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Difference Maker

Izhar Gafni invents a cardboard bicycle that may revolutionize transportation

His two-wheeled creation, a $20 bike made out of cardboard, could revolutionize bicycling, especially in the developing world.

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Getting to this point in the development of his cardboard bicycle has been a labor of love.

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As an amateur cycling enthusiast, Gafni was inspired to create a bicycle using common cardboard following a visit four years ago to a local cycling store, he says.

"We were all chatting in the store, and somehow started discussing how someone had built a canoe out of cardboard," he recalls. "It was this canoe that was sitting in the back of my head when it suddenly struck me: Why not make a bicycle out of cardboard, too?"

Even though friends and experts warned him that it could not be done, Gafni refused to give up, growing ever more determined to take on what appeared to be an impossible challenge.

"There is really no knowledge of how to work with cardboard except for using it to make packages," he explains, describing how he started to explore the material, which is essentially made from wood pulp, folding it in a variety of ways like origami and adding a mixture of glue and varnish to get it to the strength he desired.

When he finished building the first model, Gafni, who weighs about 250 pounds, and a friend of a similar weight, took turns riding the bike. "It was a really exciting moment, a real triumph that it withheld our weight and did not crumble or collapse," Gafni recalls.

At that moment he realized that creating a usable bicycle made of cardboard was not impossible after all.

The moment of glory passed fairly quickly, says Gafni, who quickly went back to work perfecting his design, which, despite the launch of his first model, is still only in the developmental stages.

"It is still a work in progress, and we are still looking at how to create a design that can be mass-produced," says Gafni, who together with his business partner, Nimrod Elmish, hopes to sell the bicycle to markets in Africa in the near future.

Mr. Elmish, who represents the Israeli high-tech incubation company ERB, says he is hoping to use various kinds of funding, including government grants and rebates for using green materials, to ultimately reduce much of the production cost and allow the bikes to be sold at retail for no more than $20.

"There is no doubt that cheap bikes at $20 a pop could really transform the lives of people living in poor countries who need to walk ... to get to a clinic for medical treatment or find work," says Karin Kloosterman, founder and editor of the Middle East's premier environmental news website, Green Prophet. She has closely monitored the development of Gafni's bike.

"Whether consumers from India to New York will buy it, I can't say," she says. But the bike's low retail price could also make it attractive to people in wealthier countries who often have their bikes stolen or lost and do not want to invest too much money in buying a new one, she points out.

"If the value is reduced to nothing more than a small, plastic shopping cart you find at grocery stores, then it will really take the stress out of protecting your bike," Ms. Kloosterman says.

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