Why the hell am I building a bamboo bicycle? I don’t need an extra bike. I do need to know how to maintain them though and I kind of need to know the parts of a bike in more detail. I thought there is no better way to learn than to build one from scratch. Now, as I am not really au fait with tig welding and the very complex and precise properties of steel and aluminium tubing, I was on the lookout for a different sort of bike. While I could have bought or found a frame and refurbished it, I think you miss out on an understanding bike geometry, plus I like the philosophy of the Bamboo Bicycle Club and its co-founder James.
Our freedom to make things ourselves is being increasingly restricted, but bicycles are still something which we can tinker with, modify, build and ride! Building something yourself is a very different experience to simply buying it and the connection and knowledge gained is invaluable, to say nothing of the simple satisfaction of achieving mastering construction of a treasured and well used object.
James Stewart, Bamboo Bicycle Club
Once again my old friend Profetta (Gregory Chauvet of the Bike Station, Glasgow) came to the rescue. In amongst the many emails, links and messages he’s been sending me was one link to the Bamboo Bicycle Club. Started by James and Ian Stewart, men on a mission to teach people the satisfyingly zen art of bicycle building, their workshop just so happened to be round the corner from me in Hackney Wick.
James currently sells DIY home build kits for all sorts of bikes and dispenses advice over the phone and email to his many worldwide customer. Given my proximity to his workshop I decided it would best to book onto a two weekend course. James sent me a note asking for my measurements and to send him pictures of the type of bike I would like to make, road, MTB, tourer etc. As usual I sent him my preferences at the last minute but he had my kit ready to go. I was going to build an urban commuter bike with a similar track frame geometry to my Cooper Spa
After heavy Friday night I arrived half an hour late on Saturday morning. Poor James had to give me health and safety lecture as I stood staring into the middle distance zoning in and out. Then the fun part – choosing my bamboo… For the sake of simplicity I decided I wanted a bike similar to my single speed Cooper Spa but with the ability to add a Shimano 8 Speed Internal Gear Hub and a rear pannier rack. In other words urban track styling with a practical edge.
James sorted the geometry and provided us with a jig that had the lugs prepositioned and we began by tack gluing the cut bamboo into place and holding it together with electrical tape. Cutting the bamboo required a vice and and some wide hollow drill heads so that we could get the correct angles. That took up most of the morning. In the afternoon James had us wrapping our lug joints in a special hemp + epoxy coat that provides the necessary strength and rigidity for these key parts. The gallery below shows what we produced at the end of the first weekend – essentially a rough frame ready for finishing, little did I realise that finishing was going to take way longer!