Two innovative engineers have combined a traditional means of transport with a traditional type of material.
Bamboo has a seemingly endless list of uses, in country housing and as construction scaffolding for example, and when it’s young it can even be eaten. A meeting of minds and skills between local craftsman Vo Tan Tan from Cam Thanh village in the ancient town of Hoi An in the central region and his partner Axel Lukassen from the Netherlands, who are both engineers, resulted in them setting up a business producing bicycles made primarily from bamboo that can be mass produced and sold nationwide and also exported.
The duo chose thorny bamboo for the task, which is a particularly hard and strong type from nearby Dien Ban district. The bamboo goes through heat treatment and insect protection processes before being made into bicycle components. The production method is eco-friendly and uses traditional Vietnamese knowledge. “The bamboo is buried in mud for six months and dried over a six-week period in special sheds,” Mr Tan explained. The finished product is almost all done by hand, from connecting the joints to oiling the frame. “We use natural hemp and synthetic glue to connect the bamboo and metal on the frame to ensure there are no cracks, even in varying temperatures,” he said, adding that this is the most difficult step it the process. The parts not made of bamboo are made in Vietnam, Thailand and the Netherlands, and are all custom made. “We have tested the bicycles on rough roads to make sure they run well and are safe,” he said.
There is great demand for eco-friendly bicycles in the Netherlands, so the market is there to be seized. Through Alex’s contact they have already sold five mountain bike frames in the Netherlands made from thorny bamboo at prices around $400 - $500, which represents a handsome profit and gives them a solid cash flow. “We have orders for 20 bamboo bicycles to be exported to the Netherlands this year,” Mr Tan said. “I plan to employ more workers and introduce mass production.”
In Vietnam bicycles are a popular means of transport over relatively short distances. The duo hope to show people that riding one of their bicycles has both health and environmental benefits, with prices in Vietnam being comparable to bicycles made from steel or aluminium. “Our eco-friendly bicycles are easy and comfortable to ride, so it shouldn’t be difficult to convince people that it’s a great alternative to riding a motorbike,” Mr Tan said.
The two partners have already organised bamboo bicycle tours around the surrounding area in a bid to promote the new two-wheeler. “This bike is unique,” said Mr Nguyen Van Nam, a tourist from Ho Chi Minh City. “This is the first time I’ve had a chance to try riding a bamboo bicycle and it’s been a great experience.”
The bamboo bicycle is coming onto the market at just the right time. Hoi An authorities have already announced that they will promote the riding of bicycles this year as part of plans to create the first eco-city in Vietnam. “Mr Tan’s bamboo bikes have opened up new opportunities for local people,” said an official from Cam Thanh village. “I believe the bicycle will further strengthen the city’s environmental credentials and attract visitors to the village in the future.”