Selling bamboo bikes in America to make a real difference in Africa

A couple weeks ago, Judy Bergstresser wrote to ask if I was familiar with Zambikes, a California/Zambia company with a unique business model.

I’ll let Judy explain it to you.

Zambikes builds bamboo frame bicycles in Zambia and sells them worldwide ($1250 for a complete roadbike) to provide jobs and skills for Zambians.
They use their profits to build and provide four models of steel frame working bikes to African citizens – a mountain bike, the Zamcart heavy load carrying trailer, a long cargo bike that can seat 4 plus, and the “Zambulance” bicycle ambulance trailer. You can imagine the profound value of the socialized income, the factory training and the bikes themselves in a country with deep unemployment, high illiteracy and terrible roads.

After looking into it a little, it sounds like a great program. And an innovative way to serve two markets at once — providing a unique handmade road or mountain bike to U.S. cyclists, while creating jobs and vital transportation in an area that desperately need both.

So I reached out to Vaughn Spethmann, one of the two American directors of the company for more information.

Here’s his response:

Ted,

I have attached a small pdf that will give your viewers a nice look at what we do. Zambikes is a Zambian company that has distributed over 10,000 bikes to teachers, pastors, nurses and other service people. With a bike these service people are 3 to 5 times more able to serve their community.

We have also distributed over 1200 bicycle cargo trailers for entrepreneurs and bicycle ambulances for rural health clinics. The entrepreneurs are able to make an income where opportunity and employment is hard to come by. Unemployment is over 60% there. With one of the cargo trailers we have seen individuals make over $20 a day bringing goods from rural areas to markets.

The bicycle ambulances we have distributed have had a even larger impact. They get pregnant women from homes, sometimes more then 20 miles away, to clinics. When birthing complications, dehydration and other factors come into play walking or being brought to a clinic in a wheel barrel is not a viable option. The bicycle ambulances are saving lives on a weekly basis.

Zambikes employs more then 40 men and women and they also make bamboo bikes. Each frame takes months to cut, treat, sand, paint and shape. These bamboo bikes are stiff, light and strong. Each frame is unique and is compatible with most parts. We sell road bikes, mountain and everything in between and any geometry or size.

To donate a bicycle ambulance to a rural health clinic go to abikes.org and do that through this great tax exempt non profit.

To get a bamboo bike straight from Zambia go to Zambikes.com and place your order today!

Thanks for the opportunity to share, Judy and Ted!

Seems to me that $1250 is a pretty low price for a custom frame bike — let alone one that will be the talk of everyone who sees it. And a chance to make a real difference for people to whom the average American struggling to pay his or her bills in a down economy still seems rich beyond all imagination.

As far as good causes go, this one seems like a no brainer.

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