A project that blossomed from a lifelong love of cycling may soon change the lives of people locally — and around the world.
Pedal Forward — founded by college friends Matthew Wilkins and Christopher Deschenes in 2012 — is the company behind a line of affordable bamboo bicycles that will also support access to bicycles in developing countries.
The idea sprouted from Wilkins’ love for riding a bicycle that developed as a child when his family’s idea of a vacation was to take long bike rides. What started as small rides became long ones stretching from his home in Long Island to places like Boston and Montreal.
Wilkins went on to study engineering at George Washington University and took course in manufacturing, which made him think about building a bicycle.
Although the process of constructing a bike was too much for the class, Wilkins’ desire was still there.
“I said I love bikes, I love building things, it’s time for me to build a bike,” Wilkins said. “I decided I wanted to build a bike but the question was, what do I build it out of?”
After eliminating the use of material such as steel, aluminum and titanium Wilkins did some research and discovered the concept of bamboo bicycles, which date back to the 1890s.
He remembered his family home had bamboo growing in the backyard, chopped some down and built his first bike. And although it was just the first model and still needed improvement, Wilkins said it was proof that it could be done.
From there Deschenes encouraged Wilkins to take part in the Clinton Global Initiative University conference and submit the project. By March 2012, the team was voted winner of the CGI U Commitment Bracket and got to meet former President Bill Clinton and presenter Jon Stewart.
Wilkins said he then decided to spend time refining the bike model, going through different prototypes, testing different designs, until finally creating the current bicycle.
With coming up with a way to narrow down production time to only two hours per bike, each Pedal Forward bicycle is only $500 — compared to other bamboo bikes that start at $2,000. Wilkins also added that bamboo allows the bicycles to be lightweight and super shock absorbent, along with looking unique.
The business model of the company has also shifted since day one, and now the plan is to take a percentage of each local bicycle sale and use the money to purchase bicycles from independent dealers in developing countries. Those bikes would then be given to partners who would then distribute them to specific groups in need.
In the next few years, they would like to be able to build the bamboo bicycles in the developing countries and be able to provide jobs while also offering the bicycles at a lower price.
With the plan all ready to roll out, the next hurdle the group will have to pedal through is raising a goal of $40,000 via a Kickstarter campaign. The funds will go towards opening a manufacturing shop in New York City — either in Long Island City, Queens or the Bronx — and also bulk order bicycle components.
“We have this product, we love it and we think that people love it and we need to raise [the money] in order to fulfill our goal,” Wilkins said.
Once the company is able to start manufacturing the bicycles, Pedal Forward has also partnered up with the New York City chapter of Back on My Feet — a national organization that aim to use running to help homeless individuals change their lives. Through this partnership, Pedal Forward will hire individuals that come through the organization to manufacture the bicycles.
“I hope that [people] share our values and see the impact that we are trying to do and see how important it is,” Wilkins said. “[I hope they] see how innovative this idea is to help people right in our back yard, while at the same time people around the world.”
To celebrate their Kickstarter campaign and also give people the opportunity to see and feel the bicycles in person, Pedal Forward will hold a free party on Wednesday, Jan. 27 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at WeWork, located at 81 Prospect St.