By Shruti Tomar
(Photos © Bryan Benitez McClelland)
Bambike’s handcrafted bamboo bicycles are possibly the greenest bikes on the planet
With rods of pale bamboo forming the crux of its sleek yet understated body, the Bambike definitely demands eyeball time. But this sustainable creation is not a mere piece of fleeting art. It is a functional, hardy machine—just as functional and robust as a cold steel bike. Only it is more sustainable, environment friendly, and easy on the eyes.
“The bicycle is one of the most efficient machines ever created. Bamboo is one on the greenest materials on Earth. Combining the two just made sense. Thus, Bambike was born,” says Bryan Benitez McClelland, founder, Bambike, the Manila-based company that makes sturdy, beautiful bikes from natural bamboo. A socio-ecological establishment, Bambike creates the bicycles by using fair trade labour and sustainable building methods. The bikes are also known as Revolution Cycles, the word ‘revolution’ referring to the Green Revolution.
“We would like to market our product in India if interest emerges”
Bryan Benitez McClelland, Founder, Bambike . . .
A Concept was Born
Bambike’s recipe of investing in communities to create sustainable manufacturing and herald a new green economy has brought about enormous social change in the Philippines. “Bambike was founded in 2010, though the idea behind using renewable organic materials for construction and transportation was formulated some time before, during my college years at the University of Pennsylvania,” explains McClelland. While his undergraduate years were spent studying environmental issues, anthropology and ecotourism development, he zeroed in on environmental resource management and sustainable community development for his Masters. His keen interest in facilitating a relationship between people and their natural environment, along with the goal of becoming a socio-ecological entrepreneur had a keen role in the development of Bambike.
“Compared to steel, bamboo is just as strong, has a higher strength-to-weight ratio and is a lot more environment friendly. Steel and other metals take a significant amount of fossil fuel and processing to produce. Bamboo is a carbon negative material, meaning that it absorbs carbon dioxide as it grows, making it a highly sustainable building material”
Bamboo Vs Steel
Bamboo is light, strong and flexible which not only makes for a great bike frame but also ensures a smooth ride. The bamboo tubes in the bike have natural vibration dampening characteristics, which makes it feel like there are built-in shock absorbers in the bicycle.
So, how does a bike made of bamboo compare to one made of steel? Not too shabbily, according to McClelland: “Compared to steel, bamboo is just as strong, has a higher strength-to-weight ratio and is a lot more environment friendly. Steel and other metals have high ‘embodied’ energies, meaning they may take a significant amount of fossil fuel and processing to produce. Bamboo is a carbon negative material, meaning that it absorbs carbon dioxide as it grows, making it a highly sustainable building material.”
Pedalling the Market
Market response to this innovative bike has been an uphill trek but one that’s been rewarding and brimming with confidence about the future. What began as cautious baby steps coupled with in-depth research and development has now culminated in a certified product that’s finding footing in the global marketplace. “Things have been picking up for Bambike every year and we are excited as we move forward,” avers McClelland. Bambike currently manufactures five varieties of bicycles, each range rugged but with its own unique set of features. The company has also launched a range of sunglasses called Bamb Organic Eyewear, which feature bamboo frames.
Bambike is largely marketed online but in a few countries, representation by way of “Bambassadors” helps spread the word. International shipping is done door-to-door and on a per-order basis. Bambike has generated sales in Asia, Europe and the Americas. “We would like to market our product in India if interest emerges,” says McClelland when asked about his India plans.
Bambike models are priced at PHP 15,000 (Rs 20,850 approx.) and upwards. The product’s customer profile typically comprises well-read young professionals for whom style coupled with respect for the environment is the ideal mantra.
Today, the Bambike team comprises 10 members and the company hopes to generate more sustainable jobs in the time to come.
Ecotourism on a Bambike
In the midst of a Bambike Ecotour
Bambike also conducts educational ecotours called Bambike Ecotours Intramuros, which render the grand tour of Manila’s old walled city of Intramuros. Participants ride about the streets on handcrafted Bambikes, exploring a lot more than they would on a walking trail or aboard a calesa (horse carriage). Priced at PHP 1,200 (Rs. 1,668 approx.) per head, these tours span a duration of 2.5 hours and cover 10 locations.
Bambike also makes Bamb Organic Eyewear
“There are a lot of people whose hands the bamboo went through to build the bikes and a lot of people benefit from the overall project because we re-invest in the community,” says McClelland, conveying the ethos of the brand.
The seed for Bambike was sown when McClelland became associated with a Filipino community development organisation called Gawad Kalinga (which means ‘to give care’). His task at the time was to help create the green building programme in the organisation. After getting that started, he started working towards developing sustainable livelihood for the villagers.
Bambike was born to provide a solution by creating rural jobs that can be carried out in a sustainable fashion. Capitalising on the human and natural capital of the local area, Bambike strives to demonstrate a new way of doing business. “Bambike envisions a poverty-free Philippines. We’ve got the triple bottom line in mind—People, Planet and Progress—to really embody the spirit of Bambike,” smiles a Zen-like McClelland.
This article appeared in the April 2015 issue of Pure & Eco India