Izhar Gafni has designed award winning industrial machines for peeling pomegranates and sewing shoes. He’s also a bike enthusiast who’s designed a lot of carbon fiber rigs. But one day, he’d heard about someone who’d built a cardboard canoe. The idea drilled its way into his consciousness, and ultimately, led him to create a cardboard bike called the Alfa.
The Alfa weighs 20lbs, yet supports riders up to 24 times its weight. It’s mostly cardboard and 100% recycled materials, yet uses a belt-driven pedal system that makes it maintenance free. And, maybe best of all, it’s project designed to be manufactured at about $9 to $12 per unit (and just $5 for a kids version), making it not only one of the most sustainable bikes you could imagine, but amongst the cheapest, depending on the markup.
But as the above video documents, the design process was arduous. Engineers told Gafni that his idea was impossible. Yet he realized that paper could be strong if treated properly. As in crafting origami and tearing telephone books, he explains, "[if] you fold it once, and it’s not just twice the strength, it’s three times the strength."
The development to what you see today took three years. Two were spent just figuring out the cardboard complications—leading to several patents—and the last was spent converting a cardboard box on wheels to a relatively normal looking bike.
At the moment, Gafni is working with a company to raise the funds to finalize manufacturing processes for his adult and child bikes and then actually put them into production. And if they’re able to pull this off, and the Alfa is everything it’s promised to be, it could be an absolutely paradigm-shifting idea in the transportation industry.
Bikes are amongst the most efficient transportation systems in the planet, converting up to 99% of a person’s power into mobility that’s up to five times faster than walking. Imagine the impact for developing nations, assuming the Alfa (or a derivative) could handle itself on unpaved roads—especially when fitted with an optional small motor upgrade to enhance range—or what you could do in a small school district where every child could be given a bike in place of a few days of school-bus gas.
Then again, the best way to score yourself a recycled bike is just to go to a pawn shop and buy one used. No doubt, it’s a little less design-spectacular, but $10 sure can go a long way at a good old garage sale.
[Hat tip: Design Taxi]