Cardboard bicycle can change the world, says Israeli inventor


A bicycle made almost entirely of cardboard has the potential to change transportation habits from the world's most congested cities to the poorest reaches of Africa, its Israeli inventor says.

Izhar Gafni, 50, is an expert in designing automated mass-production lines. He is an amateur cycling enthusiast who for years toyed with an idea of making a bicycle from cardboard.

He told Reuters during a recent demonstration that after much trial and error, his latest prototype has now proven itself and mass production will begin in a few months.

“I was always fascinated by applying unconventional technologies to materials and I did this on several occasions. But this was the culmination of a few things that came together. I worked for four years to cancel out the corrugated cardboard's weak structural points,” Gafni said.

“Making a cardboard box is easy and it can be very strong and durable, but to make a bicycle was extremely difficult and I had to find the right way to fold the cardboard in several different directions. It took a year and a half, with lots of testing and failure until I got it right,” he said.

Cardboard, made of wood pulp, was invented in the 19th century as sturdy packaging for carrying other more valuable objects, it has rarely been considered as raw material for things usually made of much stronger materials, such as metal.

Once the shape has been formed and cut, the cardboard is treated with a secret concoction made of organic materials to give it its waterproof and fireproof qualities. In the final stage, it is coated with lacquer paint for appearance.

In testing the durability of the treated cardboard, Gafni said he immersed a cross-section in a water tank for several months and it retained all its hardened characteristics.

Once ready for production, the bicycle will include no metal parts, even the brake mechanism and the wheel and pedal bearings will be made of recycled substances, although Gafni said he could not yet reveal those details due to pending patent issues.

“I'm repeatedly surprised at just how strong this material is, it is amazing. Once we are ready to go to production, the bike will have no metal parts at all,” Gafni said.

Cardboard Bike

Israeli inventor Izhar Gafni rides his cardboard bicycle in Moshav Ahituv, Israel, on Sept. 24. Photo by REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Gafni's workshop, a ramshackle garden shed, is typically the sort of place where legendary inventions are born. It is crammed with tools and bicycle parts and cardboard is strewn everywhere.

One of his first models was a push bike he made as a toy for his young daughter which she is still using months later.

Gafni owns several top-of-the-range bicycles which he said are worth thousands of dollars each, but when his own creation reaches mass production, it should cost no more than about $20 to buy. The cost of materials used are estimated at $9 per unit.

“When we started, a year and a half or two years ago, people laughed at us, but now we are getting at least a dozen e-mails every day asking where they can buy such a bicycle, so this really makes me hopeful that we will succeed,” he said.

A ride of the prototype was quite stiff, but generally no different to other ordinary basic bikes.

“GAME CHANGER”

Nimrod Elmish, Gafni's business partner, said cardboard and other recycled materials could bring a major change in current production norms because grants and rebates would only be given for local production and there would be no financial benefits by making bicycles in cheap labour markets.

“This is a real game-changer. It changes … the way products are manufactured and shipped, it causes factories to be built everywhere instead of moving production to cheaper labour markets, everything that we have known in the production world can change,” he said.

Elmish said the cardboard bikes would be made on largely automated production lines and would be supplemented by a workforce comprising pensioners and the disabled.

He said that apart from the social benefits this would provide for all concerned, it would also garner government grants for the manufacturers.

Elmish said the business model they had created meant that rebates for using “green” materials would entirely cancel out production costs and this could allow for bicycles to be given away for free in poor countries.

Producers would reap financial rewards from advertisements such as from multinational companies who would pay for their logo to be part of the frame, he explained.

Cardboard Bike Construction

Israeli inventor Izhar Gafni demonstrates how he makes his cardboard bicycle in his workshop in Moshav Ahituv, Israel, on Sept. 24. Photo by REUTERS/Baz Ratner

“Because you get a lot of government grants, it brings down the production costs to zero, so the bicycles can be given away for free. We are copying a business model from the high-tech world where software is distributed free because it includes embedded advertising,” Elmish explained.

“It could be sold for around $20, because (retailers) have to make a profit … and we think they should not cost any more than that. We will make our money from advertising,” he added.

Elmish said initial production was set to begin in Israel in months on three bicycle models and a wheelchair and they will be available to purchase within a year.

