Alternative Transportation

ProposalStakeholder AnalysisProject GoalsProject Effects City of InterestResearchBamboo BikeGroup Bio

Bamboo Bikes in Kumasi, Ghana

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This Is Not A Bike. It’s an Engine for Economic and Cultural Empowerment(World Bicycle Relief)
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We propose integrating bamboo bicycles into the economy of a developing nation that is in need of better transportation to facilitate their livelihood. Our research has concentrated on introducing bamboo bikes and bamboo bike manufacturing to Kumasi, Ghana.

We do not view bikes as a suitable replacement for cars, buses, etc. in a country where this infrastructure has already been developed. In developed countries, bicycles can supplement existing transportation, but we are more interested in using the bicycle along with sustainable design to reformulate how people move and how cities are designed in developing nations. From our research, it appears that many people are uninterested in using bicycles when taxis, buses, or cars are readily available. Our focus is a nation where public transportation is not readily or easily available, and private modes of transportation consist primarily of walking or biking.

Our goal is to make the bamboo bicycle accesible to locals in Ghana. Currently, bikes are imported into Ghana from factories in Asia. These bicycles are expensive and tend to break easily as they are not meant to ride on the unpaved roads: this makes them not only a costly commodity but an unsustainable one.

Ultimately, we would like to help regions and cities, such as Kumasi, that need bicycles by teaching local groups how to build bicycles out of bamboo. By building their own vehicles, they can not only build it to their specifications (i.e for the terrain), but they will also form an attachment to the product. This personal investment inspires users to utilize their bikes to their fullest potential. By teaching them how to build bicycles from a sustainable material (bamboo), we can remove the need to import bicycles from long distances as well as promoting “green” engineering. Once we are able to teach a region how to build bicycles, they can produce their own bicycles and sell them in their community.

We hope that this will grow their work force and economy, and it will enable many to have cheap access to transportation, which can in turn allow the citizens to go to school, hospitals, markets, or easily transport goods. This technology has the ability to inspire the community to not only start building these bicycles, but also start using them; the people who buy the bicycles will find a way to use them to their fullest potential. Bamboo bikes can free them from their present limited regional transportation and allow them to fully explore their potential.

We plan to partner with Bamboo Bikes Limited, an existing bamboo bike manufacturing effort, and supplement their continuing research and development of the model bamboo bicycle factory that has just begun production in Kumasi, Ghana. In support of this plan, we could use funding to travel to Ghana where we would undertake the following three efforts.

1. Conduct Interviews with Local Groups and Peoples

  • We want to engage in dialogue, as per step 2 of Paul Polak’s 12 Steps to Practical Problem Solving, with the locals in order to further expand our knowledge on how this system may be further implemented. These interviews may be conducted by us, or possibly we would train locals to conduct the interviews in an effort to gather more reliable and accurate information.

2. Implement Methods of Financing and Selling Bamboo Bikes

  • We wish to help marked BBL and their bikes as the sustainability of BBL is directly related to the public’s perception of the bikes and the number of bikes that are sold. We wish to draw upon the lessons learned from the successful implementation of treadle pumps that used singing minstrels and a Bollywood style movie to convince locals that their products had major benefits and was worth its price. (LINK) We also would investigate how micro-financing may allow for greater sales of bamboo bikes.

3. Support and Investigate Further Uses of Bamboo Construction Methods

  • We feel that BBL could find greater success by expanding on its Bamboo Construction Methods. Not only can traditional bike frames be created out of bamboo, but so may boda-boda bike taxis, women’s specific bikes, bike trailers, and bike ambulances. For more information on these alternative uses of bamboo please visit on research section.

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Stakeholder Analysis

The following analysis illustrates the members within and outside the region of interest who may have an influence upon the bamboo bicycle initiative. Communication would have to involve all of these groups in order to assess the feasibility of the project’s implementation.

Bamboo Bike Stakeholder Analysis

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Project Goal
The goal of our project is to rethink alternative transportation methods and the potential impacts they can have on a community.

  • Find a means of sustainable transportation of both people and goods.
    This could mean designing communities in ways such that less traditional transportation is necessary, with the goal of making communities safer, happier, healthier, more productive, and more sustainable. Alternately, this could be a form of transportation that is sustainable, safe, and can be fit into the existing transportation system of an area as it develops.
  • Design and potentially construct a usable form of sustainable transportation which can be easily implemented in a developing area, without complex tooling or design knowledge.
  • Find locally appropriate design solutions that can be implemented in a real city or village. Potentially establish a working relationship with this group and or with people in the community.
  • Work with and learn from existing projects and efforts.


