BAMBOO. Who would have thought that such a plant would be so versatile allowing it to be used for a variety of things -- building materials, fabric, cooking food, to make home decor, among other things.

However, Filipino inventor and innovator Nicolas T. Wijangco has engineered bamboo to create the bamboo electric bike (e-bike).

"I always believed in bamboo. It’s a material that has very great promise. A lot of people have this misconception, bamboo is only for handicrafts and building nipa hats and all that. Sabi ko (I said), I will take this several steps further and prove to the world... to let them know that bamboo has special qualities in terms of tensile strength. It is almost at par with carbon fiber," Wijangco said in an interview with SunStar Davao in June 2022.

He pointed out that "a lot of people tend to use bamboo as is, [but] they still do not have the concept of engineering the bamboo."

Bamboo bikes are nothing new. However, Wijangco pointed out that the bamboo bikes in the market are using bamboo in their natural state. He takes the bamboo used for the e-bike to the next level by making it "stronger" through engineering.

"In engineering bamboo, you try to use the strong parts, and the reason they end up being called 'engineered' is you laminate them together... you laminate in joining or gluing together the strongest parts of the bamboo," Wijangco said.

For the e-bike, Wijangco uses the Kawayan tinik (Bambusa blumeana), which is known for its durability. This type of bamboo is commonly used for construction, furniture, and handicrafts, among others.

Wijangco said he has been developing the bamboo e-bike for quite some time now because of his desire to show people that if treated properly, bamboo can be very dependable and long-lasting. As to it becoming an e-bike, he was inspired by electric vehicles when he was still living in the United States in the 70's.

During the interview in June, Wijangco already had one bamboo e-bike prototype and two engineered bamboo bikes. The bikes were designed for his personal use and are not yet in commercial production.

To ensure that the bamboo does not decay, Wijangco properly treats it in a borax solution. Once it dries, the bamboo will be ready for use.

Both of the non-electric bikes featured frames of intricately woven bamboo strips. One of the bikes was also displayed in one of the Department of Science and Technology's Regional Invention Contest and Exhibits at what was formerly the NCCC Mall Davao along Gen. Douglas MacArthur Highway, Matina.

The e-bike, on the other hand, still features an engineered bamboo frame but does not have the intricate woven texture of the two non-electric bikes. The motor has been placed under the down tube of the frame while its other electrical components are in a box attached to the frame's seat tube. A digital speedometer can also be found at the center of the handlebars.

The current e-bike prototype can run at a speed of 14 kilometers per hour (km/h), which is supported by a 500 watts motor.

At present, Wijangco said the bamboo e-bikes he has been developing were for his friend in North America. This friend of his was selling standard commercial e-bikes that use alloys and carbon fiber for their bike frames but there were none using native materials like bamboo.

"I wanted to offer a line of bamboo e-bikes... They were really impressed in the States. So, right away, they said, let’s build a bigger one [motor]," Wijangco said, adding that he will be increasing the motor to 750 watts.

Wijangco added that he was also presented with a challenge to make the bike versatile.

"They wanted something dual purpose -- the average citizen can use it to go to the market or on weekends if he or she wants to go do some trail riding the bicycle should be sturdy enough," he said.

To address this, Wijangco has placed the bike's motor a little bit higher compared to the standard placement in some e-bikes.

Meanwhile, the inventor and innovator said he is happy to support the developments or programs for the development of the bamboo industry in the country. For example, he welcomes the P1.2 billion commitment of the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) to help the Mindanao bamboo industry development program.

He is also glad to know that there is a growing movement to boost the local bamboo industry in the country. In a way, he said he is also helping raise awareness by developing the bamboo bike and bamboo e-bike.

Beyond developing a bike using native materials, Wijangco emphasized that the bamboo e-bike is one way of showing people how bamboo can be further engineered to come up with value-added bamboo products. RJL