my Boo, a young company from Kiel in Germany, develops and produces sustainable bikes using bamboo. BikeBiz caught up with founder and CEO Maximilian Schay as the company turns its attention to the UK market
Can you give us a little background on the my Boo brand?
my Boo develops and produces high-quality bicycles made from the sustainable raw material bamboo. It succeeds in combining social engagement, an innovative product and sustainable economic activity all at once. In 2012, our two founders – Maximilian Schay and Jonas Stolze – got inspired by a photo of a simple assembled bamboo bicycle. Soon, the idea was born to found a company that successfully reconciles social commitment, an innovative product and sustainable economic activity.
In 2013, my Boo started producing the bicycle frames together with a social project in Ghana, where the bamboo grows. The aim of the project is to provide educational opportunities for children, adolescents and women in rural Ghana so that they have a chance to take their future into their own hands. Today, my Boo is Europe’s largest bamboo bike manufacturer with a team of 25 in Germany and 35 frame builders in the partner project in Ghana and further expansion is on the cards. In January 2019, we began distributing bamboo bikes in the UK.
What area of the cycling market does my Boo target?
We have a wide model range to provide each customer with a suitable bike. my Boo manufactures women’s, men’s, city, trekking, cross-road, racing and e-bike models. Furthermore, all models are available in different frame sizes and colours to offer an individual style. All frames are manually manufactured in Ghana. Back in Germany, the bicycles get assembled by hand which makes them a unique high-quality bicycle.
What are the benefits of using Bamboo?
Bamboo is a unique material. The ecological advantages are that it naturally grows in Ghana plus it’s extremely fast growing. Furthermore, bamboo bounds C02 which also remains in the frame during the manufacturing. This makes it a sustainable raw material. Regarding the advantages of using bamboo for bike frame production, it is as light as aluminium and comfortable like steel, extremely stable and also shock-absorbing. Everyone wants a light bike and the flex adds comfort and a ‘forgiving’ feeling to the ride. We combine these excellent characteristics with the best bike parts to get.
Can you talk us through the harvesting and building processes?
The raw material for our “my Boo” bamboo bicycles comes from the region where the production is located. The bamboo is growing wildly in many places in Ghana. When the bamboo reaches its height of 20 to 25 metres and has a specific diameter and outer wall thickness, it will be harvested by hand. The grass is then cut to specific lengths and then dries for about three weeks before it can be made into a frame. The entire manufacturing process is done with loving handicraft. For the construction there are five small metal components made of aluminium added, for example, on the seat tube, bottom bracket and where fork meets the frame. These serve as fixed points as well as a receptacle for the technical parts of the bicycle.
Precise symmetry is accomplished while assembling the frame by using a German-developed clamping device. The frame gets lifted out of the mould and wrapped in frayed and resin-impregnated hemp fibres, purchased on Ghanaian markets. Those stabilise and fix the construction. After curing, rasp, file and sandpaper are used at the connection points. This is how the striking root wood-like appearance is created. The frame is getting checked for its correct dimensions in Ghana and finally treated with a tinted varnish, which protects him from wind and weather, saltwater and everyday influences. About 80 hours of manual work are then put into one bamboo frame. After all these steps the frame is ready for being sent by sea freight to Germany. The bikes get assembled in our headquarter in Kiel.
Tell us about the local educational programmes.
In Ghana, education is a privilege not everyone can enjoy. Although compulsory school attendance has been established, parents must pay fees, even for public institutions. In addition to that, children are obliged to wear school uniforms which are expensive too. Many parents are not able to afford that. That is one reason for children to stay at home. my Boo is convinced that education is the key to a child’s self-determined future. Therefore, in 2017, we laid the foundation of the “Yonso Project x my Boo School” together with our Ghanaian partner. Upon completion, children from the Ashanti Region will learn critical thinking and self-dependence there.
There should be a growing generation, which is able to change the country, not only economically but also politically and socially. Independently from that, over 300 scholarships have been allocated and numerous libraries have been equipped in the Ashanti Region since 2014. Moreover, our “Bike to School project” has been a great success. Children often have such a long way to school that they either never start going there or stop after a short amount of time. 40% of the Ghanaian people have never entered a school. 27% quit before finishing (National Analytical Report). The programme equips students with bicycles to make their way to school easier.
What has the reaction to the product been like so far?
Customers and Journalists have been enthralled by our social story so far and our dedication to innovation as well as sustainability. Furthermore, the European specialist trade has accepted the bicycles very well. We have about 100 dealers in Germany, Austria, Italy, Denmark, Slovakia, the Netherlands and Sweden. Several thousand bicycles are on European roads and our customers are fully satisfied with the bamboo bikes. Now, we are really looking forward to offering our bicycles to the UK market.
What are your plans for expansion into the UK? Where could we pick one up?
In January 2019 we started distributing bamboo bikes in the UK. Today we have more than ten reseller partners in the UK. Our aim is to expand our network of reseller partners to ensure optimal geographic coverage of this market. If a customer is interested in a bicycle, we would send it to the nearest reseller.
What are your plans for 2020 and beyond?
Our plans for 2020 are to internationalise our business. We are strong in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and are focussing a lot on the UK this year as well as Belgium and the Netherlands. In the next five years, we want to be present and strong in nearly all European countries. We also want to stay the leading company in the (small) bamboo bike industry. That means we will also invest a lot in product development. We want to create even more jobs in Ghana and would like to see our school that is being built right now in great conditions. Hopefully, we can build some more in the following years.