Behold a bicycle made from cardboard and recycled plastic bottles that functions like any bike but has potential for global change.
It’s bicycle season! And everywhere across the country, Americans are dusting off their wheels, greasing the chains and brakes, and bracing themselves for helmet hair.
In Israel, the company Cardboard Technologies is readying for its first IndieGoGo campaign in the coming weeks in hopes of launching the world's first-ever cardboard bicycle. And it is calling this something of a bicycle revolution.
"We believe this to be a game changer," Nimrod Elmish, CEO of Cardboard Technologies, said recently at a United Nations Social Innovation Summit in New York.
Bike made from cardboard could soon be for sale
The Alfa, as the bike has been christened, was invented and prototyped by Israeli engineer Izhar Gafni in his backyard shed. The bike costs around $9-$12 to produce, and is expected to sell for between $60 and $90. Even though the Alfa is made with 99 percent recycled cardboard with touches of PET — melted, recycled plastic — and recycled car tires, it's as tough and strong as any titanium, steel bike on the market, its makers say.
"I figured out a lot of things about cardboard," Gafni said. "Basically the idea is like Japanese origami. When you fold it once, then it doesn't become twice the strength, it becomes three times the strength."
The single-speed bicycle has spokes, rims and a frame made from cardboard. Varnish protects the glued paper core from moisture, according to Popular Science, while old car tires serve as puncture-proof wheels. The chain is made from a car's timing belt and plastic bottles were formed into pedal cranks. The 28-pound prototype can safely support a rider nearly 20 times its weight.
Gafni intends to mass-produce four models: two 18-pound bikes for adults, assisted by optional rechargeable electric motors, and two smaller versions for children. He hopes to build each bike for less than $12 in materials and sell them for no more than $30. Through advertising plastered on each bike — or enough grant money — people in developing countries could ride them for free. Gafni can already envision fashioning his cardboard into baby strollers, wheelchairs and even cars. "You can do almost anything with it," he says.
The Alfa is not only thoroughly green, it is also a tool for potential and serious social change. Cardboard Technology's vision is of an affordable, sustainable bicycle revolutionizing life in developing nations where transportation is by foot for everything from water to medical visits.
"At the root of the company's vision is the idea of turning junk into transportation," says Sarit Harel, Cardboard Technology's CMO. "This is naturally led by Izhar. The team's belief is that technology needs to serve the broadest audience possible. We like to quote Abe Lincoln: 'For the people, by the people.'"
Cardboard Technology, led by Gafni's life philosophy, is building its business plan on a philanthropic philosophy, driven — it hopes — by communal goodwill.
Gafni was working as a bike builder when one day, a conversation broke out in a bike shop about a guy who had built a canoe out of cardboard.
Gafni's wife gave him "that look," which convinced Gafni to tackle the challenge of something that engineering colleagues told him was impossible.
"She gave me that look. Then she said, "I know you, if you're not going to try it, then you're going to drive yourself crazy, then you're gonna drive me crazy, then you're going to drive the entire family crazy. So just go ahead and try it.'"
The Alfa took three years and three patents to perfect.
The Alfa will lead the way, both for adults and children. A wheelchair is also in the works. Then, who knows? "Your car, my house, his furniture can all be made using this technology," says Harel.
"It's strong, it's durable, it's cheap," Gafni says. "What do I like about it the most? It's made out of cardboard."
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