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Don't Leave This Bike Out in the Rain
September 13, 2012 5:46 AM   Subscribe

The Alfa [bicycle] weighs 20lbs, yet supports riders up to 24 times its weight. It’s mostly cardboard and 100% recycled materials, yet uses a belt-driven pedal system that makes it maintenance free. And, maybe best of all, it’s project designed to be manufactured at about $9 to $12 per unit (and just $5 for a kids version.
posted by barnacles (63 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously

And I wonder how well it'll hold up in the rain, which is where I keep our bikes for lack of any other location.
posted by DU at 5:51 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


weighs 20lbs, yet supports riders up to 24 times its weight

Which is possibly very useful for riders who weigh 480 lbs, not so much for the rest of us. The price, on the other hand, is a more interesting USP, even though the combination of solid wheel spokes and a non-cushioned seat seems particularly uncomfortable...
posted by Skeptic at 5:53 AM on September 13, 2012


$9 to $12 in materials. How much in labor though?
posted by 1adam12 at 5:57 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


It doesn't look very comfortable to me, either, although I'm sure that you could buy a better seat and tires and still make it affordable.

Don't forget that people often use bicycles for all-purpose transport in 3rd world countries. A 160lb rider could be carrying a significatnly heavier load with him. According to this question on ask.com, the maximum weight for a standard Schwinn is 300lbs, so this could make a bigger difference than you think.
posted by KGMoney at 5:58 AM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Maybe a $9 frame, but there's no way tires, brakes, and bearings can be added for less than three times that price, and they'd be the cheapest possible.
posted by Ickster at 5:59 AM on September 13, 2012


"In an interview with Newsgeek, Gafni said that the production cost for his recycled bicycles is around $9-12 each, and he estimates it could be sold to a consumer for $60 to 90, depending on what parts they choose to add." source
posted by FreezBoy at 6:03 AM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Don't forget that people often use bicycles for all-purpose transport in 3rd world countries.

This was sort of alluded to in the 'article' (maybe it's better called a blurb). It's indisputable that giving someone a bike can make a massive difference in their lives, but it sounded like the bloke thought that the places where having a bike would make the biggest difference also had school buses, which isn't exactly confidence instilling.
posted by hoyland at 6:06 AM on September 13, 2012


Is that a 480lb static load, or what? Some parts of a bike (the drivetrain) are subject to pretty severe dynamic loads, given the amount of mechanical advantage involved. Not to mention potholes, which can be jarring and produce instantaneous forces much higher than the rider's body weight. It doesn't seem like a very meaningful statistic.
posted by Scientist at 6:07 AM on September 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yeah. I want to be hopeful because cheap bikes are one of the best transport options you can hope for in the third world. But price projections like this never end up being close to the final cost once reality intervenes.

Still and all, at four times the price it's going to be damn cheap. I won't scoff.
posted by ardgedee at 6:08 AM on September 13, 2012


Also there are a gajillion disused bikes already in existence which don't need to be manufactured at all. Is there a nonprofit out there that organizes bike drives where people bring in old, unwanted bikes which are then fixed up and sent to people who need them? I know there is a small operation in my city that does something similar (they take donated bikes and have kids come and fix them up, after which the kids get to keep one of the bikes they fixed). I feel like something along those lines would be more useful and efficient than making some weird cardboard bike. There's a reason that bikes aren't normally made out of cardboard.
posted by Scientist at 6:10 AM on September 13, 2012 [15 favorites]


Put better: "And, maybe best of all, it’s a frame designed to be manufactured at about $9 to $12 per unit (and just $5 for a kids version."

