Bamboo bicycles to assist farmers access markets

A visit to Ghana by a Kenyan engineering student has been the spark that has inspired a novel bamboo bicycle project in Mombasa, a transformatory project that has promised easier access to markets and health facilities by the locals, in an area where roads have become traps of despair and death.

 Lisaba Bakari an engineering student from the University of Nairobi School of Engineering on a student exchange programme, spent four months in Kumasi Ghana where the bamboo making venture has gone full throttle with industrial production. Impressed at how a simple technology had managed to solve the same perrenial problems in Kumasi that bedevil Kwale, Bakari returned home to make his mark. “Women walking for long distances carrying firewood, or deaths reported because of long distances between our villages and the nearest health centres, and with our tough terrains that cannot be navigated by cars, we have lost many of our people,”said Bakari.

The frame of the bicycle is shaped by bamboo, but the wheels, handle bars and seats are made of conventional materials.
 Bamboo frames are ten times lighter than metal frames and have a heavy load-bearing capacity, while naturally dampening vibrations, which means the frames do not require steel or titanium springs according to Bakari who quoted a control test run done in Germany. The maximum stress that a bamboo can withstand while being stretched  is much higher than that of steel which makes it the ideal material for this kind of bike,”Bakari further added.

With a group of six young people from Kakuyuni Polytechnic in Kwale, Bakari has managed to use the readily available bamboo in the area with each member of the group owning a bamboo bike.
The group treats the bamboo for a month before using it for production for durability and then coats it in a clear lacquer to protect it against rain and other damage.

Bakari is now selling his idea to interested investors with a view to scaling production and making the bicycle accessible to as many Kenyans as possible. According to Bakari, the availability of bamboo in many parts of the country as a local material would not only enable producers to avoid expensive import costs, but also eliminates the carbon emissions that would arise from the transport of imported materials into the country. “I know we still need to have the other parts to fix the whole bicycle, which is why I look for partners to work with me,”he said.

In Ghana where a group of scientists and engineers from the Columbia University's Earth Institute's Bamboo Bike Project have been actively involved in the project which has now birthed a new breed of entrepreneur. Already a partnership between Millennium Cities Initiative of Columbia University, The Bamboo Bike Studio in Brooklyn and a Ghanaian investor has seen a factory being established which is touted to produce some 10,000 such bicycles yearly all locally made.

“We need our people to be able to access the markets in time now that we have hampered to them the need to go farming for business. But what is the use if they still have to walk long distances to access the markets. This is the bicycle for Kenyan and African roads. It is modeled for African terrain,”said Bakari.

Roads in Kwale are dilapidated and in poor conditions, making it difficult for motor vehicles to move in and out of homesteads and farms which are situated a long distance from the main road.
Farmers in the area have decried massive losses in produces as they go bad awaiting to get to the market. For the few trucks that dare to navigate the tough terrain, they get stuck days on end. “A truck got stuck with my produce for three days. Spinach, carrots and mangoes. I ended up removing them and feeding them to my cows. I cant afford a bicycle or motor bike. The ones that are here are beyond my rich,”Said Badru Abasi a farmer.

According to other community members, their relatives have to be carried on hand made stretchers in order to reach the hospital. Others die along the way as a result of this. “The distance to the main road where we can access transport is far and if you have a very sick relative they end up losing their lives before they reach hospital. Only bicycles and motorbikes have been of little help,”said Hadiya Aisha a resident of Kwale who lost a relative to poor road network.

Statistics indicated that Africa imports an estimated 30 million bikes per year mostly from China, yet there are no bike manufacturers on the continent, a gap Bakari hopes to close.

Written by Wima Hamisi for African Laughter