27 years ago when my father died he left me with an amazing legacy – the gift of curiosity. He was a talented musician and artist who could turn his hand to anything. Perhaps it is his influence that provides me with the inspiration to write – especially when it concerns new and original ideas. This tale fits the bill perfectly.
My research led me to many sources that focused on the shared characteristics of inventors from Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs. The first thing they must have is the passion to turn their dream into a reality. They also need curiosity, an investigative analytical mind, an ability to see the ‘big picture’ plus fearlessness to deal with the inevitable setbacks on their journey to success.
One such person is without doubt Izhar Gafni about whom I first heard in 2013, an Israeli mechanical engineer and cycling enthusiast who was inspired to create the world’s first all cardboard bicycle.
One day on a visit to his local bike store, he engaged the owner in a conversation about his ‘crazy’ idea to build a cardboard bike. He had heard about someone who had built a cardboard canoe and figured that, if this worked, why not a bike? The shop owner had only one comment “It’s impossible”.
However to say ‘impossible’ to an inventor merely provides him immediately with the challenge to succeed. A prime example was in 1895 when the Wright Brothers were told by many leading scientists and engineers of the day, that heavier than air flying machines were an impossibility. Eight years later they became a reality. (see below)
But back to the cardboard bike. There had been a earlier example, built by a student of product design at Sheffield University in 2008. But his prototype barely survived six months of regular use and was unsuitable for anyone weighing more than 76 kilos. In addition, its tyres, drivetrain and brakes were taken from a regular bike and as they were handmade, were quite expensive.
Gafni was convinced that he could use only waste materials to realise his dream and so began the complex process of facing his many real challenges. At this stage no technology existed to determine the mathematical properties of cardboard. Gafni needed to calculate this in order to produce a machine which could withstand a pressure of 500lbs. He also had to redefine the wheel structure, the frame design, the transmission parts and the saddle.
His method was based on the Japanese art of Origami, or paper folding. He realised that folding and refolding the cardboard would strengthen it to the stage when it would be suitable for shaping. He began to cut the sections of the frame from this reinforced material and next the parts were stiffened with a special varnish resin mixture to increase durability and strength. Finally waterproof coating and lacquered paint were added and the bike reached the assembly stage.
The frame, wheels, handlebar and saddle on this single speed bike are all made of cardboard. The brakes, tyres and drivetrain are made of other recycled materials such as plastic and used car tyres and the finished bike is both fire and water resistant. (Below the bike in evolution)
Gafni however was motivated not just by the technical challenges but also by the need to make his bike eco-friendly and affordable. The annual packaging waste generated in the EU alone is 34 million tons. Using waste materials meant that his cardboard bike would cost less than $20 to produce on an automatic production line – an essential part of the company’s technology. The advantages of such a bicycle are self-evident, particularly in low income countries where factories could be set up, which, in turn would generate employment.
Gafni also wanted to produce a bicycle which would be less attractive to thieves because of its low cost. Bicycle theft is an immense problem. I found many websites showingphotos of stolen bikes provided by victims in the vain hope they might recover their beloved, and very expensive, machines. One site alone has 500 pages with 12 stolen bikes displayed on each page. Sadly, hardly any are ever retrieved, since whatever security devices are employed, thieves somehow manage to steal the bikes, often leaving the owner with just one forlorn wheel tied to a railing.
I became fascinated with Izhar’s project but could not find updates on the web and so decided to try to contact Cardboard Technologies in Caesarea, the start up established by Gafni, to learn of the project’s progress. I received an immediate reply from their CEO Nimrod Elmish. He told me that their initial press coverage in 2013 had been so overwhelming that they decided to go into ‘stealth mode’ to give them time to sort out the patent issues concerning their products.
This took almost four to five years, but the good news is that now they are ready to go ahead and their first product, a balance bike for children, will start mass production in Israel in June 2018. The first two years’ production — approximately half a million bikes a year — are already designated for major retailers in North America. (see below)Next on the production line will be a cardboard wheelchair. Gafni and Elmish decided to produce this before the bike in the belief that giving help to those who cannot walk was a major priority for Cardboard Technology. Hopefully both the chairs and the bikes will reach the market in 24 months or so. They will then be able to market these for $49-59 each. ( below, wheelchair and Alfa P9 bike)
Gafni, of course, is never someone who can sit back and relax and he is already busy working on the prototype for his first cardboard electric car.
As for the future the Company also plans to produce cardboard housing in order to be able to respond rapidly to natural disasters wherever they occur in the world. Gafni and his colleagues are truly on the brink of providing a range of products that will both benefit the environment and contribute significantly to helping the disadvantaged.
Writing this story led me to reflect on my own, rather limited, cycling experience. I was never allowed a bike as a child, my parents considering it to be too dangerous. However I recall that some time after I met Charles, my second husband, we visited a spa for a few days. Rested and relaxed, on the last day he suggested we go out biking. All was fine until a couple of hours later we had almost returned to the spa, when Charles lost control, crashed into my bike and sent me flying into a spiky hedgerow from which I emerged bruised, lacerated and bleeding.
We returned home to be greeted by my son Richard, who, on seeing my pitiable condition confronted Charles and warned him saying “Listen, if you do this to my mother again you will have me to answer to!”
In spite of this traumatic episode, I remain optimistic that I might manage to ride a bike at least one more time. I am invited to visiting Cardboard Technologies where I hope not just to ride on a bike but mostly to meet their dedicated team, including Izhar Gafni, a man with cycling in his soul, who through his labour of love, dedication and determination has come up with so many wonderfully original ideas to help this world of ours. I will keep you posted!
Probably the most satisfaction I got from writing this story was deciding on the title : RE CYCLING and RE INVENTING THE WHEEL!
The Dream Team
All company photographs courtesy of Cardboard Technology