UI grad student builds bamboo bike, rides across Iowa

Oraiz completes the 'back tire dip,' a tradition among many who participate in RAGBRAI.  -- photo via Vanessa Fixmer-Oraiz
A RAGBRAI tradition: Fixmer-Oraiz dips her back tire in the Missouri River. — photo via Vanessa Fixmer-Oraiz

For the past seven months, University of Iowa graduate student and Fulbright Scholar Vanessa Fixmer-Oraiz has been working on building a bamboo-frame bicycle to ride in RAGBRAI to raise awareness about the effects of global climate change on rural bamboo-craft communities in the Philippines. She hopes her trip, which she calls the “Bamboo on New Green Ground Ang (B.O.N.G.G.A, a play on the Filipino word for fabulous) Ride for Climate Justice in the Philippines,” will raise $40,000, enough to send a bamboo processing tank to the mountains of Luzon.

RAGBRAI is now officially underway, and on Monday night, with two days and roughly 120 miles of the race behind her, Fixmer-Oraiz said she was very pleased with how the bike had been performing.

Vanessa Fixmer-Oraiz
Fixmer-Oraiz hopes to raise funds for a bamboo processing tank.

“It’s great, it’s getting great speed and mileage,” Fixmer-Oraiz said. “I haven’t had any problems yet. It’s getting a lot of attention, I get stopped a lot by people on the ride asking about it.”

Fixmer-Oraiz has partnered with InHand Abra, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that helps rural Filipino farmers and craftspeople expand their bamboo production, thereby strengthening both their economy and their topsoil. According to Fixmer-Oraiz, many of the communities devastated by hurricane Yolanda last November were built on the unstable ground that makes up the region’s mountainsides. Heavy rainfall and high winds created landslides that destroyed entire communities. More than 600,000 people were displaced by the storm, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Increased bamboo production in the area could help mitigate these concerns due to the plant’s ability to quickly form underground root structures. Put simply, robust root systems create stable ground, making landslides less likely. With climate change creating typhoons of increasing strength in the region, Fixmer-Oraiz says these kinds of proactive steps can help to prevent future humanitarian crises.

“In terms of having solutions for climate change, we really do need to think of people who are most vulnerable,” Fixmer-Oraiz said. “Oftentimes those are rural people, rural communities, and they don’t have a lot of access to technology or education and they are often the ones that are left out of the equation.”

The bamboo processing tank that Fixmer-Oraiz seeks would dramatically speed up the bamboo drying process, creating a stronger final product. Traditional drying techniques currently practiced by craft workers take up to six weeks. By infusing the freshly harvested bamboo with chemicals like Borax — “Nothing terribly toxic!” Fixmer-Oraiz notes — the tank would cut drying time to two days.

You can follow Vanessa as she bikes across Iowa by visiting her blog, and donations can be made to her Indiegogo site here.

Witness the bamboo bike in all its glory!
Witness the bamboo bike in all its glory! — photo via Vanessa Fixmer-Oraiz


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