The one area in product design where mobility companies, automotive or otherwise, are constantly innovating is material design. And many companies spend a lot of time and money on researching and developing new materials and material composites.
Imagine my surprise when I heard of Bamboobike, an Israel-based company manufacturing and selling the world’s only electrical bicycle made out of bamboo. The benefits of bamboo being a strong and lightweight material are backed up by numerous communities across Asia, Africa and South America, many of whom even use it for construction.
But in the face of artificially introduced alternatives like carbon fibre, natural materials like bamboo seem almost regressive.
Bambookbike’s Founder and CEO, Ophir Fromm, agrees, adding that we’re almost conditioned to believe so. In the mobility space, using bamboo as a material is unheard of, and I was curious to know what prompted Fromm to create electric bikes using bamboo.
He explains: “Cycling was a hobby of mine. 14 years ago, when I was in working in the IT industry, I was cycling past a kibbutz when I saw an old retired army guy, who was taking in junk bicycle parts. This man would then clean, polish, colour and assemble these parts to make second-hand bicycles. It was then that I had a eureka moment! I thought let’s make bicycles and employ people like him.”
“I’m very passionate about sustainability and did not want to use metal to create the frame. I didn’t know a lot about bamboo back then and after a lot of research, I found out about bamboo. Did you know that until the 1840s, sport bicycles, rims and all, were made from bamboo because it was very flexible, strong and very light?,” adds Fromm.
Market disruption and mass production
Bamboo is known to be stronger than construction steel, but according to Fromm, it is one of those forgotten materials that have gone out of fashion in the face of new technology.
“Bamboo is not only stronger; it’s also lighter. Let’s take the chassis of a plain metal rickshaw with a volume of 1 litre as an example. 1 litre of plain metal will weigh 7 kgs, aluminium of the same volume will weigh 2.7 kgs, while carbon fibre will weigh 1.3 kgs. Bamboo, on the other hand, will only weigh 300 gms,” he notes.
With manufacturing facilities in Israel and China, Bamboobike is now looking to expand its presence in India, and Fromm says that the company is in talks with some of the biggest names in mobility in India. However, for Fromm, the size of the company doesn’t matter. Seriousness in bringing this product to the Indian market is what he’s looking for in the potential partner.
“Our main focus is two-fold – market disruption and mass production. If you look at the EV market in India, regular electric cars make up only 0.5% of it. The rest 99.5% belongs to two- and three-wheelers. By focusing on this 99.5%, we can solve more problems that no one wants to solve. Currently, in India, a low-speed electric bicycle or scooter can cost anywhere between $500-1000, while a Bambobike is as low as $250.
“So, what we are offering is a low-speed electric vehicle, which is sustainable and for the masses. It will be disruptive in every way – in price, in range. It can be the perfect solution for rural areas with a solar charger, where they don’t have a good electricity grids.”
There are some saints, but most of the people ask ‘what is the price?’
Fromm dismisses the idea of importing parts or products from China despite having a manufacturing base there, saying that if Bamboobike expands its presence in India, it will make its products locally. It’s a notion that makes a lot of sense. Just to import bamboo parts into the country, the company will have to pay 25% tax. Similar is the case should it choose to import its battery packs from China, in which case it will have to pay 15% tax.
“If the bamboo is already growing in India, the most sustainable solution is to make it in India. Luckily for us, rural areas all over the world, South America, Asia and Africa, has a lot of bamboo. We are planning to find partners that can enable us to localise the part. By producing in India, not only do we have to pay 0% tax, it will also be a great employment opportunity for rural areas.
“The minimum salary of an employee in China is $800, whereas that in India is $200. It is more profitable to make in India, especially if you are going to cater the Indian market. Currently, we are in the process of finding micro-investors to make this happen.”
“Hopefully, these partners can not only help us localise the parts, but also assemble. Bicycle assembly lines are perfect for rural areas that may be devoid of electricity, because to manufacture bicycles, you don’t need electricity. You just need the parts, screwdriver, glue and the know-how. It isn’t a high-skill job either,” he adds.
Finally, I was curious to know what the consumer reactions were to Bamboobike’s products. Surprisingly, Fromm points out that sustainability is least of the consumer’s concern. In fact, the percentage of ‘woke’ customers who buy this product is small.
“Price is by far the biggest motivator. Yes, there are some saints, but most of the people ask ‘what is the price?’. Customers don’t care if the product is made of plastic, metal or bamboo. What they do care about is if the price is lower, if the product is good and if it is value for money.
“We have a product that is almost less than half the price, has double the range and has three times the warranty of what exists in the market today. Do you think anyone will say no to all of this?,” concludes Fromm.