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Pedal to the (cardboard) metal

Hadera, Israel - At first glance the bicycle looks like it was transferred one-to-one from a crude computer graphics programme into real life. Its frame, spokes and pedals are a stark white colour and don't look particularly elegant.

Only the black rubber tyres and the brown saddle contrast with the rest of the bike.

Only the black rubber tyres and the brown saddle contrast with the rest of the bike. Credit: www.youtube.com

Sitting on the bike is Ishar Gafni, a 50-year-old product designer and cycling enthusiast. He is pedalling leisurely through the streets of his home city Hadera in central Israel.

After years of research Gafni's product, a bicycle made from cardboard, is now ready for mass production.

What comes across as a little clumsy in terms of design is made of pure cardboard. Gafni, a production engineering developer, has tinkered for years to develop a bicycle made from the material.

He is a huge bicycle fan and owns several expensive models made from carbon fibre. One day when he was shopping for spare parts the idea came to him to design a bicycle from cardboard.

“I met someone who knew someone who had made a canoe from cardboard,” he recalls.

Gafni was spellbound by the idea. He lay awake at night and stopped talking with his family during meals.

It went so far that his wife thought their marriage was in danger due to his mental absence: “She ordered me to finally construct the bicycle. Otherwise she said she would go crazy.”

It was the Japanese art of folding paper that inspired Gafni. Origami uses square pieces of paper to form three-dimensional objects without the aid of glue or scissors. But the 50-year-old with curly hair still needs machines and tools during his production process.

He saws, pierces, presses and moulds the material into the right shape. It took many attempts to create the current model.

“It's strong, has a long lifespan and is cheap,” Gafni says with pride. Production costs are nine dollars while customers are not supposed to pay more than 19 dollars (about R200).

The bicycle, which weighs only 9 kilograms, is intended to go into mass production and provide mobility mainly to poor people.

“For example in Africa,” says Gafni.

There is an element of social responsibility in the invention and Gafni and his partner Nimrod Elmisch say they could imagine the bike being made in a workshop for the disabled.

They are looking for partners in Europe, the United States and South America to help make that a reality.

“We estimate that it will be manufactured within the next year,” says Elmisch.

The cardboard bicycle has been attracting global attention via the Internet.

The enthusiasm, especially on websites with close ties to environmentalism, is huge. The idea is simple and brilliant but there are two burning questions. What happens with the cardboard when it rains? And what if it catches fire?

These issues were the two biggest challenges Gafni had to face.

But thanks to the top-secret bio-organic mixture of his varnish, the bicycle can withstand every shower. The research phase took almost seven months while experimenting with parts bathed in hydrochloric acid. The unexpected side effect of the varnish: “It's also fireproof.” - Sapa-dpa

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