Beyond the bike

Israeli-invented origami-style reinforced cardboard could eventually replace metal, super-green bicycle inventor says

Izhar Gafni rides the cardboard bicycle he developed for the first time in public on stage at Microsoft's ThinkNext event. (Photo credit: Dror Garti/Flash90)
Izhar Gafni rides the cardboard bicycle he developed for the first time in public on stage at Microsoft's ThinkNext event. (Photo credit: Dror Garti/Flash90)

The world finally got to see the new Israeli invention that has been making waves in the world media – the cardboard bicycle, invented by Itzhar Gafni and marketed together with his partner, Nimrod Elmish. To the cheers and applause of some 1,000 people at the Microsoft ThinkNext event in Tel Aviv this week, Gafni rode one of his cardboard bikes on stage, while Elmish extolled its waterproof, fireproof, and “pollution-proof” qualities.

In fact, said Elmish, the reinforced cardboard that the bike is made has many more uses. “In 10 years, they will using this material to make components for spaceships that will take people to the moon,” he told the ThinkNext crowd.

The bike was officially unveiled at a small press conference last month, but the ThinkNext event marked the first time it was seen by a large crowd. The bike itself is mostly recycled cardboard — reinforced corrugated paper that had been used for packing boxes, etc. — along with recycled rubber (for the tires) and plastic (used for the seat and some of the gears) made out of recycled bottles. “It’s one of the most green products you can imagine,” Elmish said.

Gafni makes his super-strong material by using origami-style folding on the cardboard, which is then treated to reinforce it — making the material many times stronger than it was in cardboard form. It’s strong enough to compete with metal and steel, said Elmish, which he expects the cardboard material will begin to replace. “It’s lighter and just as strong,” he said, as he showed a video portraying the capabilities of the material. “You could make a platform that could lift a car from this material,” he said, as the video demonstrated just that.

Elmish said he got involved with the project after getting a call from Gafni, an old friend, who appealed to him for help in getting word of the bike out to investors and the public. Elmish has been in the “angel business” — helping start-ups secure financing and business — for years, and currently heads his own investment house. As such, he said, he comes across many great ideas and products, and gets many offers for partnerships — but this project is different, with a lot more promise and potential than most.

It’s for that reason he signed on as CEO of the company he started with Gafni, I. G. Cardboard Technologies. “This bicycle contains only $9 worth of materials,” Elmish said, making it perfect for use in third world countries. In fact, he and Gafni are already working on a partnership with an organization active in Africa to make and sell not only bicycles, but wheelchairs, which will be made of the innovative material. “There is much to say about cardboard,” Elmish added. “This bicycle is the beginning of a materials revolution.”

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