Indonesian designer’s wheels behind leaders’ bamboo bike bromance

The bamboo bikes are built at designer Singgih Susilo Kartono’s village workshop in Central Java

As Indonesian President Joko Widodo led Anthony Albanese around the lush gardens of a presidential palace south of Jakarta earlier this month, he presented the new Australian prime minister with an unusual gift: a bamboo bike.

The night before, designer Singgih Susilo Kartono learned it would be the Spedagi model he crafts in a small village on the island of Javathat the leaders would ride side-by-side in a unique moment of bicycle diplomacy.

The 54-year-old designer told AFP the diplomatic gesture was a “special, magical moment” for him after years spent working on the bike.

When not arming world leaders with new bamboo wheels, Kartono is using his sustainable bike craftsmanship to bring jobs to locals and show Indonesian villagers how they can make use of the environment around them.

The model, named after the Indonesian words “sepeda” for bicycle and “pagi” for morning, is built by a team of 15 employees at a workshop in Kartono’s village in Central Java, where he saddles up for his own bike ride every day.

Pound for pound, bamboo is as strong as steel when used in lightweight structures, studies have shown, with a high tensile strength that makes it a worthy and environmentally friendly substitute.

– Friendship on wheels –

Widodo, famous at home for gifting bikes to ordinary Indonesians, is a Spedagi fan and bought one personally from Kartono in 2015.

Both bicycles and bamboo — affordable and plentiful in Indonesia — are closely linked with the archipelago nation’s lower classes, something that struck a chord with the two leaders from humble backgrounds.

“Every time I ride on the bike, I will remember the friendship with President Widodo,” he said.

“When I dug deep into bicycle products online, I found that bamboo bicycles are made in countries that do not have bamboo. That served as a slap for me,” said the entrepreneur.

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Originally published as Indonesian designer’s wheels behind leaders’ bamboo bike bromance

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