The Bamboo Bicycle Club and Remembering My Father

 Bamboo bicycle, By Ji-Elle [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Bamboo bicycle, By Ji-Elle [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons


Last updated October 6, 2018

Bamboo bicycles have clear advantages over their counterparts. Read on to learn about bicycle frame materials and the Bamboo Bicycle Club, an organization that sells bamboo bicycle kits and provides education and support so people have the tools they need to build bamboo bicycles at home.


A ride to remember

It feels odd writing about the Bamboo Bicycle Club because I haven't ridden a bicycle since I last rode with my father in 1979. And that's a ride I'll always remember. It was Christmas break of my first year in college, and I had flown from Mississippi to Stockton, California, to spend the holidays with family.

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 ride uphill. The reward at the top was pancakes and eggs at the local pub before heading back down the winding, narrow road 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 learning about this group gave me the opportunity to reflect on long-forgotten adventures and forge 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 (icebike.org) 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 to that, they also sell a variety of kits—road kits, off-road kits, custom designs, educational build kits for schools and universities and parts and accessories—that allow you to build your own bamboo bicycle at home or as part of a classroom activity. And, yes, they ship globally, too!

Each kit includes complete instructions along with support through email, videos, telephone, Twitter, Facebook 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! I wish.

My Father’s obsessions with bicycles

But what I like most about the Bamboo Bicycle Club website are the beautiful bamboo bicycles. I remember my father’s appreciation for bicycle aesthetics. He would have valued the craftsmanship built into these elegant bikes and kits, and because he was knowledgeable about basic bicycle maintenance, he would have also been lured into building his own bamboo bicycle.

Interestingly, my father opened a bicycle shop in the mid-to-late 70's in Gulfport, Mississippi. Though after moving to California in 1978, he changed careers while still remaining an avid cyclist well into his 60's. He was no stranger to the back roads of Siskiyou County, located in Northern California near Oregon.

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

even type 1 diabetes didn’t slow him down

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 stopped him, though; if anything, he was even more driven to experience life to its fullest: He raced sailboats, became a tennis pro, backpacked, taught school, coached football and built wooden boats in Maine.

saying goodbye

I visited my father in Yreka, California, two weeks before he had a fatal hemorrhagic stroke. Even though his memory was already slipping, 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 spoke over the phone, I would have heard the excitement in his voice as he eagerly awaited the arrival of his kit, a custom one, no doubt. 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

Through discovering bamboo bicycles and the Bamboo Bicycle Club, I created another connection with my father. I sense him looking over my shoulder, both of us admiring the elegant simplicity of these beautiful, yet durable, bikes. The photo of my father and me, at the top of this page, hangs on the wall above my writing desk. I check in on him often.

But I'm also grateful to the Bamboo Bicycle Club for reminding me of the 1979 bicycle ride in the foothills of the Sierra and the eighteen-year-old girl who aspired to ride her bike across the U.S., before marriage and children swept her into a different adventure at the tender age of 20. My memory of that fresh, green traveler lives on. And, perhaps, one day, I might even step outside my comfort zone and buy a bamboo bicycle. If I do, 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.