That's still cheaper than aluminium or mild steel at the factory gate. But not much. One can buy alu frames in bulk on Alibaba right now for US$5 - 15/piece, and even calling that $20 for optimistic listing doesn't leave much of a gap. This is a new design, and even though the tradeoffs are still unknown I'm going to make a guess that it doesn't compare well to 6061 aluminium.
posted by jaduncan at 6:11 AM on September 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


OK, now I want to meet a bicycle mechanic in rural Kenya and see what tricks he's developed for keeping ancient, abused bikes going with nothing but old tin cans and twine.
posted by Scientist at 6:13 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think this is fakish. I believe it is possible to make a cardboard bicycle, but I don't believe cardboard is a good material to make a bicycle out of. It isn't a good material to make a good bicycle out of and it isn't a good material to make a cheap bicycle out of. This is goofy link bait with zero practical implications framed in such a way to seem like a meaningful invention. It takes advantage of the fact that people will compare the materials costs of just the frame with an entire working bicycle that likely is much more durable and does it's job better and say "whoah this changes everything". This is a useless dead end, it was framed as the novelty that it is it could be kind of cool but then it would be just another art bike not some third world savior.
posted by I Foody at 6:22 AM on September 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


OK, now I want to meet a bicycle mechanic in rural Kenya and see what tricks he's developed for keeping ancient, abused bikes going with nothing but old tin cans and twine.


They exist. And they are just as awesome as you imagine.

African bikery includes things like stand up scooters with solid wood wheels.

So mock this idea all you like. If an African can get his hands on one of these for $20 instead of working umpteen more weeks to save up $200 for a real bike, that's umpteen weeks where he's making a buttload more money. That kind of thing adds up.
posted by ocschwar at 6:30 AM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am curious how it holds up over time. It appears that the waterproofing issue has been addressed by some heavy-duty sealant, but what happens when that gets scratched or chipped? And I have no idea how cardboard--even heavily laminated cardboard--holds up compared to steel or aluminum when it comes to long-term fatigue strength. Is a hypothetical $60 cardboard bike superior to a $100 steel bike if the cardboard bike starts to break down after a couple years and cannot be repaired, while the steel bike can go for 20 years replacing nothing but the wear parts and can probably be repaired to some level of servicability if damaged?
posted by drlith at 6:31 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


"In an interview with Newsgeek, Gafni said that the production cost for his recycled bicycles is around $9-12 each, and he estimates it could be sold to a consumer for $60 to 90, depending on what parts they choose to add."

Bikes that retail in that range are already available at the local Walmart, usually with a shitload of useless bells and whistles added to move them off the floor fast. Contrary to popular opinion among respectable bicyclists, they are perfectly serviceable and will last a loooong time with normal maintenance. And they are still as recycleable as any cardboard bike will be. The advantage with a cardboard bike is that it will presumably biodegrade into useless mush differently than a steel or aluminum bike, presumably just quicker. So I'm not sure where an advantage lies.

If the goal is to make and sell inexpensive, utilitarian bikes, to folks around the globe, the ability is already there using conventional technology. If there's anything lacking is will, infrastructure and investment to get conventional bikes into the third world. The cardboard bikes fulfills a demand among well intentioned folks in the West, by solving a problem that doesn't need to be solved.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:39 AM on September 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Cardboard is like carbon fiber in this context - it's a medium for the resin, which will be doing most of the structural work. Vastly inferior to either fiberglass or carbon fiber in terms of strength and weight and versatility, but much cheaper and easier to work with, and good enough for the application.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:42 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's some real out of the box thinking, there.

Looks pretty cool even if the inventor's claims seem a bit optimistic; however, I wonder why they didn't put forth the little bit of effort to put a rear brake on the prototype.
posted by TedW at 6:45 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The advantage with a cardboard bike is that it will presumably biodegrade into useless mush differently than a steel or aluminum bike, presumably just quicker. So I'm not sure where an advantage lies.

I guess the advantage lies in the bike being made from recycled cardboard up-front.
That said, I wonder just how recyclable the bike frame will be after being impregnated with the resin?
posted by Thorzdad at 6:46 AM on September 13, 2012


Is there a nonprofit out there that organizes bike drives where people bring in old, unwanted bikes which are then fixed up and sent to people who need them?

Yes. I know the guy who started Bicycles for Humanity. It has become a great success. They collect unwanted bikes, ship them to Africa, and train people there to repair and service them. It has become an international organization.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:04 AM on September 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Thorzdad - depends on the resin.

That said, I can see where this might be useful in the first world for creating rental bikes on demand - rent it for an unlimited amount of time for $50, depending on the condition in which it is returned, pay $5 to $15 back; like bottle/can return funds. Embedding an RFID tag or other item (visible custom QR style serial number) can cut back on the bikes being stolen during the rental period and returned for the deposit (scan it, bike is reported still in rental period, call renter and inform of bike).

