Thinking Outside the Box

Israeli Invents Cardboard Bicycle

1816 is known  historically as, “The Year Without A Summer.”  In Indonesia, the largest volcanic eruptions ever recorded occurred, with atmospheric ashes spreading over the Northern Hemispheres of Europe and America.  This resulted in the blockage of the sun’s rays and caused a summer of falling snow and iced lakes.  For instance – in Albany, the temperature in May never rose above freezing and in  Quebec City, a foot of snow fell in the middle of June. It was an agricultural disaster as frost killed off crop after crop.  Food prices skyrocketed, famine was widespread, and riots were not uncommon.  Many thousands left New England and headed for America’s heartland to start a new life, including Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism.  One person who did not move that summer was the great German inventor, Karl Drais.  The full length of his name  (Karl Friedrich Christian Ludwig Freiherr Drais von Sauerbronn) bespeaks the total list of his inventions (first typewriter, first keyboard, first stenography machine, first player piano, first meat grinder).  One day in the middle of “The Year Without Summer” the professor of mechanical engineering noticed the lack of horse-drawn transportation in Berlin as the scarcity of oats had killed off endless horses. So Drais came up with the first form of horse-less transport, the two-wheel bicycle.  He then demonstrated it by covering a distance of seven miles in one hour.  Now almost 200 years later, another professor of mechanical engineering, Izhar Gafni, is re-inventing the bicycle.

But this time, not in its mechanics, but in its construction.  Although they told him it couldn’t be done, Gafni, who lives on a kibbutz in Israel, has found a way to construct a sturdy, waterproof, fireproof bicycle made almost entirely of cardboard, with some recycled plastic and reconstituted rubber.  The inventor states, “Making a cardboard box is easy and it can be very strong and durable, but to make a bicycle out of it was extremely difficult.   I had to find a way to fold the cardboard in several different directions and at the same time cancel out the corrugated cardboard’s weak structural points.  It took years of testing and failure until I got it right.”  Once the shape has been formed, the cardboard is treated with a secret  concoction made of organic materials to give it its waterproof and fireproof qualities.  In the final stage, it is then coated with laquer paint for appearance.  In testing the durability of the treated cardboard, Gafni said he immersed a cross-section in a water tank for several months and it retained its hardened characteristics.   The bike has no metal parts (a car timing-belt is used for the chain) and the wheels will not go flat (the solid tires, made from old car tires, are puncture-proof and require no inflating).  The bicycle is a light twenty pounds and sturdy enough to carry up to 400 pounds.  It needs no adjustment, maintenance, or repair.  And best of all, it’s cheap to build.  Gafni prices production cost at $10 per bike and retailing at $20 each.  Already in the works is a cardboard bike to which a motor can be attached, as well as cardboard baby strollers and cardboard wheel chairs. (picture at back)

Izhar’s motivation in all of this?  To be able to supply third-world countries with self-propelled means of transportation they couldn’t otherwise afford.  Another blessing from a single Jew to the entire world as he has given a whole new meaning to the word – re-cycling.