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November 20, 2012 at 3:00 PMComments: 2 Faves: 4

Cardboard Bikes: Could They Really Change the World?

By Laura Hogg More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the NatuREport Blog Series

It’s been a few years since the last truly revolutionary change in bicycle design. And by “a few,” I mean “127.” But why would we need a change? Bikes are already sleek, eco-friendly, and – as far as transportation goes – relatively cheap. So what’s there to improve upon?

According to Israeli inventor Izhar Gafni – just about everything.

Meet the Alfa

Gafni’s new bicycle, the Alfa, is stronger than carbon fiber. It’s maintenance free. It’s lightweight. It’s sustainable. And it’s cheap: it can be manufactured for roughly $9 and could potentially be sold for just double that.

Oh, and it’s made of cardboard.

Yes, you read that right. Engineers told Gafni that his idea was impossible, but by utilizing the principles of origami, he was able to construct a bike that can support up to 485 pounds with its svelte 20-pound frame. “You fold [paper] once, and it’s not just twice the strength – it’s three times the strength,” he points out. And unlike clothing made from kombucha tea, you wouldn’t have to worry about this eco-friendly creation falling apart in the rain. Once the frame is built, it’s treated with a secret organic formula that makes it waterproof and fireproof. Gafni even dunked one in a water tank for months – and it retained its shape.

"I'm repeatedly surprised at just how strong this material is. It is amazing,” says Gafni. “Once we are ready to go to production, the bike will have no metal parts at all.”

Gafni's cardboard bike

Okay, so the engineers were wrong – he succeeded in making a rideable cardboard bicycle. But this isn’t just a fun new toy for hipsters and collectors of oddities? After all, just because you can make a bike out of cardboard doesn’t mean you should, right?

Wrong. Though it very well may become a hit with the aforementioned hipsters, the Alfa also has the potential to make a meaningful difference in third-world countries.

A green game-changer

Gafni, an expert in designing mass-production lines, has come up with a manufacturing plan that is largely automated, requiring a very small workforce. That small workforce would be made up of people otherwise difficult to employ, such as pensioners and the disabled. And perhaps most importantly, due to their use of recycled materials, Alfa manufacturers would receive government grants that would completely cancel out the production costs. 

In other words, in places that need them the most, these bikes could be given away for free. 

From our perspective, living in a first-world country, it’s difficult to conceptualize just how revolutionary this could be. In one fell swoop, this bike could mobilize entire poverty-stricken regions with a mode of transport that’s cheap, sustainable, and eco friendly. That’s no mean feat, considering that traveling by bike is vastly more efficient than traveling by foot.

Though it may have sounded like hyperbole at first, it seems that the Alfa has earned its praise as a “game changer” and “an idea that could change the world.” Not bad for an idea that was deemed “crazy” at its inception. 

If you ask me, that’s a “crazy” we could all use a little bit more of.

What do you think of the cardboard bike?

Is it a game changer, or just another oddity?


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