Pham Minh Tri, an engineer, has built dozens of elegant bicycles from bamboo. He plans to export the products to Australia, Germany and Hong Kong.
Of all the booths at a recent bicycle exhibition in HCM City, one was far more crowded with curious onlookers than the others, even though the most famous brand names were not on display.
Instead, beautifully made bikes of bamboo were being showcased.
Offered in four designs, the bikes were made mostly of bamboo, with only a few metal parts.
Some looked elegant and graceful, and others more robust with a thicker frame. All of them, however, were very light and had good shock absorption.
Three of the four models were named after Greek mythological figures.
The Hyperios, which can be used as a trekking or road bike, is built to standard technical specifications. The Hemera model, named after a goddess of the daytime, has a slimmer frame suited to gentle, feminine types who have a "deep love of nature", according to the company's marketing materials.
Another model, the Klassiko, is specifically designed for the domestic market and features elegant, classical features.
On the other hand, the Hercules, named after the legendary hero, represents extraordinary stamina and exceptional strength to conquer nature and overcome obstacles.
One visitor to the exhibition said he stopped by the booth immediately when he noticed a "special something that forced me to enter".
"The bikes are amazing. I'd heard about bamboo bikes, but I'd never seen one. The bike is not only environmentally friendly but also has a good design," he said.
Pham Minh Tri, 32, the director of the new Viet Bamboo Bike startup, was manning the booth, describing the characteristics of his new invention.
A graduate of Ha Noi Polytechnic University, Tri received a master's degree in automotive technology at a university in Berlin, where he worked in a factory outsourcing parts for famous German auto companies.
Recalling his time in the city, Tri said: "It was destiny. Beginning with my visits to exhibitions and scientific seminars held by my university about bamboo bikes in 2009, I then became increasingly interested in the subject."
At the time, Tri said he thought that Vietnamese, whose lives are surrounded by bamboo, could design bikes as well as foreign manufacturers.
Pursuing his dream, Tri returned to Viet Nam and launched his career in 2011.
"The initial period was frustrating, though. My friends thought I was crazy and none of them wanted to do business with me," he said.
Luckily, his family offered him a great deal of support, which motivated him to continue.
In the beginning, he spent time studying how to make the bike, find bamboo sources and assemble metal and bamboo parts.
"I also met with a specialist in bamboo trees who told me there are more than 350 varieties of bamboo in Viet Nam," he said. "She taught me the mechanical characteristics of bamboo so I could choose the best one for my products."
Finding the right kind of epoxy glue was not easy in Viet Nam, he said, adding that the glue is used for vessels and wind turbines. Tri had to import the glue from other countries.
However, after one and a half years, Tri made his first bike. He then refined the design and mechanics by making dozens of bikes, and in 2014, sold the first one.
Tri conceded that his bike was not the first bamboo bike made in Viet Nam. A man in the central province of Quang Nam had also created one.
However, Tri said he was the only person in Viet Nam who had paid attention to the latest research about the necessary steps to make the bike.
All of the steps have been taken carefully. He said his experience in studying and working in Berlin had helped him to successfully carry out the task.
The bike's frames are made in three main steps, he said.
First, the bike is designed and simulated in software that calculates the weight and centre of the bike. This ensures an 85-95 per cent similarity to the real model.
The differences between the simulated and real models are only in the natural bamboo shape, which is not uniform, and imperfectly matched manually made joints.
The amount of material needed at the joints is then determined by measuring the stress and pressure at critical points.
Based on the simulation results, an extra 20 per cent of material will be added to the computed amount to account for the material loss during craft production.
The quality of the bamboo frame, which is coated with material that protects it from water and insects, is also ensured with a fatigue testing machine.
Tri said his company was applying to receive a Din 14764 or ISO 4210 quality certificate from SGS, an independent inspection organisation.
He has also found partners to export his products to Australia, Germany and Hong Kong.
The domestic market is an important one, also.
"The Vietnamese people's awareness about protecting the environment is improving. Many people now love products that are friendly to the environment," he said. — VNS