Bicycle has become a popular means of transportation these days by students, office employees or workers.
Among the bicycles that catches the people’s attention is the bamboo bike.
Filipino-American Bryan McClelland’s company, Bamb Ecological Technology Inc., made the bamboo bicycle, or Bambike, its “flagship product because, literally and figuratively, it served as our vehicle into the field of sustainable livelihood development.”
An environmental consultant, ecotourism developer, social entrepreneur and educator, McClelland told the BusinessMirror in an e-mail interview: “My aim was to work with a sustainable raw material and to create jobs in rural communities.”
He added: “In order to make the social enterprise a viable operation, we needed to add as much value to the bamboo as we could, so I saw Bambike as a line of products that could achieve these goals.”
Bamboo: ‘Greenest building material’
When they started over 10 years ago, he said the bamboo industry in the Philippines was operating primarily at the “cottage level.”
Optimistic in the future of bamboo as a resource material, he said: “As we each develop our skill sets and embrace the need for creative collaboration, the number and quality of bamboo products made in the Philippines will increase.”
Having a background in environmental resource management, with a Master’s degree in Environmental Resource Management at the University of Pennsylvania, bamboo has always been a material that McClelland has been interested in because of its versatility.
“Bamboo is also arguably the greenest building material on the planet,” he said.
He noted: “Besides the fact that Malakas and Maganda emerged from a bamboo shoot in Filipino folklore, you can also eat bamboo, wear it, build houses with it, ride it in the form of a bicycle, build water rafts and boats, and generate energy from it. I truly believe that bamboo industry development can lead to climate-change mitigation and sustainable livelihood development for the poor.”
Public response: ‘Crazy’
McClelland said people thought the idea of making a bicycle out of bamboo was a little “crazy.”
“It took a lot of convincing and demonstrations to show that bamboo is indeed strong enough to make up a bicycle frame. There has been—and still is—a stigma that bamboo is ‘the poor man’s timber,’” he said.
This still holds true because the bamboo used in many traditional applications is untreated and susceptible to pests and weathering.
He explained that”bamboo that is treated and finished properly is a very strong and durable building material that can last a lifetime.”
After building Bambikes for a number of years, showcasing them and using them in public, and then having the bike frame certified to the international bike standards, “we were able to change the public perception of our products,” he noted.
“It was really when we launched Bambike Ecotours in 2014, that we were able to get many more people onto the saddle and be convinced of our products’ quality. Since then, thousands of people have been able to ride our bamboo bikes and experience how smooth and fun they are to ride,” he said.
With the growing bicycle market around the world, McClelland believes that people are realizing how the bicycle is a viable form of transportation, especially now that cities are making efforts to put in more bike lanes which help make people feel safer on the saddle.
Bambike, sold from range of P7,000 to P55,000, is shipped anywhere in the country and door-to-door worldwide.
The company’s 30 personnel work in the production of 30 Bambikes per month.
He announced that they are working on Bambino Kids Bike, a winner of Good Design Award from the Japanese design center, a scalable product that can be made in larger quantities for the export market.
Bambike Ecotours was created to bring history, cultural heritage, and the natural environment to life, he said.
With the Filipino blood in him, McClelland said, “Our goal is to create meaningful experiences for travelers to enjoy interesting places all over the Philippines.”
Bambike Ecotours operates in Intramuros, Manila, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, and Guimaras.
Since 2014, Bambike Ecotours has accommodated more than 40,000 guests.
The company’s 20 personnel are in charge of overseeing the tours and management in Manila.
Guimaras in Western Visayas was the latest location for the Green Spark project, while other destinations across the country are in the works.
Support to Covid-19 frontliners
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, McClelland’s company provides assistance to medical frontliners by renting out bamboo bicycles through the “Rent a Bambike for Frontliners campaign.”
“During this period of enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila, our social enterprise has been forced to close. We do, however, have the desire and capacity to contribute what we can to fight the Covid-19 crisis: our bamboo bikes, fleet management experience, as well as maintenance services are dedicated to keep the frontliners moving,” he said.
Bambikes are now available to frontliners in Manila, Quezon City, Pasig, and Iloilo.
“Frontliners at other locations have contacted us to express their need for bikes, so we are working to make this possible,” McClelland said.
However, they too asked for support so “we can keep providing critical assets and services to the frontliners. This includes bike distribution, procurement and provision of safety equipment [including helmets, blinker lights, ponchos, and bike locks for security.]”
More socio-ecological projects
For future projects, McClelland said his company is working on the Bamboo Innovation Group Foundation for Industry Development, Ecosystem-based Adaptation and Sustainability (BIG Ideas).
BIG Ideas’s objective is to balance biodiversity conservation and natural resource management with green economic and sustainable livelihood development.
“We believe that this is the path forward in order to scale our impact and really develop the bamboo industry,” he said.
Besides bamboo bike, the company has been working on bamboo laminated timber, also known as engineered bamboo in order to address the need for green building materials.
After 13 years of living and working in the Philippines, McClelland is still fueled with an obsession for bamboo and sustainable livelihood development.