MANILA — Can bicycles help the Philippines reduce poverty and protect the environment at the same time? A social entrepreneur who owns a company called Bambikes says his line of high-end bicycles made of locally grown bamboo can do just that.
Bryan Benitez McClelland is passionate about bicycles. Like many others who head out onto the streets of Makati City, the 29-year old Filipino-American rides a bike. But his is made of bamboo.
“So bamboo is a pretty incredible material. In the plant kingdom it grows really rapidly and absorbs tons of carbon dioxide. From that perspective, it’s a very renewable resource. And then in the performance level, its got the characteristics of naturally vibration dampening pole structures, which really absorb the road chatter and road buzz and makes for a super smooth ride,” he said.
In 2010, McClelland founded Bambikes, a company that turns locally sourced bamboo into bike frames. The Bambikes workshop is located in the countryside, in the town of Victoria, 130 kilometers from Metro Manila.
Out here, the bamboo is harvested from farms and the wild. Bambike’s workers cut, treat and process the material into specialized bike frames.
The finished products are not cheap. They start at around $1,200. McClelland said much of the profit, however, goes back into this poor community.
“We can produce world-class certified bamboo bicycles for the global market while keeping jobs at home in the rural provincial areas so that the workers can stay with their families and have gainful employment,” he said.
Many of the municipality’s 60,000 inhabitants work in rice farming, but that is not a year-round job.
McClelland and Victoria’s mayor, Candido Guiam, see mutual benefits in working together. Already, some of Victoria’s farmers are planting bamboo propagules, or seedlings.
“So this is an alternative program where we can provide people with work. They plant, they cut, they produce propagules of bamboo, we pay them 15 pesos, that’s good enough for them," said Guiam. "The good thing is after producing the propagules of bamboo, they bring them back to their own backyard. And hopefully in three years they can cut it up and make money out of it.”
McClelland visits one of the bamboo nurseries the town supports. He said that in just a couple years this plant will be strong enough to be harvested.
“Bamboo is arguably the greenest building material on Earth. Bamboo is as strong as steel if you use the right species. Its very durable, very strong and can stand up to the demands needed by a bicycle frame,” he said.
McClelland said bamboo can be used to build a lot more than just bike frames. He hopes Bambikes is just the start of a bamboo revolution in the Philippines.
Producer Malte Kollenberg also contributed to this story.