Useful in other venues in having people turn out their own or local ones when resources for metals are less available.

Just enough of a tweak that the harder to produce parts (wheels, chain?) won't necessarily or easily work on a standard bike to avoid someone "renting" a bike for cannibalization for a standard bike. Or vice versa - set up with "standard" wheels but pay more deposit back on return to assure return.
posted by tilde at 7:14 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there a nonprofit out there that organizes bike drives where people bring in old, unwanted bikes which are then fixed up and sent to people who need them?

Yep, here in Chicago we have Working Bikes. I send just about anyone looking to buy a used bike there, because they'll find something for a good price and the money helps fund the shipment of other repaired bikes overseas. It's a great organization.
posted by misskaz at 7:15 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


One advantage of this bike frame - it's possible that the manufacturing can be done locally in low-income countries more easily than conventional frame manufacture. Cardboard is easier to work than aluminum or steel, after all, and needs less power. Could be a boon to employment, and also reduces transportation costs.
posted by Mr. Excellent at 7:23 AM on September 13, 2012


One advantage of this bike frame - it's possible that the manufacturing can be done locally in low-income countries more easily than conventional frame manufacture.

There is no way this is a better solution than donating the hundreds of thousands of bicycles we no longer want, and teaching people how repair them. No factories, no machinery, no infrastructure--used bikes can be send directly to villages where they can transform lives. (This short video is five years old; the organization has become much larger now.)
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:40 AM on September 13, 2012


Mr. Excellent -- that was my first thought too, though I have no idea whether they actually can be manufactured locally. Then again, many people in the third world already do a pretty good job of manufacturing their own bikes out of wood.
posted by pont at 7:40 AM on September 13, 2012


Maintenance free? So how does one keep the axles and bottom bracket lubricated and parts spinning freely?

How does it react structurally when you put your weight into the pedals to really get going?

Is the thing totally rigid or does it flex? If it is perfectly rigid, how smooth is ride going to be for a 300 lb person?

Does a bike that has "cardboard" wheels really have a long life-expectancy if you hit a bump and the wheel chips or shatters?

Revolutionize the Industry? Nahh. It's a neat idea, though. They should talk about revolutions after they have some testimony as to how this thing is to ride and maintain. There's a good reason that modern bikes are made of carbon fiber, aluminum, and steel.
posted by hellslinger at 7:48 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


William Gibson predicted exactly this development in his 1993 novel Virtual Light. This is neat, and I'm not surprised that it works but, as others have pointed out, there is really no shortage of cheap frames. You can buy new alloy frames sold as overstock in bulk for about this price already. And you can get "broken" bikes for basically free if you want and the broken part is rarely the frame. It then takes about 15 minutes of labour to strip all the parts off. So, if the goal is "explore a new possible material and evaluate its strengths and weaknesses," then good job. But if the goal is to fill an unmet need for cheap frames, then the question is begged.

Looks pretty cool even if the inventor's claims seem a bit optimistic; however, I wonder why they didn't put forth the little bit of effort to put a rear brake on the prototype.

Because that would make it more expensive without adding any substantial stopping power or safety?
posted by 256 at 7:48 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is neat, and I'm not surprised that it works but, as others have pointed out, there is really no shortage of cheap frames.

There is, however, a shortage of high quality welders in those places. Or at least so it seems. African ingenuity seems driven by their lack of access to argon gas and TIG/MIG welding equipment. And without that, those cheap bike frames are only good until they crack.
posted by ocschwar at 8:06 AM on September 13, 2012


There is no way this is a better solution than donating the hundreds of thousands of bicycles we no longer want

That's just as poor a solution as the hipster cardboard bicycle. Good bicycles for Africa are going to be simple and robust, with really good networks of parts support, and made from materials (eg steel) that can be repaired with locally available tools and skills. (Ideally there would be some manufacturing on the continent, but good luck setting up a bicycle factory that can compete on price with the Chinese and Indian companies -- there might be room for competition on design and materials, though, since quality is so iffy.)
posted by Forktine at 8:08 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another great organization getting used bikes to developing countries is Bikes Not Bombs. Let a hundred flowers bloom and all, but my money's with them and not so much with cardboard bikes.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:10 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's just as poor a solution as the hipster cardboard bicycle. Good bicycles for Africa are going to be simple and robust, with really good networks of parts support, and made from materials (eg steel) that can be repaired with locally available tools and skills.

