A couple of years ago, my husband and I were going to plant running bamboo along our back fence. Then we casually mentioned the idea to our next-door neighbor. She looked, well, terrified.
Bamboo is an amazing plant. It’s used to make musical instruments, toys, tools, weapons, flooring, paper, food, cooking oil, vinegar, and alcohol. But it’s also a bit noxious, at least in these parts.
When we were thinking of growing it, we visited a peaceful bamboo garden on the outskirts of town. The gardener showed us around and explained the difference between the many varieties of bamboo that rustled overhead in the slight breeze.
Then the conversation turned to warfare.
“You’ll need to dig a two-foot-deep trench all the way around your bamboo and bury this in it.” He held up a roll of thick, black plastic. “This needs to stick up at least three inches above the soil. The bamboo’s rhizomes will try to jump it. So leave a foot or so of bare ground all the way around the trench. That way you can see them coming over. When they do, mow them down immediately.”
It sounded more like prison-tower watch duty than gardening.
But there’s an upside to bamboo’s invasive nature. It is not only a useful plant; it’s an incredibly renewable resource.
And now you can get a bike made out of it.
Although riding a bike is considerably more environmentally-sound than driving a car, most bike frames are constructed out of materials that are decidedly not renewable. Think: steel, carbon fiber, aluminum, molybdenum, and titanium. Extracting these elements is labor-intensive, environmentally destructive, and can threaten public health.
For instance, I grew up 60 miles down-river of Leadville, Colorado, where the mining industry allowed heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, cadmium, and zinc to leach into the soil and water. The Environmental Protection Agency declared Leadville and the 20 square-miles around the town a Superfund site.
So imagine if we could make strong, light-weight, functional bicycles without mining, not to mention out of plants that grow like weeds. Well, we’re getting closer to that reality, although most bamboo bicycles contain some metal components.
You can purchase your own custom-made bamboo bicycle from Calfree Design. They claim that their bikes are tough, and they offer a ten-year warranty on them. They’re expensive though. All of the frames that are “on special” on Calfree’s website cost well over $1,000. But “if there were an award for ‘Bicycle with lowest carbon footprint’ (least amount of carbon dioxide emissions in the production of the frame), this frame would win, hands down,” Calfree’s site boasts.
You can also learn how to build a bamboo bicycle yourself.
Bamboo Bike Studio in Brooklyn offers workshops where you can learn to build one in a weekend. They’re also not cheap. The full bike workshop costs $932 and the frame-only workshop costs $632.
But some of the proceeds go to a great cause. The Bamboo Bike Studio is working with partners, including the Bamboo Bike Project, to establish bamboo bicycle factories in “Millennium Cities, starting with Kumasi, Ghana, Kisumu, Kenya, and Quito, Ecuador.” They hope the factories will, “provide a lower-cost, more durable, locally manufactured form of transport specifically designed for local terrain.” Unfortunately you’ll have to wait awhile to attend one of their workshops. They’re full through September.
But if you’re seriously into do-it-yourself, you could check out this how-to on Instructables. (However, as the disclaimer says, “Death or serious injury can result from a bicycle frame failure. … Be smart.)
Hopefully as more companies start to manufacture bamboo bicycles, the prices will come down, making bamboo bicycles a more accessible option for more people.
Would you ride a bamboo bicycle?