Beginning as a social enterprise in 2001 with a mission to change the lives of rural women of Vietnam and Cambodia, Mekong Quilts is no stranger to the world of artisanal handicraft.
From handmade quilts to festive gifts, bags and ethnic-inspired fashion, Mekong Quilts’ extensive range of sustainably-made products are gifts that give twice—loved by the recipient and an unspoken catalyst that sparks a chain of beneficial changes to the lives of underprivileged artisans and their families.
But did you know that beyond handicrafts, Mekong Quilts also makes a line of bamboo-made two wheels?
Bamboo Bicycle innovation at Mekong Quilts’
In early 2010, Mekong Quilts’ founding director Bernard Kervyn was inspired by a documentary about Calfee Design based in California—one of the world’s key lines of bamboo bicycles.
After no response was received when Mekong Quilts’ reached out for a potential collaboration, Bernard decided it was apt for the social enterprise to begin research & design on its own. And not without reason.
“Bamboo is such an abundant plant [in Vietnam]!” Bernard exclaimed, explaining the first burst of innocent motivation that sparked 22 failed attempts over the course of 4 years before the team released its first bamboo bicycle in 2014.
One of Mekong Quilts’ bamboo bike during a Saigon Bamboo Bike Excursion
The physics and technology behind bamboo bicycles
Apart from industry-standard tires, rims, and joints reinforced using a durable mixture of organic hemp fibre and epoxy, Mekong Quilts bamboo bicycles sport a frame that is composed of tầm vông bamboo from Vietnam’s coastal Bình Thuận province—famed for its durability, it is often nicknamed the iron bamboo by locals.
Bamboo is often said to be stronger than steel due to its strength and flexibility
“Bamboo’s main advantage is its tensile strength, that is why you get a comfortable ride even without dedicated suspension!” Bernard explained, emphasising how bamboo’s resistance to splitting makes it measurably tougher than steel, aluminium, and brittle carbon fibre which is prone to shattering on impact.
Surprisingly, bamboo remains the most popular material for erecting construction scaffolding in Hong Kong—a practice that has survived until today for more than a Millennium.
A closer look at the bamboo bike’s joints, reinforced using a durable mixture of organic hemp fiber and epoxy
Today, Mekong Quilts’ line of bamboo bicycles has something to offer to every member of the family and every type of commuter. From lightweight city bicycles to battery-powered ‘fat bikes’ sporting tires designed to challenge even the worst off-roads, you’ll also find helmets and bottle holders made of 100% bamboo.
Bernard Kervyn posing in front of its line of electric bamboo bikes
Discovering Indochina for a Good Cause on Bamboo Bicycles
Perhaps the greatest motivation for Mekong Quilts’ when it comes to fabricating bamboo bicycles is how this effective yet refreshingly novel vehicle has become the social enterprise’s preferred mode of transportation for guests to visit its community projects in Vietnam and beyond.
“The goal of Mekong Quilts’ biking tours is two-fold,” Bernard added, elaborating on how the tours aim to bring people to faraway regions to experience rural life and discovering the mission of Mekong Quilts and its’ sister non-profit organisation Mekong Plus that focuses on education, infrastructural, healthcare and agricultural initiatives to improve life in the region.
Tours for expatriates and locals near Ho Chi Minh City are organised every weekend in nearby District 12—a green sanctuary hidden in the concrete jungle of one of Southeast Asia’s fastest-growing cities.
A few people participating in the Saigon Bamboo Bike Excursion in Ho Chi Minh City’s Thanh Da Island
For adventurous participants with more time on their hands, tours to Long Mỹ district in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta-centred Hậu Giang Province combine a weekend of bamboo bicycling with visits to numerous projects led by Mekong Plus and NPO Ánh Dương Centre—an indispensable partner that has helped create innovative small-scale agronomy strategies that have uplifted the lives of locals.
Beyond innovative straw mushrooms grown on hay treated with Trichoderma fungi to paddy and eel cultivation that requires less than 10m2 of space, cyclists will also visit Mekong Quilts’ workgroups run by nimble-handed ladies making quilts and other sustainable handicrafts.
Eel farm in the Mekong Delta
“Mekong Quilts’ water hyacinth bag workshops are now up and running again [after the pandemic],” Ms Hồ Thị Kim Chúc, project director at Ánh Dương centre, said.
Visitors may also take part in the process of making papier-mâché gifts with locals.
Seemingly uncomplicated to make, recycled paper is soaked extensively for 24 hours before being fashioned into aesthetically pleasing shapes such as plates and Christmas decorations with glue. A batch of waterproof papier-mâché vases that are painted and lacquered take a full week to complete.
“These [papier-mâché items] are made by almost 20 women in Vietnam and Cambodia,” Chúc said, explaining how initiatives like these help create sustainable employment for Mekong Quilts’ main beneficiaries.
For the adventurous, bicycle tours to Ninh Thuận province in coastal Vietnam add rafting, mountain trekking and culturally-rich visits to projects featuring the Cham ethnic minority.
Depending on the amount of physical activity one expects, daily distances may range from 10 to 25 kilometres and are children-friendly with plenty of water and volunteers who are always ready to assist.
“From our experience, young children are more energetic than their parents!” Bernard insists.
Join Mekong Quilts’ exciting Bamboo Bicycle tours today
Mekong Quilts’ bicycle tours can also be customised to bring you across borders from Vietnam to Cambodia where participants can opt to ride the unique bamboo bicycles around the ancient wonders of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap after a cause-driven visit to Svay Rieng, Mekong Quilts’ centre of social projects in Cambodia.
Sunset over Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Participants only need to pledge a contribution of VND1,300,000 (US$50) a day to embark on any of these unique experiences.
For more information about public and private Mekong Quilts’ bamboo bicycle tours and designing a special one for your family or organisation, visit the Facebook page or email Mekong Quilts’ at email@example.com today.
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