“In six months we will have completed planning the first production lines for an urban bike which will be assisted by an electric motor, a youth bike which will be a 2/3 size model for children in Africa, a balance bike for youngsters learning to ride, and a wheelchair that a non-profit organisation wants to build with our technology for Africa,” he said.

CHEAP AND LIGHT

The bicycles are not only very cheap to make, they are very light and do not need to be adjusted or repaired, the solid tyres that are made of reconstituted rubber from old car tyres will never get a puncture, Elmish said.

“These bikes need no maintenance and no adjustment, a car timing belt is used instead of a chain, and the tyres do not need inflating and can last for 10 years,” he said.

A full-size cardboard bicycle will weigh around 9 kg (about 20 lbs) compared to an average metal bicycle, which weight around 14 kg.

The urban bicycle, similar to London's “Boris bikes” and others worldwide, will have a mounting for a personal electric motor. Commuters would buy one and use it for their journey and then take it home or to work where it could be recharged.

He said that as bicycles would be so cheap, it hardly mattered how long they lasted.

“So you buy one, use it for a year and then you can buy another one, and if it breaks, you can take it back to the factory and recycle it,” he said.

Gafni predicted that in the future, cardboard might even be used in cars and even aircraft “but that is still a way down the road.”

“We are just at the beginning and from here my vision is to see cardboard replacing metals … and countries that right now don't have the money, will be able to benefit from so many uses for this material,” he said.

Writing by Ori Lewis, editing by Paul Casciato

El Al to honor cheap tickets to Israel from glitch


El Al Airlines said it will honor all tickets purchased during a glitch that had thousands of round-trip tickets selling for as low as $330.

The airline also announced Thursday that those who purchased tickets three days earlier at the hugely discounted fare would be given the opportunity to convert their tickets to a direct flight provided by El Al for an additional $75 each way rather than fly with a codeshare partner with a connecting flight in Europe.

“Although a review of this occurence has not been finalized, a decision was made to accommodate El Al passengers who purchased these low fares because we value our reputation of offering excellent customer service,” said Danny Saadon, El Al’s vice president of North America, in a statement released Thursday. “Hopefully we have provided an opportunity to many first timers to visit Israel as well as reconnect family and friends.”

A full refund without penalty also will be offered to passengers who wish to cancel their ticket.

The glitch was the result of a third party subcontracted by El Al to post the Israeli airline’s winter promotional fares online. According to El Al, the discounted airfares were the result of the subcontractor failing to add the fuel surcharge to the total price.

In an interview Thursday with JTA, Saadon took credit for pitching the idea to honor the fares to El Al President and CEO Elyezer Shkedy, but said the decision for the direct flight add-on was Shkedy’s.

“If we’re honoring passengers’ tickets, let’s also offer them an opportunity to fly with El Al, and make life easier for families that might lose baggage and lose a connection,” Saadon said in explaining the company’s rationale behind the add-on offer.

On Tuesday, the day after the glitch set off a three-hour buying frenzy, an El Al spokesperson told The New York Jewish Week that the status of tickets purchased during the frenzy was “unclear.” The position was reinforced Wednesday by a follow-up statement posted to the company’s Twitter feed.

“Thanks for your patience,” the tweet read. “Details/decisions re incorrect fares that were briefly sold on Monday are not finalized.”

The wavering was in contrast to two separate Twitter posts on Monday afternoon that pledged to honor the tickets. Saadon in the JTA interview acknowledged that the company’s posts via Twitter on Monday may have been a contributing factor in the decision to honor the tickets.

“Once we said it, we may as well follow our word,” Saadon said.

The decision to honor was “mainly to save face with El Al,” he said. “We’re talking about thousands of passengers. Most are customers anyways, they just took advantage of a ticket that was available at a low price. We’d rather keep them flying with El Al without disappointing them.”

To minimize exposure to similar glitches in the future, Saadon said that El Al will review fares before they are posted online and maintain a buffer of two hours before the process is finalized.

“I’m very pleased with the decision we made,” he said. “Our customers are very important to us and we want them to fly El Al.”

Due to snafu, tickets to Israel go on sale for as little as $330


Two months ago, Miriam Leichtling’s parents lost their jobs within a week of each other.

