The "Bamboo Bicycle Club" and Remembering My Father

Resized black and white drawing of "tandem bike riders", San Francisco, CA, 1896 - Is it a bamboo bicycle? - by johnny_automatic, openclipart.org.
Resized black and white drawing of "tandem bike riders", San Francisco, CA, 1896 - Is it a bamboo bicycle? - by johnny_automatic, openclipart.org.

Bamboo bicycles have some clear advantages over their counterparts. Read on to learn about the various materials used in building bicycles and the Bamboo Bicycle Club, an organization offering kits, education, and support for building your very own bamboo bicycle.

A ride to remember

It's funny that I would be writing about the Bamboo Bicycle Club as I haven't ridden a bicycle since 1979, a ride I well remember. It was Christmas break of my first year in college. I flew out to California to visit my father and stepmom, who were living in Stockton at the time.

My father was a member of a local cycling club and signed us up for a ride in the Sierra Foothills, which began in Jackson, California, and ended in Volcano, California, about a twelve mile ride. The reward at the top of this uphill venture was the privilege of gorging on pancakes at the local pub before making our descent down the winding road back to Jackson.I hadn't thought about that trip in years until I crossed paths with the Bamboo Bicycle Club on Twitter, giving me the opportunity to dig into forgotten qualities of my nature and to forge, yet again, another bond with my father, who passed away in 2009.

My father and I, 1978 Mendocino, Ca, from family collection
My father and I, 1978 Mendocino, Ca, from family collection

About bamboo bicycles

Bamboo bicycles were introduced to the public in England in 1894. But with the rapid advancement of technology during that era, strong metals such as steel and titanium came into favor. Hence, bamboo bicycles never became popular until recently with the green movement.

I know what you might be thinking: but bamboo really isn't all that green. Numerous controversies about bamboo stem mostly from where it's sourced and the chemical processes manufacturers use to turn bamboo into finished products. But even considering those factors, bamboo does appear to have a negative carbon footprint.

I found an excellent article that explains the complexities of choosing eco-conscious building materials for bicycle frames and some of the not so eco-conscious activities that can often accompany cycling. Although obvious to bicycle enthusiasts, frame materials include aluminum, titanium, carbon fiber, steel, and wood.

Other materials

Aluminum frames present challenges. They're expensive to repair and lack durability. Only virgin aluminum is used to manufacture bicycle frames, which involves the negative environmental impacts of open-pit mining. But aluminum bike frames are recyclable.

Titanium frames have the potential of lasting a lifetime, but titanium is difficult to extract and weld, creating a lot of waste.

Carbon fiber frames, although light and strong, have a habit of failing, and they aren't recyclable - not to mention that manufacturing carbon fiber releases toxins.

Steel is strong, recyclable, and its CO2 emissions are a third of aluminum's.  Additionally, maintaining steel bicycles is relatively inexpensive. Therefore, it has an advantage over the other three options.

The first bicycles were made in 1817 out of wood. But manufacturing hardwood bicycles requires a great deal of skill and an assortment of tools. Hardwood is also expensive.

Bamboo is less expensive and easier to work with. It's tough, more durable than metals, and less likely to fail compared to the ever popular lightweight carbon fiber frames. Bamboo has both high compressive strength (greater than concrete, brick, and wood) and tensile strength (about the same as steel), along with being sustainable .

The Bamboo Bicycle Club

The Bamboo Bicycle Club of London offers workshops where you can craft a complete bicycle in a weekend. They sell eight different kits, ranging in price from $376 to $694. Different styles include road and urban frames, off road frames, and a tandem frame. In addition, they also offer a multi-frame starter kit for schools and a bamboo speaker kit.

The Bamboo Bicycle Club ships globally, and although they provide complete instructions with each kit, they also offer support through email, telephone, and skype. If you happen to be in London, a nice option is to attend a weekend workshop and build one on the spot. Or you can always purchase one of their bamboo t-shirts that sports the Bamboo Bicycle Club logo.

When visiting the Bamboo Bicycle Club website, take a look at their Kickstarter project, which takes place at Design Museum London in April. The goal of the project is to pioneer an opensource, completely customisable, DIY bike that anyone can build at home.

While I perused the Hall of Frames,  the sheer beauty of these bicycles filled me with awe. I remembered my father's fondness for bicycle aesthetics and his knowledge of basic bicycle maintenance. He had owned a bicycle shop in Gulfport, Mississippi, back in the mid to late 70's. After moving to California in 1978, he took a different career path but remained always an avid cyclist, training like an athlete well into his 60's.

My father would have loved bamboo bicycles

My father, from family collection, Yreka, CA, 2003- working on his bicycle
My father, from family collection, Yreka, CA, 2003- working on his bicycle

Something I would like share about my father is that he developed type 1 diabetes at the age of thirteen. This never really stopped him, though; if anything, it seemed to propel him on a journey of experiences such as racing sailboats, becoming a tennis pro, backpacking, teaching school, coaching football, and building wooden boats in Maine.

I visited my father in Northern California just two weeks before he had a fatal hemorrhagic stroke. His mind had already begun slipping, but that weekend he was lucid. We confessed our love for an old Elvis song, "Cold Kentucky Rain," and laughed about the nature of squirrels.

Had I known about bamboo bicycles and the Bamboo Bicycle Club, we would have talked about that, too. I would have seen that old familiar gleam in his eyes, as he set his sights on a bamboo bicycle. And every time we talked on the phone, I would have listened as he told me all about how he just couldn't wait for his kit to arrive. He was an adventurer - always anticipating the next great plan.

My father standing by his bicycle, from family collection, Yreka, CA, 2003- he would have loved bamboo bicycles
My father standing by his bicycle, from family collection, Yreka, CA, 2003- he would have loved bamboo bicycles

A big thank you to the Bamboo Bicycle Club

I owe the Bamboo Bicycle Club my thanks. Through learning about them, I created another connection with my father. I sense that he is here with me when I visit their website, both of us admiring the elegant simplicity of these beautiful, yet durable, bamboo bicycles. The photo of my father and me at the top of this post hangs above my desk, where I write all of my blog posts.  I check in on him quite often.

But I'm also thankful to the Bamboo Bicycle Club for reminding me of the eighteen-year-old girl who aspired to one day ride her bicycle across the country, before marriage and children swept me into a different adventure that began at the tender age of twenty. That eighteen-year-old girl still lives somewhere within me. And maybe, just maybe, I might even step outside my comfort zone and buy a bamboo bicycle. I'll let you know.

Laura

*The Bamboo Bicycle Club didn't pay me or give me a kit for writing this post. I'm not affiliated with them in any way. The Bamboo BicycleClub is just so cool!