Noordin Kasoma owns a workshop in the Ugandan capital of Kampala called Boogaali where he manufactures bicycles. But what makes Kasoma’s bicycles different from the rest is that he uses bamboo as the material for the frame
“Bamboo is flexible; due to that flexibility it gives that kind of shock absorbing property when you’re riding especially off-road. The bamboo itself tries to absorb the shocks that you are passing through … (better) than steel or aluminum,” Kasoma said to Reuters. Unlike what people think, bamboo bicycles are quite strong and sturdy.
Though bicycles made from bamboo have existed in the cycling world for many years, Kasoma gives an interesting twist to them. He reinforces the joints with bark cloth, which is a traditional Ugandan clothing material that is harvested from a tree called Mutuba. This makes the bikes popular with natives. Kasoma started using bamboo for his bikes as it was readily available in his country and could be harvested sustainably.
The name of his company, Boogaali, is made up of the word bamboo and a native word called gaali, which means bicycle in the Luganda language. The bikes can cost anywhere from US$350-$450. If one were to create the same bike by importing carbon frames, the cost would double. The popularity of Boogaali bikes is so great that Kasoma plans to expand his factory and hire more people.
Boogali offers three types of bamboo bikes to customers — road bikes, mountain bikes, and gravel/adventure bikes. The B-13 is a road bike model that has a flat top and oval seat tubes that improve the aerodynamics of the cycle. The bike weighs around 20.5 pounds. The GR-9 gravel model is the most popular frame and weighs about 21.5 pounds.
The Ugandan government is using bamboo to fight deforestation in the country. The biggest threat to the nation’s forests is charcoal burning. Mary Gorreti Kitutu, State Minister for Water and Environment, has been talking with local communities and asking them to grow bamboo as a business.
“For the first time in Uganda, we experienced a heat wave and I am warning all Ugandans [that] these are signs that we are now also heading towards the threat of the advancing desert. And the only remedy is planting trees… By April next year, we should have planted 500 million trees,” she said to Monitor.
The administration has unveiled an ambitious 10-year project that aims to plant around 375,000 hectares of bamboo in the country. This is almost six times the country’s existing bamboo coverage in protected areas, which currently stands at 67,000 hectares. The project wants 28-30 percent of the bamboo to be planted on government land and the remaining on private land.
“Uganda is picking interest in bamboo upon realisation of the importance of bamboo as a crop. It has a very big importance to the social contribution and environment of the country. It has been proven in countries like China and India where they have had bamboo for the last 40 years,” Tom Okello Obong, Executive Director of the NFA, said to New Vision.
Bamboo is a very versatile plant, with some estimating that more than 10,000 items can be made from it. The global bamboo industry is valued at US$3 billion per year. With its bamboo planting project, Uganda is hoping to not only fight deforestation, but also provide a means of livelihood for its people.