It’s sometimes painful to watch the big automakers scrambling to right their collective ship, coming out with prototype vehicles like GM and Segway’s lovechild, the P.U.M.A. (granted, my colleague Steve Puma – no relation – noted that it is a step in the right direction). But on the flip side, it’s a joy to hear about cool startups like Zambikes and Bamboosero.
Vaughn Spethmann founded Zambikes in an effort to develop both employment opportunities and appropriate transportation for Zambians. Not only did he and his Zambian bike-builders create standard steeds, they also created innovative designs including the “Zambulance,” designed to carry sick people to hospitals in places where other means of transportation aren’t adequate or always available.
As described in this BBC piece, the companies are working with enterprising Africans to produce bikes – including mountain and cargo bikes with a bamboo frame – in Zambia and Ghana. They are sold in Africa and the US.
Then Spethmann met up with Craig Calfee, who operates a bike design firm near Santa Cruz, Calif., who had developed a bike frame made of bamboo and had started bringing his know-how to developing countries. His plan: to train people in places such as Ghana on how to build bamboo bikes, which would then be exported to the U.S. Having joined forces with Spethmann, Calfee’s Bamboosero bikes are now made in Zambia, too.
Not only is bamboo a sustainable, locally-grown material for bike-building, it’s a great material for creating performance bikes: it is light, strong and absorbs shock. The strong, growing demand for Bamboosero in the US is proving some much-need job security and job growth for the Zambians and Ghanaians that are involved in their creation. Plus, the availability of more bikes in Zambia and Ghana help locals transport themselves to workplaces or schools that would otherwise be out of reach. And the cargo bikes allow them to get more work done.