How Much Would You Pay For A Cardboard Bike?

The exciting invention–and now crowdsourcing–of a bike made strictly from cardboard is leading to a lot of confusion about how much it costs and what the value is to the developing world.

Izhar Gafni made headlines last year for building a bicycle out of cardboard. Not only was it a feat of engineering, the result appeared both sustainable and thrifty. Cardboard Technologies CEO Nimrod Elmish told Reuters it “should not cost any more than [$20]” and would be on the market within a year.


But when the cardboard bike launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign last month, with a goal of raising a record-setting $2 million, the terms had shifted. It would cost $290 plus shipping and handling to get a bike that wouldn’t arrive until March 2015. Instead of giving enthusiasts a discounted product in return for their risky early investment–like, for example, the Kickstarter-funded Pebble smartwatch coming to Best Buy–they appeared to be doing the opposite: giving them an inflated price, to help pay for the yet-to-be-built factory.

Some would-be supporters complained, and this week Cardboard Technologies announced a “temporary price drop for pre-orders”–to $95. “We listened to our community, we took their comments to heart and lowered the price, even if it means the onus of raising the additional capital falls on us,” said Elmish.

In other words, the price for a cardboard bike, with raw materials estimated at less than $12 and a factory that has yet to be built, is fairly arbitrary.

Indeed, after its crowdfunded launch, the sticker price is planned to change depending on where you live, in a model that sounds a lot like Toms Shoes–with a rich-world bike helping to subsidize a different poor-world one. “If you know what a kibbutz is, this is the whole meaning of a kibbutz,” said Elmish. “Everybody gives as much as he can and gets as much as he needs.”

As the campaign began, Elmish told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that a post-Indiegogo bike would cost approximately $100 in the developed world, and between $30 and $50 in the developing world.

A week later, he had backed away from these specific numbers.


“Where people can afford $20, they will get it for $20,” Elmish said. “In places where people can’t afford it at all, people won’t have to pay a dollar for it.”

The prices could be similarly elastic on the high end. Elmish described how they could, for example, sell a bike for $700 in San Francisco, painted a distinctive orange. “Everybody would know that an orange bike supported three wheelchairs in Africa,” he said. (Their next planned project is a cardboard wheelchair.)

People need to understand, Elmish repeated several times, that they are buying more than a bike. WIth a planned roll-out date of March 2015, we may have to wait a while to see exactly what supporters are buying.


About the author

Stan Alcorn is a print, radio and video journalist, regularly reporting for WNYC and NPR. He grew up in New Mexico.