What does a bicycle have to do with a stem of bamboo? Not much, you might think. But then, you might have to think again.
On a typical working day, this Ugandan entrepreneur can be seen fiddling with bamboo sticks at his modest workshop located in the country’s capital, Kampala. His purpose? Certainly not the regular which tend towards furniture-making or some of the other more common uses of that woody grass.
As would any furniture maker, he inspects, measures, cuts, fastens, and joins. But to what end? Well, here’s the twist; Noordin Kasoma runs a small bamboo workshop in his homeland alright, but unlike most, his work is not about making furniture or cane. It’s about giving a new lease of life to broken bicycles.
The Ugandan entrepreneur transforms stems of bamboo into durable bicycle frames that have an aesthetic, ergonomic, and economic appeal. With a reasonable length of bamboo and some fastening material, he refurbishes old, broken bicycles and transforms them into amazing two-wheelers that can go the distance in Tour-de-France.
Just as is the case for most parts of Africa, bicycles are quite common in Uganda as they serve a number of purposes ranging from domestic transport to leisure and sport.
In the rural parts of the country where some of its remotest communities can be found, it’s quite a common sight as the locals rely on the two-wheelers for long distance journeys.
Apart from the fact that those areas might be inaccessible by any other mode of road transport, there is also the economic factor which suggests that more than any other, purchasing bicycles are within the financial reach of most people. Hence, the need to make them more affordable and available.
And Noordin is making that happen. With some assistance from his 20-strong staff and trainees, the Ugandan entrepreneur is now making steel and aluminium-framed bicycles seem like ‘the old bloke at the club.’
The use of bamboo in bicycles does seem like a no-brainer, though. They are strong, durable, lightweight, comfortable, and flexible. This makes them great for off-road use. And they are abundant in nature too – this means that they are quite inexpensive to procure when compared to the more popular materials. It does beg the question why they are yet an unpopular choice when they do perhaps twice as good a job for a fraction of the cost.
As he told Reuters, “Bamboo is flexible; due to that flexibility it gives that kind of shock-absorbing property when you’re riding especially off-road. The bamboo itself tries to absorb the shocks that you are passing through better than steel or aluminium.”
Off-road cycling aficionados across various parts of the world may be quite aware of bamboo as a better substitute to the usual suspects when it comes to cycling in bumpy and difficult-to-navigate terrains. In fact, the material is relatively well-known and already in use in some circles.
Hence, to add a tinge of unique Ugandan spice to the fabrication process, Noordin and his workers join the cut and cured pieces of bamboo together with a special material – bark cloth collected from the inner bark of a tree commonly called Mutuba in Uganda.
After harvesting this clothing material from the tree, what follows is a treatment that involves soaking the material in some kind of resin. After sufficient quantities of the resin are imbibed into the bark cloth, it is the then wound around the joints and allowed to dry.
Upon drying, the joints bearing the adhesive material become stiff and coarse, and these fibrous portions are then sanded to a smooth, shiny finish using emery-like material. The whole operation demands for sourcing of best-quality bamboo, treatment with insecticides, curing, precise measurements, and some artistic flair. Put all that together, and you get a bicycle frame that will give every broken bike a whole new life.
Noordin’s skill at refurbishing broken bicycles was possibly honed during his training stint with Craig Calfee; an American bike frame designer. He also told Reuters about the many hours he spent peering over tutorial videos on the internet. His choice of bamboo as ‘Material-in-Chief,’ however, may have been influenced by its availability and efficacy.
Noordin’s workshop design bicycle frames of different specifications and sizes. His establishment currently design frames for mountain bikes, road bikes, travel bikes, racing bikes, and city bikes. He also gets special requests for custom-made bike frames.
Noordin calls his brand of bamboo-framed bikes “Boogaali,” which is a fusion of the word ‘Bamboo’ with ‘Gaali,’ which means bicycle in the local Luganda dialect.
Even though the bicycles costs between USD 350.00 and USD 450.00 apiece – still relatively steep – it is a much more affordable option when compared to the alternatives, and that may explain why the bamboo bikes are seeing considerable patronage from riders. Some even say you could purchase two of the bicycles with the amount of money it’d cost you to import a steel or aluminium frame, plus taxes.
Noordin Kasoma is giving broken bicycles a rebirth with some fine craftsmanship and with the evidence on display, it sure is shaping up into one hell of a joyride for his establishment.
Featured Image Courtesy: boogaalibikes.com