The Indonesian designer’s wheels behind the leaders’ bamboo bike bromance
This photo taken on June 18, 2022 shows Indonesian designer Singgih Susilo Kartono posing with a bamboo bicycle he made in Temanggung, Central Java. — AFP photo
Sunday, June 26, 2022 07:25 MYT
TEMANGGUNG, June 26 – As Indonesian President Joko Widodo drove Anthony Albanese through the lush gardens of a presidential palace in south Jakarta earlier this month, he presented Australia’s new prime minister with an unusual gift: a bamboo bicycle.
The previous night, designer Singgih Susilo Kartono learned that it would be the Spedagi model he manufactures in a small village on the island of Java that leaders would ride side by side in a unique moment of bicycle diplomacy.
Prime Minister Albanese was tucking his trousers into his socks after the statesmen took off their jackets and ties and donned helmets, setting off on the lightweight, eco-friendly two-wheelers for the symbolic bike ride.
The 54-year-old designer told AFP the diplomatic gesture was a “special and magical moment” for him after years of working on the bike.
“It’s not about the bike bought by Jokowi, but about the fact that it was used to accommodate PM (Albanian),” he said.
When he’s not arming world leaders with new bamboo wheels, Kartono uses his bicycle craftsmanship to create jobs for locals and show Indonesian villagers how they can use the environment around them. .
“I train here young people who lack skills. We have a system to train unskilled people until they can create quality products,” he said.
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 the village of Kartono in Central Java, where it saddles up for his own bike ride every day.
The fast-growing bamboo stalks are cut by his team, coated with preservatives, dried, then laminated before being combined with other parts to assemble the sturdy bike frame.
Pound for pound, bamboo is as strong as steel when used in lightweight structures, studies have shown, with high tensile strength making it a worthy and environmentally friendly substitute.
A fully assembled Spedagi bamboo bike can take a complex week of work and fetch up to 15 million rupees (RM4,450), and some have been sold as far away as Japan, the company’s co-founder told AFP. Tri Wahyuni.
friendship on wheels
The green wheels used by the two leaders were built with more expensive parts, Kartono said, declining to disclose the price of their rides.
Widodo, famous at home for giving bikes to ordinary Indonesians, is a Spedagi fan and bought one personally from Kartono in 2015.
Albanese was also thrilled with the bike, bringing it back to Canberra and saying people would see it on the streets on what may be “the only bamboo bike” in the Australian capital.
Bicycles and bamboo – affordable and plentiful in Indonesia – are closely tied to the archipelago nation’s lower classes, which struck a chord with the two leaders from humble backgrounds.
But while Kartono’s creation merged two symbols of Indonesian heritage, it is now linked to a flourishing bromance cultivated in the early weeks of Albanese’s premiership.
“Every time I ride a bicycle, I will remember the friendship with President Widodo,” he said.
With his own creation now crossing the Pacific, Kartono said it was making bamboo bikes where the plant is rarely found – such as in northern Europe – that first motivated him to design his design.
“When I dug deep into bike products online, I discovered that bamboo bikes are made in countries that don’t have bamboo. That served as a slap in the face,” said the entrepreneur.
“Bamboo is everywhere around my house.” —AFP