Tuesday December 15 2015

Enterprising: Making bicycle frames from bamboo stems

Mr Noordin Kasoma (left) displays a finished

Mr Noordin Kasoma (left) displays a finished bicycle frame made from bamboo. Right is a rider with a bamboo fitted bicycle frame. For one to claim an innovation, their idea must have been translated into practical business. FILE PHOTO  

By Esther Oluka

On a rainy Sunday morning, I find Noordin Kasoma busy working at his workshop, a house garage, in Zana, in Wakiso District on Entebbe Road. He is attaching small metal shells onto a bicycle frame. But it is not just of any kind; this particular frame is made from a bamboo stem.
After working on the frame for about 15 minutes, he gets a small piece of smooth bark cloth and starts wrapping it around one of the joints of the bicycle frame. Kasoma does this very gently.
“Making this frame takes a lot of time. I have been working on this particular one for the past five days. One really needs to be patient,” he says.

How the idea came about
The story of how Kasoma zeroed in onto this idea of making bicycle frames from bamboo stems goes back to 2010. At the time, Kasoma was a diehard lover of cycling who spent most of his time riding bicycles. One day, he was invited to attend a 10-day workshop on bicycle-making organised by a friend and businessman, Charles Kayongo. Mr Kayongo also imports second-hand bicycles to the country.
While at the event, Craig Calfee, a bicycle maker from California, USA, lectured at the workshop on how to profit from making bicycle frames from bamboo.

“He taught us so many things including how to harvest the stems and cutting them up before eventually joining the parts to make a frame. I found this information really interesting,” he says.
“When the event ended, Calfee mentioned that he would offer training sessions to anyone interested in the project. Since it seemed a profitable business venture, I obliged and agreed to work under him,” he says, adding: “He would jet in and out of the country to do the supervision and monitoring. I worked from here, my garage, and whenever I finished particular frames, I would export them to California where he was.” That was where Kasoma found market for the frames.

Having felt that he had gained enough experience from Calfee, Kasoma decided to establish himself by forming Boogali Bikes Uganda Limited that focuses on making bicycle frames from bamboo. The company was formed in 2013 and he made John Ssemwogerere, his brother, a partner. The brothers then hired one employee since they do most of the work.

Why bamboo?
The 35-year-old says there are many advantages that come with using this raw material.
“Not only is it strong and durable material but also, it is proof that you can do anything with bamboo just like making bicycle frames from it,” he says.
Kasoma purchases the bamboo from different suppliers across the country. A stem of bamboo, he says, costs him about Shs2,500 which is enough for making a single frame.
Recently, Kasoma decided to grow his own bamboo as well. He does it in Nakifuma County in Mukono District.
“I came up with this idea because of the taxing bit of the transportation. Imagine, having to spend a lot of money going all the way to Kisoro District to pick up bamboo stems? It is quite costly,” he says.

Challenges
The market for the product is small, Kasoma says.
“It is the reason why I mainly export the frames and do not sell them on the local market. Who will buy them here? People in Uganda are not really interested in purchasing these frames. What would they use them for? What they want is a finished bicycle and not a mere part,” he says.
In order to tackle this particular issue, Kasoma, says he is considering making bicycles in the near future and probably this is what will lure Ugandans to becoming his clients.
“I have done some bit of research on bicycle making as well as tried making a few samples from time to time. But I must admit that I still have a long way to go. I will be patient,” he says.
This is his main priority in the next few years.

Profits
“This business does not pay much. It is just sustainable. I can make about 10 frames in a month,” he says.
Kasoma charges $400 (about Shs1.3 million) for each frame and this is mainly because he deals with the European market.
He only wishes that people in Uganda were interested in purchasing the product just like his foreign clients.

The process

• Harvesting of the bamboo is normally done during the sunny season. The bamboo should be atleast three years old and thick.
• It is then treated with an insecticide and left to dry for a period of three months. In the process of drying, some of the stems split. These stems are discarded since they are not fit for use.
• The tubes are then tacked together with small metal shells. Tacking the joints is done using glue called epoxy resin. The joints are then wrapped using bark cloth material still soaked in epoxy resin.
• The wrapping is then left to dry for about eight hours and then shaping is done in order to attain smoothness.
•Clear varnish is then sprayed to make a protective coat.

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