Nope. It's a real solution, happening now, and changing lives--as opposed to a dream.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:18 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


It really bothers me that this has been touted as "environmentally-friendly." Especially in contexts where ordinary bicycles are used in place of cars or other fossil-fuel-based transportation, the energy used to manufacture them is quickly offset. They can also be truly recycled, versus a plastic-coated cardboard that almost certainly can't be. I can't believe that a cardboard bike could possibly last longer than a regular bike. My own bike is a few decades old, and showing no signs that it can't keep going for a few more.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:22 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Especially in contexts where ordinary bicycles are used in place of cars or other fossil-fuel-based transportation

That is decidedly not the context for this invention.
posted by ocschwar at 8:24 AM on September 13, 2012


Why are we talking about Africa? Like we've solved the problem of cheap and low impact transportation in the first world already?
posted by Brocktoon at 8:43 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


One advantage of this bike frame - it's possible that the manufacturing can be done locally in low-income countries more easily than conventional frame manufacture. Cardboard is easier to work than aluminum or steel, after all, and needs less power. Could be a boon to employment, and also reduces transportation costs.

Waste cardboard is easily sourced. Resin, on the other hand... If the process truly is like conventional composite fabrication, I don't see much advantage over using steel tubing and a stick welder in terms of resources. If it isn't like conventional composite fabrication, again, there's little advantage, this time in the resulting product.

If the cardboard composite frame is truly the wonder it's made out to be, it'll fly here in the developed world as well, perhaps more, as in the undeveloped world. Somehow, I get the impression that this is being thought of as perhaps a "good enough" solution for folks over there, forgetting that "good enough" already exists. And may have trouble reaching parts of the developing world for reasons that have little to do with the actual cost of the materials involved.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:48 AM on September 13, 2012


It really bothers me that this has been touted as "environmentally-friendly." Especially in contexts where ordinary bicycles are used in place of cars or other fossil-fuel-based transportation, the energy used to manufacture them is quickly offset.
Is it possible that you're not include the energy used to manufacture the fossil-fuel-based vehicles in that equation? I'm just not seeing a rational scenario where (make car + drive car) comes up with less emissions than (make bike + ride bike).

The same for the recycling... you have to compare the recycling cost of the bike against the recycling cost of the car. Same scenario there, it might not be the best thing ever in terms of being environmentally friendly, but it's a lot more environmentally friendly than any of the other inexpensive options.
posted by Blue_Villain at 8:52 AM on September 13, 2012


uses a belt-driven pedal system that makes it maintenance free

A broken chain, you can fix with a paperclip. A broken belt, well, yeah, that'd render it maintenance free alright, though "disposable" might be more accurate.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:54 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


And upon review, if you compare this to a "normal" bike, the cardboard version is easier to distribute (i.e. shipping cardboard in flatpacks, and resin in cans is easier than shipping aluminum frames, where you're mostly paying to move the air between the bars).

Even better, it's something that can be manufactured locally, which is good for both the environment AND the local economy.
posted by Blue_Villain at 8:55 AM on September 13, 2012


I have one bike. It's a Schwinn Sprint 10-speed. It's made of steel, and is pretty much bomb-proof. It will be 30 years old in December. In that time, I have replaced the tires, the brake pads, the handlebar tape, and the seat (and the seat didn't need to be replaced, except it's hard on my ass.)

