From Uganda’s capital, Kampala, Noordin Kasoma inspects handmade bicycles manufactured by his company by measuring and cutting a length of bamboo sticks into 24 pieces and transforming them into the frame of a bicycle at his workshop.
Noordin created a way to recycle damaged steel bikes, by replacing frames with bamboo sticks and selling them on the market. He got the idea of making bikes after training with an American bike frame designer and manufacturer, Craig Calfee and also watching tutorials on the internet.
The entrepreneur saw a market dominated by expensive steel and aluminium, and wanted to make bikes that are cheaper and tougher than the regular brands available locally.
He said that when riding a bamboo bicycle especially on the off-road, it gives a comfortable feel and due to the flexibility of the bamboo it gives a kind of shock absorbing property when riding. Unlike the steel and aluminium, the bamboo itself absorbs the shocks you get when riding.
It takes about seven days to manufacture a bicycle and the bamboo must be well dried for months and treated with insecticide before being used.
Noordin mostly sells his bikes in Uganda, parts of East Africa, Europe and America, between $350 to $450 each, depending on the size and design of the bicycles.
He has a workforce of about 20 workers and has several young apprentices that he’s teaching the special production and specifications of his bicycles.
Noordin said they get geometrical diagrams of different types of bikes and sizes and they usually make mountain bikes, city bikes, travel bikes, road bikes, and racing bikes with each of the bicycles having different geometry and size.
Noordin chose to work with bamboo because of its availability and can be easily found in the country, also for its fast growing ability and sustainably harvested. He said the bikes are quite popular and have featured in various tournaments.
Different from the regular bamboo frame, Noordin added a special Ugandan twist to his invention. He uses bark cloth, a traditional clothing material harvested from the inner bark of the Mutuba tree to strengthen the joints of the bicycles. The bark cloth is dipped in resin, wrapped around joints, dried, and sanded down into a shiny finish.
His bicycle brand is named “Boogaali”, a fusion of bamboo and “gaali”, which in the local Luganda language means Bicycles.
According to Amos Nuwagaba, Cyclist, he said that the bike is a cheaper option because going through importing a carbon frame and considering the taxes and the like, you may buy two of these in the frame.
Noordin plans to expand his factory and promote bicycle tourism in the country.