Beyond the Bike 2015/16 - Bamboo with a View.

Stories from the people, places and personal challenges encountered by riding a bamboo bike through Africa and Asia.
7 minutes reading time (1339 words)

Sustainability - The Capacity to Endure

Our own endurance challenge has opened our eyes to the importance of sustainability in bikes, phones, chocolate, clothes,  dragon fruit, toilets… as well as the wider ubiquitous and all important issues of deforestation and drought.



Entire theses could be written about these last two and in both Africa and Asia we have seen evidence of and the terrible consequences of deforestation (often for timber in Africa and to plant rubber trees in Asia and well as palm oil in both). In this blog, however,  I am going to focus on few small sustainable enterprises that we have encountered on this trip:

Obviously, it makes sense to start with my bamboo bike which P20 sun care systems is proud to sponsor as part of their 'good and green' initiative. People often ask 'why bamboo' and there are three answers: 

1. It looks amazing - different and stylish - I hope you agree!
2. It is very strong and yet its natural fibres make for a smooth ride so great for touring.
3. You can 'grow your bike' in a few months! Bamboo is a far more sustainable and environmentally friendly material than steel/carbon fibre/aluminium used for mass produced bikes. 

The bike was designed by Rich Chapman in the UK who set up a business to import bamboo bikes from Africa to Europe with Stu, who came across across the bamboo bike concept on his original journey. Although that didn’t work out, Rich still works closely with Kasoma Noordin, the bike-builder in Uganda who made my frame. Interestingly, bamboo bikes are due to be displayed at the Design museum in London next month



Kasoma building a bamboo bike frame. Khalid (Kasoma's apprentice from my first Africa blog) showing me how to find the right bamboo.

Once they have seen the bike people then often tell me about their bamboo socks or other clothing, usually bought as a gimmick but then found to be surprisingly comfortable and useful. We went one better than bamboo clothing and have been riding in Natural Peak's WoodWear clothing -  90% beech wood and eucalyptus (10% elastane) tops and leggings. Natural Peak was started by Manu, ex-ski and paragliding instructor who wanted to make comfortable, technical and environmentally friendly clothes. He has succeeded. They have been great; comfy, moisture-wicking - so much less smelly than normal tops - and they even have UV protection! Most importantly Natural Peak clothing is very environmentally friendly as they are made from renewable wood with fewer chemicals used even than bamboo clothes and with factories in Turkey rather than the far east (fewer air miles for Europeans!).


Stu looking stylish in 35 degree heat in a Natural Peak t-shirt on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania.

Avid readers of these blogs will remember that back in the DRC we met up with two Swedes working for 'PeePoople’, getting sustainable loos to urban slums and prison in Goma. The DRC has been warn-torn for many years and since 1998 more than 5.4 million people have died. More than 90% of these were not killed in combat but from diseases aggravated by displaced populations with unsanitary and over-crowded living conditions. More than 2.6 billion people or 40% of the world's population lack access to even basic sanitation.  Peepoo is a single-use, self-sanitising, fully biodegradable toilet that prevents contamination from faeces. After use Peepoo turns into a fertiliser!

In Cambodia we recently visited The Kemp's (fromThe Sarojin Thailand blog) dragon fruit farm, 20km north of Siem Reap. We spent the day with Sina the farm manager and his family. The farm is still very much in its infancy with 4 hectares (out of 10) planted so far. These trees will propagate in the next two years and then last for around 25 years. Even after the trees have died Sina explained that baskets can be made from them.  There are 10 full-time workers on the farm now, who never had jobs before, and as the crops and yield increase more and more jobs for the local community will be available. Typically The Kemps are not happy to leave the farm as it is but they are also planning to have accommodation and set up an educational centre for school trips.  We will be watching the progress of the Red Dragon Estate with great interest.


 Sina and his son at the farm.


As I'm sure you all know, The Economic Cycle is following the route of natural resources from African mine to Asian factory, tracking 'new silk roads' and the all important south to south trade routes. Two products' trade routes have particularly interested us, one very simple and one incredibly complicated - chocolate and smart phones. Stuart talks a lot more about these trade routes in general and especially about Divine Chocolate and Fairphone in his Fair Trade blog, some of which is repeated below. 

Sadly we didn't make it to Ghana where Divine Chocolates start their fair trade route, but we have been able to follow more closely the route of the Fairphone. There are around 42 minerals in a smart phone, many of which come from poor African countries such as the DRC. We were not able to visit a Congolese mine but did make it to copper and nickel mines in Zambia and down an artisanal gold mine in Zimbabwe. My 30 minutes was more than enough time. I cannot imagine an 8 hour shift with the primitive machinery. But there is not enough financial stability to invest more in these small mines. Fairphone is working to ensure that the minerals mined for their phones come from mines with fair conditions. This is rather an uphill struggle but they are making progress, certainly far more than any other smart phone.




 How fair is your phone? Workers down the gold mine.


The minerals are carried in lorries (often under armed guard) to the port and then shipped to Asian factory. We followed their route to the port in Durban, often being nearly pushed off the road by the huge convoys of lorries.  It was amazing to see the copper trucks which look like they have nothing on them, but move so slowly as the copper is so heavy. This trucks are worth millions of dollars, hence the armed guards!



We finally made it to the port in Durban on 23rd December 2015.

There are so many different people involved in this complicated supply chain and it is great to see one company having a social conscience about this  We hope to visit the Fairphone factory in China...

The final point about sustainability from Fairphone is don't throw your phone away and get a free upgrade each year. With a Fairphone you can mend most parts (unlike apple phones where there is an ongoing debate as to who owns the IP of the phones). The landfill sites for mobile phones and other electrical equipment is another tragic story see




Taking apart the Fairphone to mend it is very easy.


People do 'bang on' about the environment but this is something that we cannot and should not shy away from. The people we have met, sights we have seen and products we have used have made us even more aware of the importance of sustainability.  Back to the two 'biggies'  of deforestationand drought, without doubt we should all be more worried about these. In Zambia we followed the Zambezi from its pitiful (in fact dried up) source to the awe-inspiring Victoria Falls. We saw evidence of great drought and  abundance the water can then bring, but can this water last for ever?  There are already high issues with the Kariba dam. In Asia we are  currently following the Mekong from Phnom Penh up to China and have already heard of the issues with new Chinese built dams. We cannot get away from the staggering power and importance of these rivers. In fact, the next world war could well be over water… - water wars


Cambodia - Rebuilding itself with a little help fr...
How Fair is your Phone?

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