|Test drive: Tourists try out bamboo bicycles around CamThanh Village in Hoi An Town. — Photos courtesy of Alex Lukassen
by Hoai Nam
HOI AN (VNS)— It has been an unusual meeting of minds and skills for local craftsman Vo Anh Tan and partner Axel Lukassen from the Netherlands.
Both are engineers, but had chosen professions not related to their academic qualification.
Tan studied to be an electrical engineer, but has been producing bamboo furniture because that is the family vocation as well as traditional trade of his native place, Cam Thanh Village in the central city of Hoi An.
Lukassen has studied aeronautics and worked as an engineer and flight trainer in the Dutch air force for 15 years. He now runs a large bicycle store in the Netherlands.
So when Lukassen, who had been wanting to do something that "brings awareness to the world that some naturally sourced products are key to a greener world," came up with the idea of a bamboo bike, he found a perfect ally in Tan.
"Tan immedialtely fell for the idea because he always wanted to work more with bamboo and this way he could show not only his own abilities, but also convince others of the possibility of taking control over their own income by using and learning bamboo working skills, " Lukassen said.
‘More than gold'
"There are so many things that can be made with bamboo, but the countries don't realise that what grows in their own background is actually worth more than gold if used the correct way."
Together, the duo set up a venture called "Project Lifecycle", aiming to produce prototypes of bicycles made mostly of bamboo that can be mass produced and sold nationwide and abroad.
Lukassen explained the title: "Project Lifecycle was chosen because the bicycle is made from a product that starts as seed and goes back to ashes again or produces more seeds and more bicycles. The cycle of life."
Asked if the processing of bamboo for making the bicycle was eco-friendly, he replied in the affirmative, adding that traditional Vietnamese knowledge was used for the purpose.
The bamboo is buried in mud for six months and dried over six weeks in special sheds, he said.
So far, the project has completed two bicycles that have 50 per cent of their parts made of bamboo, including the frame, handle-bar, mudguard and chain-guard.
"We have tested the vehicles on tough roads to make sure they run well and are safe. We expect to finish making 30 bicycles this year that can be sold for VND5 million to VND15 million (US$230-710) or rented out," said Tan.
"The bicycles are made from species of thorny bamboo – a very hard and strong bamboo from Dien Phuong commune in Dien Ban District. I plan to employ more workers for mass production," he added.
|Old meets new: A bicycle made with locally grown bamboo using traditional processing knowledge takes shape in Hoi An City at the hands of a local craftsman.
The bicycle parts not made of bamboo are made in Viet Nam, Thailand and the Netherlands. They can also be custom made and every gearing option is possible from single speed up to 30 gears, Lukassen added.
He said he had surveyed most Southeast Asian countries but found that the most experienced craftsmen and the best bamboo that could be used for the bicycle were in central Viet Nam.
For now, the people involved in Project Lifecycle are trained by Tan and Lukassen in Viet Nam and The Netherlands. The aim is to enable everybody to pass on the knowledge, the partners said.
Tan works fulltime on the project and others are hired when needed at competitive salaries, Lukassen said, adding that two persons now being trained by the partners will set up a similar project in Thailand.
Lukassen is happy at how things have turned out.
"The idea came into my mind long time ago, but it is only now that I have really started the building process. The idea was to give the local Vietnamese people a chance to make a better living, protect our ecosystem and build better quality bikes suitable for the Viet Nam's roads."
He has big hopes for the bamboo bicycle.
"The bikes will be of high quality but affordable and might be sold throughout the world. We have built the most eco-friendly transportation device ever using Vietnamese skills," he said.
"The project needs investors to speed up the process. I hope to get support from the Government to put Viet Nam on the map for green projects."
Lukassen also said that the final price of the bamboo bicycle would be the same as a comparable steel or aluminum counterpart.
He hopes to give local people the choice of riding around on bamboo bicycles produced by a village craftsman – green bicycles in a green village, using traditional processing knowhow that must be the most environmentally friendly method in the country.
Tan said they would organise bamboo bicycle tours in the village so people could enjoy their visits better.
"The bicycles are so easy and comfortable to ride that it won't be hard to convince people to make use of this kind of transportation instead of their motorbikes," said Lukassen.
The bamboo bicycle is set to make its entrance at the right time.
Hoi An authorities have already announced that they would promote the use of bicycles this year as part of a plan to build the first eco-city in Viet Nam.
Also known as an ancient city, Hoi An became the first locality in the country to host a Car Free Day. It has been lauded for its efforts to stop using plastic bags and for its 3R (reduce, reuse and recycle) programme.
Last year, the UNESCO-recognised World Heritage introduced a solar powered public lighting system in its Hoai River Square.
Hoi An has also been chosen for the 2013 Townscape Award by the UN-Habitat Regional Office in Asia.
The use of bamboo bicycles introduced by Lukassen and Tan will further strengthen the city's environmental credentials and contribute to making Project Lifecycle successful, the partners hope.
"In my country, most people that travel distances less than 10km a day use a bicycle for transport. They use it not only for recreation but also to buy groceries, taking kids to and from school and going to work.
"I would like to show the Vietnamese people that traveling this way is better for health and environment and certainly much cheaper." — VNS