When Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo invited the newly elected Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to a bicycle tour during his state visit to Australia, the press was delighted with the unusual photo opportunity. But the real star of the shoot were the Indonesian bikes – the frames of which were made of bamboo.
The bikes, called Spedagi, are produced in Kandangan, a village two hours’ drive from Yogyakarta on the Indonesian island of Java. Her designer Singgih Susilo Kartono is all about working with materials that grow locally – and that’s exactly what the bamboo does. The grass thrives in the tropical climate of Southeast Asia, it grows rapidly and is a prime example of sustainability.
Spedagi derives from the words “sepeda pagi” which describe a morning bike ride through the village. The latter was done by Pappo regularly to lower his cholesterol levels. The morning exercise ultimately gave the inspiration to design a bicycle made of bamboo.
Basically, bicycles made of bamboo are nothing new. The prototype was built in London in 1894, but as industry developed, metal became more popular due to its durability and ease of replication. Only when the topic of sustainability became more and more important in society was bamboo again considered as a material for bicycle frames. In 2005 the American Craig Calfee started to build bicycles out of bamboo again. Calfee was also one of the role models for the Indonesian Spedagi designer.
For bicycle production, the Indonesian team works with giant bamboo – Dendrocalamus asper – one of the strongest bamboo species that is abundant in Kandangan. According to the manufacturer, this type of bamboo has a large diameter and a thick outer wall. It makes it possible to manufacture frame tubes with a uniform size. “Bamboo is actually the best material to absorb vibrations in the bicycle frame,” raves Kartono. Its cells would function like miniature shock absorbers.
Riding a bamboo bike is therefore more comfortable than conventional models. However, bamboo also has a flaw: Due to its flexibility, it is particularly important to choose the right design and structure. When built properly, the bikes are very durable: In the last road test, one bike made it from the Indonesian province of Aceh to Denpasar on the island of Bali, covering more than 3000 kilometers.
Some German manufacturers such as Pine, My Boo or Faserwerk have now also taken advantage of the versatile grass. Another bamboo wheel producer is the Swedish company Eker. However, Indonesia is particularly suitable as a development and production location, as there are countless types of bamboo in the tropical island state, and the plant occurs everywhere and in sufficient quantities.
The bikes have been produced in Java since 2014 and have now started a real movement there. For Indonesian designer, Kartono, it’s not just about building a sustainable product from a local resource while minimizing carbon emissions. By producing locally and creating jobs in the villages, he also creates sustainable and self-sufficient communities. Because up until now, as in many other countries, the goal of most young people was to leave their home village as quickly as possible after school and move to a city. Villages became places they visit on vacation.
Kartono wanted to change the latter. That’s why he’s settled back in his home village and hasn’t regretted it for a second. For him, living and working in a village is a bit like turning back time – before industrialization changed everything, he says. In addition, Kartono wants to improve the image of the bamboo forest again: The latter often does not have a good reputation in Indonesia, has been neglected and sometimes misused as a garbage dump. The forest is a real “treasure” for the respective villages, says the designer.