Now, the downside to the bike is that it's heavy as hell (56 lbs.), and I'm not super-keen on the gear shift levers, but the fact that this bike has lasted as long as it has more than makes up for it. Do we seriously think that this cardboard bike will make it five years, much less thirty?
posted by nushustu at 8:56 AM on September 13, 2012


And, um, how are those brakes supposed to work? The one lever that's actually hooked up, I mean. The pads press against the cardboard wheel? Huh.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:02 AM on September 13, 2012


From a failure-mechanics perspective, this thing is a nightmare. Each of the many laminate interfaces is a potential point of failure and most of them are hidden from visual inspection. Metal tubular frames have only a handful of interfaces and most of them are easily inspected. Wheels and spokes are also easily inspected for wear and damage on a regular bike. A resin coated cardboard wheel could be rotting from the inside and you wouldn't see it until it came apart.

Another problem is the way the resin infiltrates the corrugations of the cardboard. If all of the hollows are filled, then the weight goes way up. If the corrugations are kept clear of resin, then structural integrity becomes a guess and so, very hard to standardize.
posted by Phyllis Harmonic at 9:03 AM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


That giant crank-box makes me think they could go hubless and direct drive the rear wheel for even more efficiency.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:14 AM on September 13, 2012


Come on 256, you mentioned the book but didn't give us the money quote.

"That Jap shit delaminate on you yet?"
"No way."
"'S gonna. Bunny down too hard and it's glass."
"Come see you when it does."


My interpretation of that was that while Chevette was admitting that it was a cheaper alternative, she was willing to replace it, given that it is a cheaper alternative. The same should apply here.

In addition, it would be much tougher to turn one of these into a pile of steel or aluminum pipes that would be useful as weapons.
posted by Sphinx at 9:21 AM on September 13, 2012


Afrigadget is the vicarious answer to your wish, Scientist.

I can't see a cardboard bike being a viable solution to a problem that I'm not sure really exists. In the part of Cote d'Ivoire I was working in, there are lots and lots of bikes being kept up by really skilled mechanics and then driven with heavy loads (logs, second hand clothes, operating as taxis) on really treacherous roads that are often flooded. If you're looking for something to use in a tropical area, cardboard isn't going to cut it. Bike frames and bike parts are (in my experience in rural Cote d'Ivoire and urban Kenya) readily available and can be repurposed for, among other things, wheelchairs used by the large numbers of folks unable to walk due to polio. There was a guy I hung out with sometimes who has incredibly atrophied legs from contracting polio as a little kid, and he gets around the pitted, water-logged, difficult streets on a wheel chair that's basically a tricycle with three large bike wheels, which is powered by pedals he "pedals" with his hands. I think this project is cool from a design perspective, but I don't think it's going to save the developing world, or anything. It might get more bikes into the hands of kids in the US, though!
posted by ChuraChura at 9:22 AM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


In addition, it would be much tougher to turn one of these into a pile of steel or aluminum pipes that would be useful as weapons.

a) wat?
b) no, seriously, what?
c) not really, just cut through the cardboard and resin with a knife or saw;
d) oh wait! I have a knife and saw!
e) wat?
posted by jaduncan at 9:27 AM on September 13, 2012


I =strongly= advise watching the video before dismissing this outright from a technical perspective. It also shows the inventor to be not a hipster, unless 50 year olds in polo shirts and track pants are cultural markers for hipsters.

(Also note, "maintenance free" refers to the carbon belt drive - which is how its manufacturer bills it. And since you don't need to lube it, clean it or deal with chain-stretch or snapped links, it pretty much is. You really, really, really need to work at snapping one. Not unheard of, but not at all common, either.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:27 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have serious doubts about this.

If it's really a 20 lb. bike, and it's really inexpensive, they wouldn't be hurting for investors or customers, and you wouldn't be hearing about this as some esoteric project bike. That's insane - right now, to get an adult bike that light, you're looking at a mid-end road bike for at least $1000-2000. Those have other performance advantages, but still, there's no way you'd have trouble selling these for $500-$1000 as commuters (especially with that belt drive). And if you can make a 20 lb. bike for cheap, how light would it be if you optimized for weight and performance instead of inexpensiveness?

That this thing isn't already a huge deal makes me think it's not real, or it has huge problems in terms of performance, usability, or longevity.

