Build your own bamboo bike!
Annabel Herrick crafts a beautiful bamboo bike in just one weekend. Here’s how she did it and how you can too…
Think of bamboo and you probably think of pandas chilling out and chowing down on kilograms off the stuff. But it’s not just our furry friends who are big fans. Thanks to its lightweight, vibration-minimising properties, sustainability and incredible strength, bamboo is increasingly popular as a material for bike frames.
If you want to make your own, the Bamboo Bicycle Club in East London is a great place to start, offering both weekend workshops and bespoke build-your-own kits that they’ll send to your house.
Founded in 2012 by two engineers, James Marr and Ian McMillan, the BBC team has helped workshoppers build over 500 bespoke frames in their workshop in Hackney Wick, making everything from tandems to BMXs and even children’s bikes. You name it and they’ll help you make it (as long as it’s out of bamboo), with the dynamic duo recently creating a 3D bamboo bike in just eight hours for the London Design Museum.
Here’s how Casquette writer Annabel Herrick went from zero to bamboo-bike- building hero in just one weekend.
“When I heard about the Bamboo Bicycle Club and the prospect of crafting a bike I’d made myself, I was instantly up for it. I love creative projects and I love bikes, so it was a no brainer.
Getting my craft on
“Preparations for the workshop begin around a week in advance, with a chat about what style of bike you want to build. I was keen to create a light, zippy road bike that would be gentle on my joints.
“After that, you choose your bike parts (these can be basic or flash-hued depending on the budget) and I opt for a darker bamboo, resembling distressed walnut. I also decide to dye my resin soaked hemp (the glue) to match.
“When I arrive at the workshop on Saturday morning, I’ve already given a precise list of my body measurements and it’s impressive to see these translated onto a personalised diagram of my future bike frame, which looks like a cross between an architect’s plan and Lego instructions.
“The first step is to set up the jig – the structure used to hold the frame in place – then to select your bamboo, with the trick being to avoid knobbly nodes and pieces that are too thin. With no two pieces of bamboo being the same, it’s a beautiful feeling knowing that my bike will have a completely different character to anyone else’s in my group.
“There are three other people in my class (workshop sizes are never more than four people) and we spend the rest of the afternoon eagerly tending to our individual crafty contraptions as we fix each piece of the frame into the jig, slotting in the bottom bracket, seat tube and handlebar tube using special glue to hold it all. It’s an amazing sense of achievement as you see the pieces come together but pretty tiring, so we all hit the pub for some well-deserved lubrication after our day of crafty concentration.
“On Sunday morning we return to the workshop bright and early and excited to complete the final process: binding it all together. That means glue and lots of it. We begin by tightly wrapping each joint with hemp soaked in a super sticky resin and it’s an achievement in itself that I don’t glue myself to my own bike.
“By the end of the weekend, I have the structure of my bike. It’s been designed to fit my exact size and I’ve made it myself. How cool is that?
“Like the decorations on a homemade cake, the next steps are to add the accessories - pedals, saddle etc. I choose North Road Alloy Handlebars, Sturmey-Archer crank and 3-speed hub and visit the workshop for the next few nights after work to attach them. Others choose to add their components at home, usually taking around 4-5 hours before the bike is complete.
“After staring at a screen all day, this is the kind of brilliant brain workout I would definitely recommend.
“When I put the last piece of the bamboo puzzle together and attached my saddle, I looked at my creation in awe. She is stunning.
“That first ride home was strange and exhilarating, with it taking a while for me to get used to the feel of its uber lightness. My housemates couldn’t believe it when I rolled in on my bike made from plant matter.
“I now use my bamboo bike to commute to work and it has cut 10 minutes off my commute. It’s incredible how quick it is, with the frame so light that I find myself zipping past designer frames and lycra-clad gangs. It’s also a fantastic conversation starter, drawing lots of attention at the lights.
The next chapter
“When I ask James what’s next for Bamboo Bicycle Club, he’s excited about a number of projects on the horizon, one of which is a collaboration with the Eden Project and environmental champion Dr Kate Rawles to build a special bamboo bike built from a golden bamboo grown on the Cornish site.
“Kate plans to ride this bamboo bike from Costa Rica in Central America to Cape Horn at the tip of South America - a distance of nearly 6,000 miles - exploring biodiversity and raising awareness of the impact of its loss. You can find out more about her story on her blog.
“Founder, James Marr, remains steadfast that he will never sell a frame. For him, it’s all about building your own, which is one of the best things about the whole process.
“To enable more people to share this feeling, James has developed Build-at-Home kits, which the Bamboo Bicycle Club can send straight to your door.
“They still ask for all your measurements and help develop each individual’s perfect bike, but you put them together in your own homes - like Ikea, but so much better.”
If you want to make your own Bamboo Bicycle, Home Build Kits cost £260 with tool hire. Workshops from £495 bamboobicycleclub.org
Words by Annabel Herrick @annabelherrick