  • Understand the way that transportation methods can be implemented to positively influence the lives of community members.
  • Critically analyze the “problem” we, as outsiders, are trying to fix and see if it truly aligns with the needs and wants of the people who will be using it.
  • Critically analyze the effects and side-effects, both good and bad, of introducing a new technology and source of income into an existing community.
  • Learn to build a bamboo bicycle
  • Find alternative transportation for our own lives and those around us.
  • Understand how a Ghanaian would view our transportation and society and what changes they may ask of us. Possibly this would include greater use of bikes and public transportation our own lives. Living these changes is one of out groups goals.

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  • Demonstrate the feasibility of building a bamboo bike frame
  • Demonstrate the strength of bamboo
  • Demonstrate an “intermediate technology”
  • Demonstrate the potential to produce bamboo bikes at low enough costs to be feasible in developing countries

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Kumasi, Ghana
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Kumasi, Ghana has become the focus area of our research. This location was chosen as the transportation infrastructure of the area is well documented and researched and furthermore there is an existing effort to introduce bamboo bikes and the manufacturing of the them into Kumasi. This provides us with a wealth of information about the sustainability, feasibility, and practicality of locally produced bamboo bikes.
The case study of the combined efforts of the Bamboo Bike Project, Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment, and Millenium Cities Initiative has resulted in the following report that is very valuable in to our project: Vale Columbia Center/MCI Working Plans

View Larger Map

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Bamboo Bikes Limited(BBL) has began a trial run of bamboo bike production in Kumasi. The bicycles in the picture to the right are 4 of the bicycles produced at the
factory in Kumasi. In addition to manufacturing bamboo bikes frames, BBL uses waste bamboo to create toothpicks which increase their sustainability and profitability.

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Addressed Questions

  • To what extent does Africa (or the region/city of interest) have a transportation infrastructure? How do people get around at present?
    • The African Continent has 800,000 miles roads; only 60,000 miles are paved. This represents a lack of developed transportation infrastructure and may allow African’s countries, cities, towns, and villages to develop infrastructure that does not repeat the mistakes and problems that plague the American or Western transportation model of cities designed around most all individuals owning and driving a car.
    • Less than 2% of the African population has a car. The main modes of transportation include walking/biking..
  • What is the bike infrastructure like in Africa and more specifically in a country/region/city we wish to implement bamboo bikes?
    • In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) pedestrians account for about 50% of all daily trips. Even though SSA has a majority of daily trips taken on foot, there exist a serious lack of pedestrian infrastructure to support walking.
    • Cycling is less common in densely populated African cities. It is more common, however, in mid-sized cities and rural areas, due to traffic safety issues and use of public transportation. Citizens are more likely to use bicycles as a means of transportation when their safety is not at a high risk. When there isn’t a safety concern associated with doing so, citizens are more likely to ride bikes.
      • Only 3 percent of all trips are made by bike in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and 1 percent in Nairobi, Kenya (2 major African cities) – due to (a) lack of dedicated infrastructure (b) fear of traffic accidents (c) lack of financial ability to own a bicycle.
      • Conversely, 23% of all trips are made by bike in the mid-sized city of Morogoro, Tanzania- again, major set-back is bike affordability.
      • In Southern Africa the bicycle mode of travel plays various roles in the 16 countries south of the equator. The paper linked below discusses these roles and makes recommendations to authorities, and encourages certain present trends, to make the bicycle a much more significant transportation mode in both rural and urban areas. The Bicycle in southern Africa
  • What types of bikes are currently in use?
    • Geared? Singlespeed? A mix?
      • From a cross-section of Flickr photos, not many mountain bikes are presently used. Mountain bike frames are probably best suited to the majority of our expected users as they are more durable and are designed to manage heavier loads or rough terrain.
      • From photos it seems that there is a mix of fixed gear and geared bikes. Fixed geared bikes would be less prone to breaking/need fixing, while gears would allow the user to carry more weight and bike with ease.
    • Are the bikes comfortable to ride?
      • Probably not, as the road bike frames do not absorb the shocks from a rough dirt road very well. There exists a stigma against mountain bikes. Some Africans view mountain bikes as weaker and more likely to break as their frame design and shocks are not what people are used to seeing. In addition mountain bikes are often more expensive and when purchased are sometimes rented out to tourists and visitors rather than being used every day by the locals.
    • Is it better than walking?

What societal norms affect who uses bikes?