Also, many of the design choices don't really support a third-world usage pattern. Narrow tires suck on dirt roads and those rims obviously won't take anything else, and the design might not ever work with anything else. Solid and semi-solid wheel designs like this are terrible in crosswinds, so you don't want to rely on them for transportation. Belt drives are cool and trendy, but belts are completely ruined if damaged at all and they're not cheap. Plus, using a belt drive forces you to use an internal geared hub or go single-speed - single-speed is a very poor choice for a utility bike (as they are poor for low-fitness riders, riding uphill, and carrying loads) and decent internally-geared hubs are pretty expensive. Plus, internally-geared hubs are much harder to maintain. The ergonomics on this bike look pretty bad, too, but I suppose that's mostly for aesthetics and should be easy to fix.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:28 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


And upon review, if you compare this to a "normal" bike, the cardboard version is easier to distribute (i.e. shipping cardboard in flatpacks, and resin in cans is easier than shipping aluminum frames, where you're mostly paying to move the air between the bars).

Even better, it's something that can be manufactured locally, which is good for both the environment AND the local economy.


A conventional pre manufactured bike takes up only marginally more space than a flatpack of comparable cardboard and a can of resin. And I find it hard to believe that making the bike is as simple as stacking the cardboard together and painting on the resin. Composite manufacture is actually quite difficult and costly. If one wants to promote local manufacture, I would think steel fabrication would be a better investment.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:33 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


powered by pedals he "pedals" with his hands

Aren't pedals handles that you handle with your feet?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:12 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wish this was not imaginary.
posted by LarryC at 10:15 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


TedW: "That's some real out of the box thinking, there.

Looks pretty cool even if the inventor's claims seem a bit optimistic; however, I wonder why they didn't put forth the little bit of effort to put a rear brake on the prototype.
"

Made out of the box thinking. FTFY.
posted by Samizdata at 10:19 AM on September 13, 2012


If an African can get his hands on one of these for $20 instead of working umpteen more weeks to save up $200 for a real bike, that's umpteen weeks where he's making a buttload more money. That kind of thing adds up.

That depends entirely on the failure rate. In the particular third world country I live in, you pretty much never see an abandoned, broken bike frame, because the mechanics here can fix pretty much anything. Enough to keep it going at any rate. Yeah, a new bike might cost around a hundred bucks...but it's probably going to serve two or three generations. And I'd rather ride one of those old beaters here that are half soldered rebar than that thing anyway; at least I'll have real tires and the ability to adjust my seat and handlebars. Especially if I'm biking anything like the distances people do here to get to market and back.

Not that there's no market for it. I'm just not convinced that the developing world is it.
posted by solotoro at 10:33 AM on September 13, 2012


(Also note, "maintenance free" refers to the carbon belt drive - which is how its manufacturer bills it. And since you don't need to lube it, clean it or deal with chain-stretch or snapped links, it pretty much is. You really, really, really need to work at snapping one. Not unheard of, but not at all common, either.)

Right, but the chain isn't the only thing on a bike that needs to be lubricated and must be able to handle a lot of wear with almost zero friction. I'm curious what kind of bearings will be used on the axles and bottom bracket to keep this thing from turning into a couple of fire starter sticks - and how they'll do it for under 9 dollars.
posted by hellslinger at 10:42 AM on September 13, 2012


Eponysterical, 10th Regiment!
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:44 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Right, but the chain isn't the only thing on a bike that needs to be lubricated and must be able to handle a lot of wear with almost zero friction.

When discussing a maintenance-free bike, it's jargon for "belt drive." It's meant to highlight that you don't need to lubricate or adjust a chain. It doesn't mean what you think it should mean. (If it makes you feel better, it's a huge flamewar topic in bicycle-land, too.)

I'm curious what kind of bearings will be used on the axles and bottom bracket to keep this thing from turning into a couple of fire starter sticks - and how they'll do it for under 9 dollars.

Ball-bearings, races and grease are really, really, really cheap these days. It won't be as smooth or compact as the bearings in a race-ready bike-shop masterpiece - or even the department store beater - but it will be cheap and reliable. Reliable races can probably be made from plastic now, too.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:05 AM on September 13, 2012


The story here is about a guy that's creative and clever and devoted enough to build something like this, not whether the cool thing he made is going to change the developing world forever or be superior to other cool things.

