well? Fantastic! Like you said, it is so encouraging that Ghana is leading the way forward on an environmental route.

Now if we'd only get some safe cycle lanes, the bamboo bike industry could gain a whole load of customers!

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