  • Do women ride them?
    • Women traditionally do not ride bicylces because they expose their legs making them a stronger attraction to men thus increasing the potential for violence and sexual assault. (
      • The Step-Through frame offers women a more conservative alternative to mounting a bicycle.
      • Bicycles taxis that use a plank/board above the back wheel of the bike to provide a spot for a passenger to sit are popular with women as they can sit sideways in comfort and modesty.
  • Do children ride them?
    • For children, it can make all the difference to regularly attend school and receive a decent education. They otherwise have to walk up to ten miles to get to school. (
  • What distances are bikes used for?
    • Are they ridden only around a village?
      • Locals often need to travel long distances, even for day to day errands such as collecting water, firewood or attending school, with little or no motorised transport available. The introduction of a bicycle can make a huge difference, cutting travel times right down and massively improving quality of life very easily. source
    • Are they ridden between villages?
      • One study showed that due to a lack of transportation methods, the majority of students had to walk to primary school, and the low-density of secondary schools forces most children in sub-saharan africa to live away from home. This contributes heavily to many children abandoning educational efforts relatively quickly. Inter-village communication, trade, and sharing of facilities (schools, medical, markets, etc) is easier achieved by bike than on foot.
  • How are bikes being modified (i.e. for business, as mobile stretchers, as trikes, etc.)?
    • Bike Ambulance are trailers on which sick/injured people can be transported to healthcare centers and hospitals.
    • Bicycle Ambulance.pdf, Practical Action has put out a report on their efforts to introduce bicycle ambulances in Nepal.
    • Bicycle Trailers.pdf, Practical Action has put out an informational report on bike trailers and their construction.
    • Bicycle Trailers in Zambia.pdf, Practical Action has a report on their efforts to introduce bike trailers to Lundazi, Zambia.
  • Why use bamboo?
    • What are its advantages/disadvantages, compared to metal?
      • Bamboo strength is due to fiber strength — with high tensile and compressive strength, but lacking shear strength. If used properly, it can be a cheaper, lighter, and stronger alternative to other building materials.
    • What is its availability?
      • In Africa, bamboos grow naturally in East Africa from southern Mozambique to northeastern Sudan, in West African countries such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in southern African countries such as Zambia and Zimbabwe. There are also large commercial plantations and smaller on-farm plantations which grow both local species and species introduced from Asia.
    • How renewable is it?
      • Re-sprouts from same cut-off stump
      • Takes 3 years to mature and can be harvested every other year for 120 years.
    • What could bamboo be used for, in addition to bike frames, and what is it currently used for?
      • Building materials, houses, foot bridges, structures, paper, utensils, floor tiles, food (you can eat bamboo)
  • Bamboo Bikes
    • Will they be accepted as equal to traditional bikes?
      • Over time we hope they will become accepted as people learn to realize and appreciate their practicality.
    • Where will the resin, frame jig, etc be procured?
      • Tools needed: wood files, saw, hand drill, positioning jig, heat source
      • Materials needed: bamboo, hemp fibers, resin/epoxy
      • Bike parts needed (frame only): dropouts, bottom bracket, head tube
      • Other bike parts needed: complete wheels, chain, complete crankset, fork, brake/ cable system, seat, handlebars, stem.
    • At what cost?
    • How will production costs and the price they can/should be sold at be reconciled?
      • Bicycles will be able to be assembled with out the use of a welding setup. It can be assembled with no power tools (which will reduce investment cost. Although epoxy is not as prevalent as welding infrastructure is in Africa, we believe it can be imported and cite the fact that bike frames and components are already imported from Asia which means the neccessary infrastructure is largely in place .
      • Parts can be shipped in smaller packages than complete bikes and frames. Current imports on are cargo ship where volume is more a of a limiting factor than weight when it comes to shipping cost. A single shipping container can fit many more components than complete frames or bikes, thus reducing the overall shipping cost per bike.
    • What types of brakes are used?
      • From different photos, it seems to range from disc brakes to rim brakes.
    • What frame sizes are available?
      • It seems to vary: this website provides dimensions that they use.
    • Are there bikes for kids? For all size ranges of people?
      • There are a range of bike sizes, as they are created from existing bike parts.
    • Where do these bikes/bike parts come from?
      • Were are they imported from other countries/regions, or are they manufactured in the continent/country/city?
        • One source of bikes in Africa is from World Bicycle Relief, which was founded by a one of the people who started the bike component company, SRAM. He argues that the diverse types and qualtites of bikes currently in Africa makes their repair and usability problematic. In response, he has designed an easy to repair bike designed for the African dirt roads and paths that is currently being manufactured in Asia, and assembled in and throughout Africa, where they are then sold.
        • Zambikes is another company producing bikes, bike trailers, and bike ambulances specifically for use in Zambia.
        • Zambia Bike Ambulance Case Study
    • How are the repaired?
      • What tools are used?
        • As seen in the following video, DIY tools, individuals have created home made bicycle repair tools for tasks that are traditionally thought to require specialized tools, such as a cassette remover. This also suggests that their is an existing market and local knowledge of bicycle repair, which further suggests that bicycle use is fairly prevalent at least in the region of the video – Nairobi, Kenya.
    • How does the market for them function?
    • What type of road surface/path are bikes ridden on?
        • Are the current bikes well suited for this?
          • Bikes are typically ridden on dirt roads. As previously mentioned, a majority of the continent’s roads are unpaved.
  • Do people express problems with the current bikes?
    • Many of the bikes currently in Africa are not equipped to handle the rough terrain and break after minimal use.
  • Do people even want bikes?
    • Is the freedom of transportation important to the people?
      • The bamboo bicycle not only represents a convenient form of transportation that doubles as a tool to start or improve a business, but also offers students and adults a time-saving mode of transportation to get them to and from school or work. Bombo Road is a bicycle path in Uganda that enables small scale farmers to avoid the congested roads used by vehicles, in order to safely transport goods to market. Transportation of agricultural commodities by bicycle : survey on Bombo Road in Uganda
      • Click People and Their Bikes , to read personal stories of some of the positive effects bike ownership has had upon Africans, thanks to the Village Bicycle Project.
    • Do bikes present an opportunity to expand people’s freedoms?
      • Mozambican women and their children are trapped living at subsistence levels. With women gaining access to bamboo bicycles they would no longer have to spend hours and hours per day collecting and carrying water, firewood, and agricultural supplies on their heads. USING THE BICYCLE FOR WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT IN AFRICA
      • People with bikes get to schools, markets, farms and health care in one-fourth the time, improving Ghanaians’ lives and economic futures. Bamboo bicycles provide power and opportunity that help lift themselves out of property. Village Bicycle Project
    • Can supporting bike usage have payoffs down the line as the village/cities/countries continue to grow and expand?
      • Women traditionally have been responsible for almost all household production and transport labor associated with agricultural production. Adequately assessing and addressing the nonmotorized transport needs of low-income women are crucial to bridging the connection between transportation planning and policies, transport technologies, and economic development in Africa. Click here to learn more about Motorized transport designed for women
      • Establishing a detailed and well tested set of traffic planning and road design methods and recommendations for urban pedestrian and bicycle traffic in Africa would be empowering to the city and help the country grow as a whole. PRODUCTIVE AND LIVEABLE CITIES: GUIDELINES FOR PEDESTRIAN AND BICYCLE TRAFFIC IN AFRICAN CITIES

