Engineers and inventors have discovered lots of innovative ways to use cardboard outside of traditional packaging. From digital cameras to coffins, you might say cardboard is where it’s at.
But a new $9 bike, set to go into production in Israel very soon, wins my vote for best 2012 cardboard invention.
Engineer Izhar Gafni—whose passion is bicycles—has created a fully functioning, water-resistant bike made entirely of recycled cardboard.
Gafni set to work on his project after he heard a story of a man who had built a canoe out of cardboard. Although his family was certain he could pull it off, the handful of engineers he consulted about his idea said it was impossible.
Three years and four prototypes later, Gafni has created an extremely durable all-cardboard bike stronger than carbon fiber and able to carry riders weighing up to 485 pounds. The bike is finished with a special coating which protects it from the elements and gives a look and feel of lightweight plastic.
Working with cardboard was a real challenge for Gafni in the beginning because the paper-derived material is light and not particularly strong. The first two years of the project were devoted to learning the properties and behavior of cardboard through strength calculations and analysis, and finally Gafni found a technique of folding, gluing and coating which provided the right combination of rigidity and durability.
“Basically the idea is like Japanese origami. You fold it once, then it doesn’t become twice the strength, it becomes three-times the strength,” Gafni says.
To get the design to look like a real bike instead of a “package on wheels” was a challenge, but Gafni now has three working prototypes, the Alfa commercial model—which has the letter A on the chassis, an urban bike, and a kid’s bike. All the models are made out of almost 100 percent recycled materials and have the option of adding an electric motor.
While the cost of making the bicycles ranges from $9 to $12, manufacturers expect to sell them for $60 to $90 depending on the optional addition of the electric motor. Not bad when you compare that to the average Santa Cruz bike which retails between $600 and $5,000.
And while that may be an apples-to-oranges comparison, an affordable cardboard bicycle could give mobility to many communities around the world that lack the means to get from point A to B. Communities in Africa, for instance, who may walk miles to get to school or hospital, or just to collect water for their families.
But Gafni’s vision for the future extends far beyond bicycles. It’s a veritable cardboard revolution.
He hopes that eventually we’ll be able to produce almost any daily product from recycled materials, and build auto production lines with a simple post production assembly that will be performed by people with difficulties or disabilities.
Unlimited and incentivized raw materials and incentivized manpower will help us create working places in every location, Gafni says, bringing factories back from China and building a more sustainable and greener future.