RIPPL #46: Bogbi – handmade cargo bikes for peace in Colombia

“To make high quality cool products AND to contribute to a Colombia in peace.”

That’s the vision of Bogbi, a new Bogotá-based Colombian-Norwegian cargo bike manufacturer with a social vision. The initiative is the brainchild of Colombian Eduardo Moreno and Sigurd Kihl, who met in 2016 through their wives. Both are industrial designers and the pair quickly bonded over Bogotá’s terrible traffic; both expressed a desire to transport their children and goods around without cars. Problems for which, it seemed to them, a cargo bike would be the perfect solution.

However, a combination of the unavailability of cargo bikes in Colombia coupled with the relative expense of importing them from abroad led to a decision to develop their own locally built cargo bike. They enlisted the help of Johanes Hegdahl, a Norwegian product designer who had been working in Uganda, to develop their new machine. Hegdahl came over to Bogotá for a month and together they designed and built the first working Bogbi prototype, using money raised from a crowdfunding effort. Following this, Heghdal joined the company as an owner. David Duarte and Robinson Heredia, master welders from the well known Duarte family frame building company also based in Bogotá, brought production experience to the team.

The Bike
The bike has a distinctive frame and length-saving cable steering. Photo credit: Tom Parr

The graceful, distinctive frame is 100% stainless steel (grade 304) and has several unusual features, the most striking of which is the steering system. The team developed a system operated by a single cable. It does away with the traditional steering column which, according to Moreno, allowed them to shave 40cm from the length of the bike. It measures 220cm and weighs in at 24kg. Norwegian involvement ensured that extra clearance was allowed for in the frame – to allow for very wide tyres for nordic conditions; snow and rough terrain. The team also developed a hammock-style suspended child’s seat.

The unusual steering bridge, showing the steering cable. The structure also acts as a roll-cage to protect children in the event of an accident. Photo credit: Tom Parr
Bogbi’s Social Role

Colombia has suffered decades of conflict between the government and various armed groups, most notably FARC, dating back to the 1960s. In June 2016 a ceasefire was signed between the FARC and the government, followed by a referendum in which a slim majority of the population voted to support the resulting peace accord. So began the long process of national reconciliation.

One of the results of the end of the conflict is that a generation of “demobilised” fighters from various groups now need to reintegrate into society. The task of reintegrating this often vulnerable group of men, women and children (it’s estimated that around 20-30% of FARC recruits were minors and 40% were female) is so formidable that it’s become a government priority.

The Bogbi team build a prototype in the workshop. Photo credit: Bogbi

Bogbi aim to make a contribution to this effort by providing vocational training and eventually employment to ex-FARC fighters. It’s an opportunity for them to gain valuable skills and experience as mechanics, firstly on Bogbi’s assembly line and later in bike workshops elsewhere. They are given fair working conditions too. In order to help their trainees to build a sustainable foundation in their new lives, Bogbi pays a living wage which is three times the minimum wage. For co-founder and CEO Eduardo Moreno, this last point is key: “it’s about doing the right thing; we want to make a profit and do some good”.

Partners

Support for the social side of the initiative comes from several partners, including the Norwegian Refugee Council and Colombian cycling advocacy group Mehor en Bici. Also involved are International Development Norway (IDN), whose long term aim with this project is:

to create a business model that enables partners in other developing countries to produce cargo bikes and create local urban logistics services

A proud Eduardo Moreno at the International Cargo Bike Festival in Berlin. Photo credit: Tom Parr

IDN is also involved in several interconnected pilot projects which aim to develop last-mile logistics more generally in Colombia, such as a last-mile hub in Bogotá and an IT platform which will allow integration between multiple logistics operators.

Next steps

Having created 3 prototype since 2016, Bogbi are now taking pre-orders for the first production models which will ship to customers in Colombia, Scandinavia and beyond.

In a country such as Colombia, where cycling is practically the national sport and figures from the pro peloton such as Nairo Quintana and Esteban Chaves are household names subjected to hero-worship, it’s good to see cycle logistics gaining a foothold. Green shoots grow from fertile ground, and with a combination of local vision, a social conscience and support from countries such as Norway, Bogbi is an example of the ability of cargo bikes to bridge divides and create opportunities. This is true not only in Europe, but also across the developing world.

Bogbi’s child hammock seat. Photo credit: Bogbi

Sources:
Interview with Eduardo Moreno at the International Cargo Bike Festival 2018, Berlin, 15/04/2018
International Development Norway: “BOGBI – cargo bikes for green logistics”
Finnpartnership: “Bogbi SAS”