MOSHAV AHITUV, Israel - Reuters
A bicycle made almost entirely of cardboard has the potential to change
transportation habits from the world's most congested cities to the
poorest reaches of Africa, its Israeli inventor says.
Gafni, 50, is an expert in designing automated mass-production lines. He
is an amateur cycling enthusiast who for years toyed with an idea of
making a bicycle from cardboard.
He told Reuters during a recent
demonstration that after much trial and error, his latest prototype has
now proven itself and mass production will begin in a few months.
was always fascinated by applying unconventional technologies to
materials and I did this on several occasions. But this was the
culmination of a few things that came together. I worked for four years
to cancel out the corrugated cardboard's weak structural points," Gafni
"Making a cardboard box is easy and it can be very strong
and durable, but to make a bicycle was extremely difficult and I had to
find the right way to fold the cardboard in several different
directions. It took a year and a half, with lots of testing and failure
until I got it right," he said.
Cardboard, made of wood pulp,
was invented in the 19th century as sturdy packaging for carrying other
more valuable objects, it has rarely been considered as raw material for
things usually made of much stronger materials, such as metal.
the shape has been formed and cut, the cardboard is treated with a
secret concoction made of organic materials to give it its waterproof
and fireproof qualities. In the final stage, it is coated with lacquer
paint for appearance.
In testing the durability of the treated
cardboard, Gafni said he immersed a cross-section in a water tank for
several months and it retained all its hardened characteristics.
ready for production, the bicycle will include no metal parts, even the
brake mechanism and the wheel and pedal bearings will be made of
recycled substances, although Gafni said he could not yet reveal those
details due to pending patent issues.
"I'm repeatedly surprised
at just how strong this material is, it is amazing. Once we are ready to
go to production, the bike will have no metal parts at all," Gafni
Gafni's workshop, a ramshackle garden shed, is typically
the sort of place where legendary inventions are born. It is crammed
with tools and bicycle parts and cardboard is strewn everywhere.
One of his first models was a push bike he made as a toy for his young daughter which she is still using months later.
owns several top-of-the-range bicycles which he said are worth
thousands of dollars each, but when his own creation reaches mass
production, it should cost no more than about $20 to buy. The cost of
materials used are estimated at $9 per unit.
"When we started, a
year and a half or two years ago, people laughed at us, but now we are
getting at least a dozen e-mails every day asking where they can buy
such a bicycle, so this really makes me hopeful that we will succeed,"
A ride of the prototype was quite stiff, but generally no different to other ordinary basic bikes. "Game changer"
Elmish, Gafni's business partner, said cardboard and other recycled
materials could bring a major change in current production norms because
grants and rebates would only be given for local production and there
would be no financial benefits by making bicycles in cheap labour
"This is a real game-changer. It changes ... the way
products are manufactured and shipped, it causes factories to be built
everywhere instead of moving production to cheaper labour markets,
everything that we have known in the production world can change," he
Elmish said the cardboard bikes would be made on largely
automated production lines and would be supplemented by a workforce
comprising pensioners and the disabled.
He said that apart from
the social benefits this would provide for all concerned, it would also
garner government grants for the manufacturers.
Elmish said the
business model they had created meant that rebates for using "green"
materials would entirely cancel out production costs and this could
allow for bicycles to be given away for free in poor countries.
would reap financial rewards from advertisements such as from
multinational companies who would pay for their logo to be part of the
frame, he explained.
"Because you get a lot of government
grants, it brings down the production costs to zero, so the bicycles can
be given away for free. We are copying a business model from the
high-tech world where software is distributed free because it includes
embedded advertising," Elmish explained.
"It could be sold for
around $20, because (retailers) have to make a profit ... and we think
they should not cost any more than that. We will make our money from
advertising," he added.
Elmish said initial production was set
to begin in Israel
in months on three bicycle models and a wheelchair
and they will be available to purchase within a year.
months we will have completed planning the first production lines for an
urban bike which will be assisted by an electric motor, a youth bike
which will be a 2/3 size model for children in Africa, a balance bike
for youngsters learning to ride, and a wheelchair that a non-profit
organisation wants to build with our technology for Africa," he said. Cheap and light
bicycles are not only very cheap to make, they are very light and do
not need to be adjusted or repaired, the solid tyres that are made of
reconstituted rubber from old car tyres will never get a puncture,
"These bikes need no maintenance and no adjustment,
a car timing belt is used instead of a chain, and the tyres do not need
inflating and can last for 10 years," he said.
cardboard bicycle will weigh around 9 kg (about 20 lbs) compared to an
average metal bicycle, which weight around 14 kg.
bicycle, similar to London's "Boris bikes" and others worldwide, will
have a mounting for a personal electric motor. Commuters would buy one
and use it for their journey and then take it home or to work where it
could be recharged.
He said that as bicycles would be so cheap, it hardly mattered how long they lasted.
you buy one, use it for a year and then you can buy another one, and if
it breaks, you can take it back to the factory and recycle it," he
Gafni predicted that in the future, cardboard might even
be used in cars and even aircraft "but that is still a way down the
"We are just at the beginning and from here my vision is
to see cardboard replacing metals ... and countries that right now don't
have the money, will be able to benefit from so many uses for this
material," he said.