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Earnan Maguire

Luddia, United States

Member since October 06, 2007

  • This is a bad idea, demonstrating little understanding of either bicycles or Africa


    The original "bamboo bike" was a cute project for a Czech engineering student with access to very high-tech materials and machine tools, and the disposable wealth---in both time and money---to indulge in a fanciful project.

    As a practical bike for rural Africa it is a terrible idea.

    The frame of a utility bike is one of the simplest parts of such a bike to fabricate. Other than the parts such as the bottom bracket (housing the bearings and axle for the crankset), the head tube (housing the bearings for the fork assembly) and the drop outs (where the wheels are attached)---all of which are precision-machined metal parts on the so-called bamboo bike as well---the frame can be built of simple cheap steel tubing and lugs that can be cast in quite low-tech foundries. This, in fact, is how many of these old-fashioned bikes are manufactured in India and China.

    Bamboo frames would do nothing to promote self-reliance or encourage local industry in Africa. They would be completely dependent upon imported bottom bracket shells, headset tubes and frame dropouts---just to fabricate the frames---as well as still being dependent upon imported bearings, forks, wheels, cranks, chains and so on. And the end result would be a frame that would be far inferior to an old-fashioned steel bike of the sort, based on early 20th century British designs, commonly seen in Africa. Those bikes are strong and durable---something a bike built using a bamboo frame subject to degradation from heat, sunlight, moisture and fungi would not be. They can be repaired using common low-tech tools and skills---again, something not true of a bike dependent upon high-tech imported adhesives to hold the frame together. While they are dependent upon imported tires---just as the bamboo bike would be---other consumable components such as the rod-actuated friction-block brakes commonly used on these bikes can be locally produced.

    A far better idea would be a design that combined the use of off-the-shelf components (ball bearings, chains, etc) in standard sizes, that can be obtained from multiple sources to take advantage of the global economy, and durable proven technologies that fit the realities of African industrial development: cast frame lugs and wheel dropouts---something within the capability of a poorly developed steel industry---that use standard sizes of steel tubing, either locally produced or imported as bulk tubing and cut to size locally---joined by brazing or high-temperature soldering which is adequate for the strains involved and is more easily repaired in rural shops. A minimum of precision-machined parts: bottom brackets and headsets held together by simple nuts and bolts rather than fine threads or thousandths-of-an-inch friction fits in precisely-sized tubes as in modern (First World, recreational) bikes. Consumable parts designed to allow the use of low-tech repair or replacement parts if necessary: a brake design, for example, that would accommodate a leather-faced wooden brake pad if a factory-made rubber one was not available.

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