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Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012

Store debuts Zambia bamboo bikes


By SATOKO KAWASAKI
Staff writer

A bicycle shop in Tokyo's Harajuku district has started selling bikes with bamboo frames made in Zambia, hoping riders hop on.

News photo
Out of Africa: Takaya Fukuda assembles a Zambikes bamboo bicycle at F.I.G bike in Harajuku, Tokyo, last Thursday. SATOKO KAWASAKI

F.I.G bike's Harajuku branch earlier this month began selling the unique Zambikes, produced by social venture firm Zambikes established by Americans and local people in Lusaka in 2006, according to Takaya Fukuda, sales department manager at the bicycle shop

The venture firm was set up to create jobs for citizens of Zambia, whose unemployment rate reportedly ranges from around 50 to 80 percent.

Thanks to its success, the company has created more than 100 jobs and in the past five years has turned out more than 10,000 bicycles as well as more than 1,000 emergency bicycles used for transporting patients to doctors.

To make its success sustainable, the venture firm began exporting the bamboo-framed bikes to other countries last year, and Tokyo-based importer Alliance Factory began taking orders last month, becoming Zambikes' sales agent in Japan.

"The reason we decided to introduce this product to Japan is not just because they have bamboo frames. The biggest reason is that they are made by a social venture firm that aims to save people's lives in Zambia by providing bicycles, which became 'people's feet to survive,' " said Tetsuya Yamamoto, president of Alliance Factory.

Many deaths in the southern African country have been attributed to a shortage of doctors and lack of a comprehensive public transport system to handle people in need of emergency care.

The mortality rate for pregnant women, for example, is believed to be some 78 times higher than in Japan, while the mortality rate for infants is reportedly about 43 times that of Japan, according to joint report by U.N. organizations such as the World Bank and the U.N. Population Fund.

The bicycle frames are constructed from tough bamboo grown behind a Zambikes' factory, and they are bound using sisal — tough cord made from plant fiber soaked in epoxy. The frames are processed to make them waterproof.

In Japan, Zambikes sell for ¥99,750 at the Harajuku shop as well as from the website of Alliance Factory. Yamamoto said his company hopes to expand its sales network across Japan.



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