Turning bamboo into a bicycle


Bamboo bicycles are all the rage. Here, a bike made by Grass Frames
Photo by Melissa Dex Guzman

Adapted from The Vancouver Sun

Level 2

Would you ride a bicycle made out of grass? Many people do.
People are buying these bikes. People are riding them.
The bike frames are made of bamboo.

Read the PDF. Try the exercise.

What is bamboo?
Bamboo is part of the grass family.
Bamboo grows very fast.
It needs very little water. And it needs no fertilizer.
It also makes a lot of oxygen.
Bamboo is strong. It lasts for a long time.
It is one of the oldest building materials.

At one time, people used it for bridges, large crates and body armour.
People still use bamboo for furniture.
In many countries workers use it for scaffolding.
They climb up the scaffolding. They use it to do work on tall buildings.
They stand on the frames and work high above the ground.
Bamboo has another important quality.
It is very springy.
So, it is more comfortable on bumps, bike riders say.

History of bamboo bikes
In 1894, someone in England built the first bamboo bike.
In 1995, Craig Calfee started building bamboo bikes in Ghana, Africa.
Calfee is an American engineer.
He wanted to help local people make cheap bikes.
Bamboo is easy to find in Ghana. A bamboo bike sells for about $75.

When Calfee returned to the U.S., he worked on other bamboo models.
Ten years later he sold his first bike in North America.

Where does bamboo come from?
Bike makers buy bamboo from Taiwan, Africa and California.
Bamboo grows in B.C., too. But very little bamboo grows here.
Perhaps this will change.

How does bamboo become a bike?
Bamboo must be prepared before using it for a bike.
First, bamboo pieces are cut, smoked and heated.
This keeps the bamboo from splitting.

Next, a worker ties the joining parts with hemp.
Hemp is another natural material made from plants.
The hemp is first soaked in epoxy.
This epoxy is made from plant oil.
It is very hard and strong when it dries.
The bamboo frame is finished with a clear paint.
It takes about 40 hours to make a bamboo bike by hand.

Build your own
In San Francisco, you can learn to build your own bike.
In three days you can put together a bamboo bicycle.
The cost? About $700. The cost to have an expert make one? About $2,100.

Vancouver has bamboo bikes
Grass Frames makes bicycles with bamboo frames.
A year ago, Al Roback, Josh Armstrong and James Moore started the business.
Roback keeps looking for ways to make the company more eco-friendly.
Roback and Moore are the owners. Armstrong is the shop foreman.
Armstrong thinks of many new ideas for building the frames.
The three men have been good friends since high school.

Grass Frames bamboo
Grass Frames gets their bamboo from Chilliwack.
They find local materials. Then they reuse and recycle whenever it’s possible.
They even get old metal from local merchants.
They use this metal to make smaller pieces for their bikes.
Each bamboo bike looks different.
This is because each piece of bamboo is different.
When you see a bike, look at it closely. What is the frame made of?

About hemp
Hemp has many uses. The Egyptians made paper and rope from hemp.
Many countries grow and use hemp for different things today.
The oldest known woven fabric was made from hemp.
The first Levi jeans and the first American flag were made from hemp.
It was a common material for clothing. Later farmers in the U.S. started
to grow cotton. They used this cotton instead of hemp.