Unaddressed Questions
Unaddressed questions can be found here.

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Our team originally wanted to compare successful modern cities to unsuccessful ones, in terms of transportation infrastructure, to see if we could identify where the advantages and strengths came from. This comparison would have been conducted with the lens of the Complete Streets theory. However, in order to better align with the direction and intention of this class, we sought out a “$100” appropriate technology that would assist the transportation needs of a developing region. For many reasons (outlined below) we settled on the bamboo bicycle.

  • Bamboo is a fast growing plant that grows locally in many developing countries/regions
  • Bamboo is as strong if not stronger than steel (Newsweek,Mechanical properties of bamboo)
  • Africa currently imports 30 million bikes a year and there are no bike manufactures on the continent (OECD insights)
  • Bikes are a primary mode of transportation for many on the continent due to the cost of cars and lack of infrastructure
  • Transportation is a major hurdle in getting people to access available healthcare and education
  • Bikes can serve as tools to empower people to better their own situation

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PROTOTYPE BAMBOO BIKE PICTURES (courtesy of Aaron Thielk and his personal efforts)
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Group Members

  • Aaron Thielk: Fourth year Aerospace Engineering major. Enjoys trail running, mountain biking, ice cream, sailing, and lots other stuff
  • Sam Meijer: Fourth year physics major. I enjoy long walks on the beach and sleepless nights doing quantum mechanics.
  • Cami Simpson: Fifth year General Engineering major, Sustainable Environments minor. I like playing soccer, going on hikes, and snowboarding.
  • Nate Rodriguez: Fifth year Kinesiology Major. I am passionate about music, audio engineering and soccer.
  • Connor Fourt: Fourth year Biochemistry major. I try to enjoy most things. Currently, Biochemistry and bamboo bikes seem to be high on the list.
  • Derek Fong: Third year art & design major with a concentration in photography. I take photos for campus dining, the bookstore, and ASI.
  • Tara Morency: Fourth year art & design major, Industrial Technology minor. I enjoy being outdoors, trying new foods, and making art…
  • Michelle Tellier: Fifth year Biochemistry major, Studio Art minor. I enjoy making art, trail running, and biking.
  • Ethan Lockwood: Third year Liberal Arts and Engineering major studying appropriate technological. I am passionate about trail running, building friendships, learning about and engaging in the world, and traveling the planet.

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