For several months, Leichtling, a New York designer who has led several organized trips to Israel, had been agonizing over how to scrape together enough money to send her parents, ages 66 and 71, to Israel. But the cost of airfare for three – normally starting at about $1,000 per ticket, with a layover—was prohibitive.

“My parents were teachers who worked hard all their lives,” Leichtling said. “Whatever extra they had went to sending their kids through Jewish schools.”

Then, on Monday, she got an email from a neighborhood friend alerting her that round-trip tickets to Israel were on sale for under $400. At first, Leichtling, like many others who got the news, couldn’t believe it.

“The subject line said ‘tickets to Israel under $400.’ It looked like spam; I normally don’t bother with these things,” she said.

But it was no hoax.

Due to an error by a subcontractor handling El Al’s winter promotional fares, flights to Israel from a few U.S. cities, including New York, Boston and Chicago, on Israel’s national airline and codeshare partners were selling for as low $330. Many other tickets from November through March were available for less than $460, including all taxes and fees. The snafu affected El Al codeshare flights routed through a number of European cities and was available for several hours on Monday.

“On a daily basis, any published airfare consists of the basic fare, a fuel surcharge and taxes,” El Al later said in a statement. “In this situation, the fuel surcharge was omitted.”

When bargain websites began alerting readers to the fares, a buying frenzy ensued.

“It eventually took my entire server down,” said Daniel Eleff, founder and owner of the bargain hunting website DansDeals.com, which posted an item about the fares around 11 a.m. “A hundred thousand people tried accessing the site within a couple of hours.”

Word of mouth, Facebook and Twitter fueled the buying spree.

James Lapin, a grant manager at Columbia University, saw the deal posted at 12:15 p.m. on the Twitter account @YeahThatsKosher run by Jewish blogger and social media professional Dani Klein. He went to Expedia.com and booked a flight.

“My wife is actually the one that is subscribed to airfare alerts but usually more for domestic flights since going to Israel is so out of our price range,” Lapin said.

For Lapin, as for many others who have not visited Israel in years, the fare presented a unique opportunity to make a trip they otherwise could not afford.

“The last time I was there was right after I got married more than 10 years ago,” Lapin said. “My three kids have never been and I had been bemoaning the fact that we weren’t able to go. I was actually thinking of saving up just to send my wife with one of them.”

Despite the cheap fares having been offered in error, El Al said it would honor the tickets, which reportedly numbered in the thousands.

“An outside company posted incorrect fares on travel websites, so all tickets sold will indeed be honored,” the company wrote via Twitter at around 6 p.m. Monday, when the inexpensive prices were no longer available.

This is not the first time in recent years there have been super-cheap flights to Israel. In July 2010, US Airways offered a promotional fare from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv for $278. But tickets for that promotion were limited to 30 seats.

David Zimet, 24, an airfare enthusiast and social media team leader for Domino’s Pizza, managed to book two tickets that time. On Monday, when the tickets seem unlimited, he wasn’t fast enough.

But Leichtling and many others were. “My friend purchased 19 tickets for her whole family; they go every six weeks,” Leichtling said.

She was able to buy tickets for herself and her parents for a total of $1,259 – slightly more than a third of what it normally costs to make the trip in late December.

“I must have cried four times just thinking about taking my parents to the Western Wall,” Leichtling said. “This is an opportunity that never ever would have presented itself any other way.”

Camp Max Strauss taking applications for low-cost Chanukah sleep-away


Camp Max Strauss, which is holding a four-night sleep-away Chanukah camp at a very low cost for children of families in need, is still accepting applications for this year’s camp, which will take place Dec. 18-22.

Camp Max Strauss partners with the Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters program, which provides young-adult mentors for young Jewish children in working-class and single-parent homes. The four-night camp for ages 7 to 14, costs $200 per child; families in need of financial assistance should apply for camperships. 

Located in Glendale, Camp Max Strauss provides transportation to and from camp, sports activities, arts and crafts, cooking classes, Judaica classes and sing-alongs with Jewish song leaders and rabbis.

To enroll, contact Andres Diaz at (323) 456-1153 or online at adiaz@jbbbsla.org.