There are those amongst us who talk, and those of who do. The later being those who actually make changes and enable progress, the ones who with ideas, change the lives of others. David Ho is one of those people. He is a quiet mannered gentleman with a passion for science, cycling and... oh yeah, saving the planet along with its people. Slacker... David Ho may not have set out to save the world, but he may have made a giant step in that direction.
Although David had been riding mountain bicycles for years, it wasn't until he picked up a beater road bike to make getting to work easier that he became a true devotee. After obtaining his Ph. D., he began work as an Oceanographer at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO).
Out of school and still gripped with a passion for cycling, he decided to buy a better road bike. It was while going through the process of selecting a bike that he came across Craig Calfee, who is known for his hand-built carbon fiber creations. Craig, it seemed, was a master of unusual materials for bicycles, one of which was bamboo.
Calfee's website posed the following challenge:
"If you have an interest in a project involving bamboo bikes in developing countries, we have something for you! Are you a good grant application writer? Or would you like to fund this one yourself?"
Reading that challenge planted the germ of an idea in David's head. Investigating further, he found that Calfee believed it possible to build bicycles using native growing bamboo in developing third world countries. Beyond that he also believed it possible to teach the indigenous people to build the bicycles themselves out of this plentiful, eco-friendly, renewable resource. The advantage of the raw material was its plentiful, free availability and, it had already been proven as a strong and effective frame building material. Additionally, accessing the raw material would not require any industrialization or a transportation infrastructure, as would steel, aluminum, or any other more traditional frame material. Non-industrialized populations would be able to build their own transportation systems using locally available, natural, virtually free, material.
At just the time when David was considering the idea of bamboo bikes, a grant competition was announced. The Earth Institute at Columbia University was offering seed funding for projects that would further one of their causes, ending poverty in the world. As a research scientist at the LDEO at Columbia University, David was eligible to write a proposal for the competition. David's proposal stated, "Lack of access to effective transportation is a fundamental limiter to employment opportunities, local and regional trade, and public health." He went on to explain how the bicycle, as the simplest and most efficient form of transportation, could remediate these transportation limits. He thought that these bamboo bicycles, built in Africa, could be tested in the Earth Institute's Millennium Villages in various parts of Africa. The people at the Earth Institute saw his vision and a grant for $25,000 was awarded.
It may seem a simplistic solution to what appears a complex problem, viewed through the internet from an air conditioned environment. In reality the ability to transport perishable goods to and from market within the margin of that perishability creates the difference between sustainable trade and waste. The bicycle reduces travel time across unpaved trails and gives people access to goods, services, and markets that are effectively inaccessible on foot. It is a simple solution but it is an effective one.
David Ho and his associates John Mutter, Vijay Modi and Craig Calfee have built a prototype bamboo cargo bike in Ghana, using locally sourced material. They plan to introduce the bamboo bike to the Earth Institute's Millennium Villages in Africa to test its effectiveness, to field test their manufacture, and to explore the possibilities of implementing the bamboo bikes on a large scale. Now all that remains is for the project to grow. What's going to make that happen? Your help...
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