When bamboo becomes a transport disruptor

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By Romsanne R. Ortiguero

Growing abundantly in the Philippines and the rest of Asia, bamboo is known for its versatility, multi-functionality, sustainability, and even for its tensile strength that can match that of steel.

In the local setting, this sun-loving, hyper-growing type of grass is commonly used for construction, furniture-making, handicrafts, and even as food. With seemingly endless possibilities for bamboo, the use of this natural material in modes of transportation like bikes has also been explored.

Just a few years ago, bicycles made of bamboo by Bambike, originated by Bryan Benitez McClelland, gained popularity. According to Bambike’s website, bamboo possesses qualities that make it the perfect for crafting bike frames. The specific species of bamboo that Bambike uses “are at least as strong as steel in tensile strength and have higher strength-to-weight ratios.”

In 2017, Filipino company Banatti (derived from the colloquial word “banat”, to push it, or in road use, to floor it) introduced The Green Falcon, an electric café racer motorcycle that used bamboo as one of its materials for design.

Asked why he thought of using bamboo as a material for the Green Falcon’s body shell, Banatti President and CEO Christopher Lacson told BusinessWorld in an interview, “It’s a very strong yet flexible material. In many cases, it is comparable to steel. Bamboo has never been used for building a motorcycle body. We can call it a disruptor. It’s a conversation starter. The Green Falcon was designed and built to inspire, to ignite, or spark and motivate our country men: the young, the old, our leaders.”

The entire body shell of the Green Falcon is made from bamboo — weighing under seven kilos, which is at least 30% to 40% lighter compared to fiber glass, the material often used for building a motorcycle’s shell. Because the Green Falcon uses bamboo, and is purposely pared down in design, it weighs approximately 50kg less than that of a similarly sized gasoline motor version. Since it is light in weight, it is easier to move it, and thus, is speedier because it requires less power.

Mr. Lacson said they are using the tinik variety of bamboo, which takes between three to four years to grow, and is quite sustainable to use.

Also, Banatti’s motorcycle is electric, leaves no pollution, and hardly makes any noise. The bamboo shell used is water resistant, having been treated with water proof coatings and marine epoxies.

“It’s already road-worthy. It has a city-geared speed limit of 60kph, and can traverse up to 45 to 50 kilometers in range,” Mr. Lacson explained.

The lightweight, pared down design, city speed limit, and range were all inspired from the café racer culture, which started in the 1960’s. Café racer bikes are known to be lightweight, optimized for speed, and are made to run in short distances (usually used to race from café to café).

“Café racer has always been one of our guiding design principles. A café racer is only what it needs to be and not more. We were not engineering it for long drives. We designed it for city use; for café racer riding. We speed limited The Green Falcon because that is the speed limit in the city. You can’t run 160kph here and, realistically, most of city riding is in traffic,” Mr. Lacson said.

With the Green Falcon, Mr. Lacson hopes to spark productive conversations and hopefully, to inspire citizens and the government to work on pertinent issues such as pollution, sustainability, and greener modes of transportation, among others.

“It’s unlike anything else. It’s a different way of looking at issues through design. We purposely wanted to inspire people to see things differently, to put things in a different context, to think about transportation and materials from a different perspective,” he said.

Meanwhile, for his other projects that hope to initiate conversation regarding issues in the transportation sector, Mr. Lacson also acts as the CEO and design director of Modular Energy Efficient Portage Inc. (MEEP), which has designed the Meepney transport system. The locally patented “plug and play” transport system can be placed in a community with designated charging stations where modern electric jeepneys can swap batteries and run on set routes.