If you *really* have some technical/political/economic perspective that you think is worth the bandwidth, why not just get in touch with the guy and let him know?
posted by chronkite at 12:27 PM on September 13, 2012


I will be extremely surprised if it ever becomes less expensive to manufacture than the third-world default Chinese model Flying Pigeon.
posted by thewalrus at 1:19 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


A 9$ frame with a 50$ belt on it... right.

If we're gonna ship something to Africa I don't understand why they don't just sell the bikes here and use the money to buy new bikes (flying pigeons or something?) for people there instead of shipping stuff even farther than its already been shipped. You'd help create work if the assembly was done locally too. Most low end moutain bikes don't seem very well suited to being heavy duty utility cycles but what do I know...
posted by glip at 1:30 PM on September 13, 2012


Is it possible that you're not include the energy used to manufacture the fossil-fuel-based vehicles in that equation? I'm just not seeing a rational scenario where (make car + drive car) comes up with less emissions than (make bike + ride bike).

I think maybe you misunderstood me...I was comparing the energy used in the lifecycle of a regular bike to that of a cardboard bike. In using a regular bike (in place of a car, or even a bus or train), it takes a relatively short timeframe to offset any environmental costs that went into producing it. That also includes any energy used in distribution (even when it's not local, or bulkier than cardboard). (Sidenote: I think there's a misconception about the environmental costs of distribution, which for most products are minimal compared to the whole picture. As in local food, the environmental impact of making it is far, far greater than shipping it around, even if you're shipping it halfway around the world). If the cardboard bike had the longevity of a regular bike, that would be one thing—but I find it hard to believe that they have comparable lifespans. I also can't believe the claim that it's maintenance-free, nor do I think that's a good thing-- one of the greatest features of regular bikes is their repairability.

For someone who said that the cardboard bikes are not intended for use in place of a car (or buses, or motorbikes, etc.), I'm not sure that's the case. Where did people get the info that the inventor is intending this for the developing world? Even if that's the only market, motorbikes and buses (and, increasingly, cars) are common there, too.

While the engineering that went into this is impressive, it seems to me almost like a problem that didn't need solving, at least from an environmental perspective. And I wish articles would stop equating one "environmentally-friendly" feature, like the use of a recycled material, with sustainability of the product as a whole.
posted by three_red_balloons at 2:11 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


glip: Most low end moutain bikes don't seem very well suited to being heavy duty utility cycles but what do I know...

Actually, low end reputable mountain bikes are a great choice, particularly hardtail/rigid models made of cro-mo steel. They're durable, repairable, equipped with a wide range of gears, good on dirt roads, reasonably light and fast, can accept panniers in the rear and sometimes the front, and they're usually heavily-enough engineered to tow a trailer.

In the first world, you want something designed to work on paved roads for a utility bike, but in the third world, I'd say they'd be my top choice aside from something designed specifically for that purpose.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:33 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can already purchase a reasonably functional bike for $89 delivered in the United States. The biggest problem defect with Wal-Mart bikes is that they're often poorly assembled by untrained workers, but with labor much cheaper relative to the cost of goods in a poor country, the efforts of a capable bike mechanic would be worthwhile even on a bike that cheap. There isn't that much that can go wrong on a single speed beach cruiser, either.
posted by akgerber at 5:24 PM on September 13, 2012


I dunno why cardboard is supposed to be more recyclable than aluminum or steel. Aluminum and steel recycle just fine, better in fact that cellulose-based products as you don't have the problem of generational fiber degradation. There is in principle absolutely no reason why one couldn't take an aluminum bike frame melt it down, and then reform it into another aluminum bike frame of equal quality.

I do not understand the point of this cardboard bike.
posted by Scientist at 9:13 PM on September 13, 2012


Sometimes these pretty crazy ideas spawn more down-to-earth commercial competition. The One Laptop Per Child project included tons of risky ideas that made it a pretty terrible product; but it inspired little netbooks that are everywhere and cost under $200. Maybe one of the big bike manufacturers will notice this thing, and put together a more-or-less-conventional but ultra-simple bike that costs thirty or forty bucks and sell it to poor people all over the world.
posted by miyabo at 2:36 PM on September 14, 2012


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