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A cardboard bike that could change the world

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 17 2012 1:51 p.m. MDT

Izhar Gafni's cardboard bike design holds vast potential for third-world transportation.

respontour via Flickr

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If you visit trekbikes.com and click on Road Bikes, then Race Performance and then Madone 7 Series, you will see the Madone 7.9, a bike with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $11,549.99. Yes, a five-figure bicycle. And it doesn’t even come with an engine or at least a cup-holder armrest.

Now, for the real shocker. On Monday, Reuters reported that Izhar Gafni, an award-winning Israeli designer of industrial machines, is just months away from mass-producing a bike that will retail for just $20. To be fair, Gafni’s bike doesn’t include a 3S integrated chain keeper, E2 asymmetric steerer or HexSL carbon, like the Madone 7.9. In fact, it’s actually made out of cardboard. That is, wood pulp. Even so, the 20-pound bike will, according to a story by Fast Company, support riders weighing up to nearly 500 pounds. It will also be waterproof and fireproof.

An early report on inc.com in July said the bike would retail for $60 to $90. However, Gafni is targeting a much lower price point due to corporate advertising deals and government rebates for using “green” materials. What’s more, Gafni’s business partner, Nimrod Elmish, says the bike, which uses just $9 worth of materials, could be offered for free in third-world countries. How is that possible?

“Because you get a lot of government grants,” Elmish explained. “It brings down the production costs to zero, so the bicycles can be given away for free. We are copying a business model from the high-tech world where software is distributed free because it includes embedded advertising. It could be sold for around $20, because (retailers) have to make a profit. We think they should not cost any more than that. We will make our money from advertising.”

While you won’t see one of Gafni’s bikes in the Tour de France any time soon, they do hold vast potential for urban biking and third-world transportation as well as the field of sustainable design.

“We are just at the beginning,” Gafni said, “and from here, my vision is to see cardboard replacing metals. Countries that right now don’t have the money will be able to benefit from so many uses for this material.”

One senses this is not just marketing bluster. Gafni has won awards for industrial machines used to peel pomegranates and sew shoes, and he says he spent four years folding cardboard and working to “cancel out the corrugated cardboard’s weak structural points.”

The initial production run will include three bicycle models as well as a wheelchair. The bikes will be maintenance-free, puncture-proof and, in the case of the urban model, can be mounted with an electric motor.

Watch a video of Gafni’s inspiring project here: fastcoexist.com/1680293/watch-this-man-build-an-amazing-cardboard-bicycle-that-you-can-actually-ride#1.

Contact David Ward at dward@deseretnews.com.

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