I pulled out the latest issue of Green Futures for a bit of light relief. It instantly lifted my mood as it reminded me just… how exciting sustainability issues can be.
A furniture designer in Bangalore is bringing an all-bamboo bike frame to market.
A backstreet garage in Bangalore may not be the most obvious place for a design revolution, but that is what furniture designer Vijay Sharma seems to be pulling off. He was familiar with bamboo, and had also dabbled in making recumbent tricycles. But it was when a friend suggested putting the two together that the real innovation happened. "I knew that bamboo is as strong and sturdy as steel", says Sharma, so he started experimenting with making an all-bamboo bike frame.
It took three years of trial and error to hit on the ideal design. Early versions suffered from a 'fishtail' effect at high speeds, causing the bike to sway alarmingly. "It was an uncomfortable and rather scary feeling", Sharma recalls. The solution was to reduce the frame's weight while increasing the tube's diameter. Sharma refined the design after testing it on the Nilgiris Hills tour, where he could compare its performance with conventional ones ridden by hardened cyclists, and get their feedback.
The 'Bambike', as it's inevitably called, retails for around INR45,000 – compared to INR25,000-30,000 for a conventional cycle. That means it's still something of a niche market, albeit one with a growing appeal to European and American customers, who enjoy the distinctly 'natural' look and feel. As Sharma points out, "the frame is completely handmade and so each bike looks a bit different from the other". It's still an artisanal process, but in theory at least, mass manufacture would be possible – in which case this could be a very viable business indeed. And, given the relatively high energy costs of steel manufacture, a pretty sustainable one, too.
Sapna Gopal is a Hyderabad-based journalist specialising in energy and environmental issues.
Photo: Annapindi Ramesh