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Cardboard bicycle can change the world, says Israeli inventor

posted 21 Oct 2012, 03:57 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 21 Oct 2012, 03:57 ]

Israeli entrepreneurs expect their cardboard bicycle -- made out of recycled materials at the cost of only $9 -- to take over the world market within five years.

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 ofAfrica, its Israeli inventors say.

Invented by 50-year-old Izhar Gafni, an expert in designing automated mass-production lines, the bikes are made out of recycled cardboard, plastic and old car tyres. Gafni's business partner Nimrod Elmish explained that the unconventional choice of materials is not only eco-friendly but also extremely cheap.

"Basically this bicycle is built out of 95 percent recycled cardboard, which is the most cheapest raw material that you can find in any country. The rest of it is recycled car tyres and recycled, melted bottles. So it's 100 percent recycled materials and the bill of materials for that is $9," Elmish said after demonstrating how easy the ride was inIsrael's rural community of Moshav Ahituv.

Elmish said the pair's business model meant that rebates for using 'green' materials would entirely cancel out production costs, which could allow for bicycles to be given away for free in poor countries. Producers 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.

The cardboard bikes would be made on largely automated production lines and would be supplemented by a workforce comprising pensioners and the disabled. Apart from the social benefits this would provide for all concerned, Elmish said, it would also garner government grants for the manufacturers.

"When you see something like this, you understand quite fast that this is a real game-changer. This is something that changes the market. It changes the way people think, it changes the way people manufacture and ship products from side to side, it builds factories everywhere instead of moving them to cost-effective, and this is what I call a game-changer," he said.

He said the cardboard bicycle was "cheaper, faster, stronger" than the billions of traditional bikes that were being used all around the world.

The bicycles are not only very cheap to make, they are also light and do not need to be adjusted or repaired: the solid tyres made of reconstituted rubber from old car tyres will never get a puncture, Elmish said. A full-size cardboard bicycle will weigh around nine kilogrammes compared to an average metal bicycle, which weighs around 14 kgs.

Elmish said initial production was set to begin in Israel in months on three bicycle models and a wheelchair and they would be available to purchase within a year.

The vision of a bicycle made out of cardboard was the brainchild of Israeli inventor Gafni, an amateur cycling enthusiast who toyed with the idea for years. "I tried to overcome all the weaknesses that the cardboard, as a shipping material as we all know, had," Gafni told Reuters in his workshop, a ramshackle garden shed.

"In fact when I started it, the first few prototypes looked like a box on wheels, which you can see here. And then I had to make the transition between box on wheels to make it something that looks like a bicycle so it can be accepted by (the) public, and that was the hard part," Gafni said, adding that it took him a year and a half to find the right way to fold the cardboard.

Once 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.

Once 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.

More importantly, Gafni believes, he has found a way to make cardboard -- one of the cheapest and most environmentally-friendly materials available -- into a material that can be used for almost anything.

"The big advantage is that we're just in the beginning and from here, my sort of vision is to see cardboard everywhere that replace high, heavy industries like metal, like aluminium and probably do the same and even more. And the other thing is that it's more affordable so other countries that right now don't have the money, will have the benefit of enjoying that type of applications."

The urban bicycle 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 can be recharged.

Gafni predicted that in the future, cardboard might even be used in cars and even aircraft.