When I mentioned that I spotted a bamboo bike back in early June I was contacted by several people with bamboo bike experience. One of the people that contacted me was a free-lance radio reporter and podcast producer based in NYC who covers the DIY scene for NPR. If you are interested you can listen to Jon Kalish's DIY stories for NPR at http://jonkalish.tumblr.com.
All of the text below is credited to Jon.
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On a cool weekday morning in the Fall of 2009 I accompanied two of the guys who were running Brooklyn's Bamboo Bike Studio on a bamboo harvest in a dense grove near New Brunswick, N.J. Justin Aguinaldo and Sean Murray told me to bring my small Japanese pull saw for the outing. Aguinaldo used a caliper to find bamboo stems that were the right thickness. When he found stems the right size, he tapped the bamboo to make sure it wasn't too soft.
"If the bamboo's too watery, it's not as dense and it's not as strong," Aguinaldo explained.
At the time Aguinaldo made his living as a bicycle messenger. Murray was a former schoolteacher whose voice mail greeting used to note of the fact that he was living the dream of making bikes with his friends. Murray found bamboo patches by reading online gardening forums. Apparently, a lot of people start growing bamboo as a decorative plant — but then it gets out of hand.
"There's a kind of urgency brought on by the protests of their neighbors," Murray said.
The two bamboo bike makers cut the green bamboo stems in 3-foot and 5-foot lengths and fill the trunk of their small sedan before heading back to their bike studio in Brooklyn. The studio no longer harvests bamboo itself and instead buys dried bamboo from a supplier. But it was big fun cutting that stuff down in the wild.
The bike's joints are wrapped in a stringy, ribbon-like carbon fiber that soaks up the epoxy. It looks like it's held together with black electrical tape after the epoxy dries overnight. You spend much of the second day filing the "lugs" smooth. Craig Calfee, the pioneer of bamboo bike-making and high-end custom bike maker outside of Santa Cruz, California, wraps his joints in hemp. You got that right: hemp joints!!!
Marty Odlin, co-founder of the Bamboo Bike Studio, says: "Everyone who leaves the studio says, 'Wow, my bike is my favorite object now.' They have such a connection to this thing that came together under their own hands. They may not come here to have that connection to their bicycle, but that's what they leave with."
"There is a concern that bamboo bikes become this fad," he says. "And we could sell a whole bunch of them for a whole lot of money to a whole bunch of people very quickly and then nothing after that, right? It becomes a fad and dies out. We feel like we're building something with more enduring value than that."
The bikes themselves really last; Odlin and his two partners have all ridden thousands of miles on New York City streets on their bamboo frames.
The Bamboo Bike Studio has drawn amateur bike builders from as far away as California and England. Alexis Mills, a bicycle messenger in Ottawa, and his 61-year-old mother, a doctor, came to Brooklyn and made bikes.
Back in Canada, Mills quickly found that people who ride around on bamboo bikes get a lot of questions about their wheels.
"The ride itself is really smooth," Mills says. "It eats up a lot of the vibrations of the road. I wondered if it might be too flexible or too mushy, but it's not. It's really nice to ride."
There is now a Bamboo Bike Studio up and running in San Francisco under the able stewardship of Justin Aguinaldo, who grew up in Mendocino County in Northern California. Piper Alldredge, who had been running the San Francisco space, is now back in New York running the Brooklyn studio. They also sell kits to make a bamboo bike on your own but my guess is that the kits are best put together by someone wth major DIY chops. The Brooklyn space is now offering the opportunity to assemble your own bike with a steel frame.
More via Make Magazine.