The "Bamboo Bicycle Club" and Remembering My Father

 Bamboo bicycle, By Ji-Elle [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Bamboo bicycle, By Ji-Elle [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Last updated June 30, 2018

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 feels odd writing about the Bamboo Bicycle Club because I haven't ridden a bicycle since I last rode one with my father in 1979. And that's a ride I'll never forget. It was Christmas break of my first year in college, and I had flown from Mississippi to Stockton, California, to spend the holidays with him and my stepmom.

My father was a member of a local cycling club and had signed us up for a ride in the Sierra Foothills, which began in Jackson, California, and ended in Volcano, California, about a twelve-mile, uphill ride. The reward at the top was a feast of pancakes and eggs at the local pub before making the 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. I guess Twitter is good for something because my contact with this club gave me the opportunity to reflect on my long-forgotten adventurous spirit and forge, yet again, another bond with my father, who passed away in 2009.

 Me and my father, 1978 Mendocino, Ca, from family collection

Me and my father, 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. So bamboo bicycles never became popular until recently with the advent of the green movement.

I know what you might be thinking: "But bamboo really isn't all that green." Yet, the controversies surrounding 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.

For more information, take a look at this 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.

bicycle materials

Frame materials used in making bicycles include aluminum, titanium, carbon fiber, steel and wood.

  • Aluminum frames present challenges because 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 on the positive side, aluminum bike frames are recyclable.
  • Unlike aluminum frames, Titanium bicycle frames are durable. But because titanium is difficult to extract and weld, it creates 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 the carbon fiber manufacturing industry releases a lot of toxins.
  • Steel is strong, recyclable and its CO2 emissions are one-third of aluminum's. In addition to that, maintaining steel bicycles is relatively inexpensive. So it has a significant 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. In addition, they also sell a variety of kits at different price points to suit your needs (see website for updated details). Different styles include road and urban frames, off road frames and a tandem frame. But they also have a multi-frame starter kit for schools and a bamboo speaker kit.

And in case you were wondering, the Bamboo Bicycle Club ships globally. They also provide complete instructions with each kit and offer support through email, telephone and skype. Though 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 their website, you might also want to take a look at their Kickstarter project.

But one of my favorite things about the club's website is admiring the sheer beauty of these bicycles. 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

But another thing I would like to also share about my father is that he developed type 1 diabetes at the age of thirteen. This never really stopped him, though; if anything, he seemed more driven than ever to experience life to its fullest: He raced sailboats, became a tennis pro, backpacked, taught school, coached football and built wooden boats in Maine.

I visited my father in Northern California just two weeks before he had a fatal hemorrhagic stroke. Even though he was already beginning to forget things, on the weekend of my visit, 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 buying 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 to the end: 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 page hangs above my desk, where I write all 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 inside me. And maybe one day, I might even step outside my comfort zone and buy a bamboo bicycle. I'll let you know.      —Laura

Please note: The Bamboo Bicycle Club didn't pay me or provide free merchandise for writing this post. And I'm not affiliated with them in any way. I wrote about them because they are just so cool!

Also, please visit their website for the latest information because I don't often update this post.