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Riding to riches on bamboo

Kasoma says they sell each frame at US$400 (about Shs 1,400,000) excluding freight which is paid for by the customer.

That price pushes the bamboo bicycles out of competition with the iron bicycles on the local market.

Kasoma says importing some materials from abroad; including the resin for hardening the bark cloth which is used in the joints, is very expensive.

Locally, they have supplied to Christ’s Hope, a non- governmental organisation which provides palliative care to AIDS patients with offices in Wakiso district in Uganda, Kisumu in Kenya, and Mwanza in Tanzania.  The NGO has bought 30 bicycle frames from them which it uses for fundraising riding.

Though they now concentrate in making only bamboo bicycle frames, Kasoma says they have some complete bicycles with metals parts imported from US, Europe and Asia which they use in riding competitions under their Boogaali Test Riding Club. The aim is to test the efficacy of their bamboo frames.

He says all the bamboo frames they make are customised depending on the specifications they get from the customer and they offer a two year warranty on the frame against any manufacturing defects.

“We are confident about the quality of our product and take the utmost care in selecting the best bamboo and natural fibre we use to make the frames.

”Though our warranty is two years, if well looked after, a bamboo bike can last even between 10 to 15 years,” Kasoma says.

Maintenance of bamboo bicycles cannot be done by ordinary mechanics since they require specialised metal parts which are not easily available. Kasoma says bamboo bicycles are very strong and there are examples throughout the world of hundreds of them which have lasted for between 10-15 years after being ridden for thousands of miles.

He, however, says like any other product, the better one looks after their bamboo bike the longer it lasts. He cautions against leaving it outside to the extremes of weather like too much sunshine and rain.

Regarding what he calls the wrong perception that bamboo bikes are heavy, Kasoma says the frames they build are of natural bamboo and the weights vary. He, however, says that generally they are lighter than a steel and aluminum frame but slightly heavier than a carbon and titanium frame.

According to Kasoma, their bamboo frames average about 1.8 kilograms whereas those for the carbon fibre bikes used for racing weigh 1.2kgs. Depending on customisations, a complete bike with a bamboo frame weighs about 12kgs. Those made of ordinary steel and aluminium frame can weigh up to 15 kgs. The ones made of carbon titanium frames are lightest at 8kgs.

Kasoma disputes another perception that bamboo bikes are not strong enough and can crack under someone’s weight.

“Hundreds of bamboo bikes have been built in the world and they have travelled thousands of miles – some in difficult terrain. In Uganda we have had riders competing on bikes with our frames and they have had no problem at all,” he says.

Kasoma is looking forward to Sept. 18 World Bamboo Day on which his Boogaali  is organising a 458-kilometre bamboo awareness bicycle tour from Kampala to Echuya Bamboo Forest Reserve in Kisoro from Sept. 15. It is being billed as a promotion and awareness ride to show the importance of bamboo to Ugandan communities.

Kasoma says they expect over 100 riders to participate in the event and already 10 people with bamboo bicycles have confirmed participation. The participation fees include bamboo bike rental and a 20 percent donation to the Echuya Batwa community in Kisoro, Kasoma says.

Farther ahead, Kasoma says he wants to set up a training centre for bamboo artisans and a state of the art workshop for fabrication of parts of bamboo bicycles. He says his ambition is to reach a state where even other parts of their bicycles are made of bamboo materials.

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