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Bamboo, Bikes and New Business
Caption: A Bambike rests in front of San Agustin Church. The stone lions were gifts from Chinese Catholics.
Created by Brianne Miers of A Traveling Life
Bambike Revolution Cycles, a social enterprise based in Manila, Philippines, isn’t your typical bike shop. It rents and sells hand-crafted bamboo bicycles made from sustainable materials that reduce the impact on the planet. It also helps the people who make the bikes by paying a living wage, something that is hard to find in Manila. And that’s just the beginning.
Caption: Bryan (Right), talks to travel writer Bill Fink. Bryan also serves as the Director of Sustainability in Enderun Colleges.
Bambikes are the brainchild of Bryan Benitez McClelland, a Filipino-American who grew up in Connecticut and now makes his home in Manila. In 2007 after receiving his master’s degree in Environmental Resource Management from the University of Pennsylvania, Bryan got the idea for Bambike while volunteering for Filipino NGO Gawad Kalinga (GK). He had heard about an African company that made bikes from bamboo and thought that bringing the practice to the Philippines, where bamboo grows in abundance, could create valuable jobs.
After much trial and error, Bryan got Bambike off the ground in 2010, and today he employs 15 “Bambuilders,” members of a GK-supported community in rural Victoria, Tarlac. Bambike also organizes a variety of nutrition, education and environmental programs for the community - there’s even a bamboo playground.
Bambuilders spend an average of 50 working hours on each bike. The high-quality bamboo that creates the frame is sourced from Luzon and Visayas. The joints are made of abaca fiber and resin. Aircraft-grade aluminum is used for the connection points. The adult Bambikes start at $699, and are sold to buyers throughout Asia, Europe and the U.S. Former U.S. President Barack Obama scored a Bambike as a gift from former Filipino President Benigno Aquino III when he visited Manila in 2011.
I had the chance to take a Bambike for a spin when I was in Manila to attend TBEX Asia Pacific, the world’s largest travel blogger conference. Twice daily, Bambike Ecotours runs tours of Intramuros, Manila’s walled historic district, which was settled by the Spanish in the late 1500s. Since the tours launched on Earth Day 2014, more than 5,000 people from 70 countries around the world have gotten a workout while exploring the country’s colonial past.
At the Bambike shop on Plaza San Luis, my group and I met Bryan and watched a brief video about the company’s inception before we were fitted with our bikes. After a few wobbles, we got the hang of the surprisingly sturdy frames and set off behind our guide, Rey Ballesca, Bambike’s tourism manager. He led us about a block to San Agustin Church, the oldest stone church in the Philippines, and the only church in Intramuros that survived the Battle of Manila, which wiped out most of the city in 1945.
Caption: Our guide, Rey, points out the Galeria de los Presedentes de la Republica Pilipinas, the Gallery of Filipino Presidents
(President Duterte’s plate has not been made yet).
At a nearby garden, Rey pointed out the Galeria de los Presedentes de la Republica Pilipinas, the Gallery of Filipino Presidents. It was a display featuring images of the country’s former leaders embossed on large plates. We peddled on before disembarking at Puerta Real Gardens, a popular wedding and events venue that was once the site of state functions during Spanish rule. There, we scrambled up a tower for sweeping views of the city skyline and Manila Bay. After taking in the views, we enjoyed a taste of “dirty ice cream” sold by a street vendor.
Caption: “Dirty ice cream” is ice cream sold out of brightly colored carts by street vendors. These flavors were jackfruit and ube (a purple yam).
Pushing our bikes to the top of another section of wall, we learned that the Japanese Cannons from the Battle of Manila are still standing guard. After heading back down, we continued following Rey through the maze of streets, dodging college students socializing between classes, horse-drawn buggies carting around tourists, tricycles giving rides to locals, and a labor protest in front of a hotel. I was pleasantly surprised by how few cars and how many pedestrians there were within the walls - quite unlike the rest of the city, where it’s common to sit in traffic for two hours to travel just a few miles.
Caption: Looking out over the walls to Manila’s skyline
After swinging by the Manila Cathedral, where Pope Francis gave mass during his January 2015 visit, we made our way back to the store, where we saw a Bambuilder in action. We reluctantly handed back our innovative rides and said farewell to Bryan and Rey before heading back into the chaos of modern Manila.
Caption: What’s next for the “greenest bikes on the planet?” Bryan says the country’s bike market is growing, so he plans to ramp up the production of Bambike’s balance bike for kids - the Bambino - to meet customer demand. He’s also raising money in hopes of opening an urban ecopark later this year, which will feature a bike track.